In what has become annual event, journalists in Rwanda put away their cameras, gadgets and notebooks aside in honour of the 1,074,056 victims of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
What was new with the commemoration yesterday was the involvement of local social media influencers, who were invited due to the power they currently wield in Rwanda, and world-over. News today gets to media pages long after it it is no longer an issue.
In many cases, social media is making subjects, that could otherwise never have made it to newsrooms, to be the big stories of the day. All this, courtesy of a small but seemingly very powerful network of individuals.
The event on Tuesday evening, was also undertaken in memory of the members of the media fraternity killed in the genocide. The current fraternity converged at the Kigali car free zone in the city center.
There is a large letter model written in the words ‘Kwibuka 25’ that has been erected in this spot. This same spot incidentally has major historic significance.
In this very area, was location of one of President Juvenal Habyarimana’s offices, state broadcaster ORINFOR before and after 1994, and offices of the infamous RTLM radio set up to spread the ethic hate campaign.
It was on this station that the population was mobilized to hunt and kill their fellow countrymen, the Tutsi, including the journalists.
The government broadcaster is today ‘Rwanda Broadcasting Agency’ (RBA), and moved away to the Kacyiru suburb of Kigali.
From the car free zone, as part of the ‘Day of Reflection on the media and genocide’, the journalism community had a ‘walk to remember’ to the Kigali Cultural Village, a short distance away where a panel discussion was held.
The panel discussed the themed “Media Responsibility in the age of Fake News, Hate Speech & Denial”.
On the panel was Cleophas Barore, chair of the Rwanda Media Commission – a self regulation body, Phil Quin a New Zealand editor and who worked in Rwanda as a government communications consultant, campaigner Jeanine Munyeshuli-Barbé, and French journalist and writer Jean-Francois Dupaquier.
Before the panel discussion got underway, the names of the 60 journalists who were killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi were read out as a way of paying tribute to them.
In his speech, Local Government Minister Prof Anastase Shyaka, who was guest of honor for the media event, said the journalists killed “paid the price of defiance”.
“They fought for professional journalism that served the people but they were operating under a government that was not interested in serving the people,” he said.
Among the major genocide convicts from the hate media campaign include Ferdinand Nahimana, founder and ideologist of The Radio Télévision des Mille Collines (RTLM), Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, high ranking board member of the Comité d’initiative of the RTLM and founding member of the Coalition for the Defence of Republic(CDR), and Hassan Ngeze, Chief editor of Kangura newspaper.
The UN tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) convicted them for genocide, incitement to genocide, conspiracy, and crimes against humanity, extermination and persecution.
Another was Belgo-Italian journalist Georges Ruggiu who also worked on RTLM, but was controversially released early and sent back to Italy.
Another RTLM employee was the only woman Valerie Bemeriki, who was caught and convicted in Rwanda to life in jail.
In his speech today, Minister Shyaka said: “I think what we had in 1990-1994 was a typical context of the convergence of action from two actors that facilitated the execution of the Genocide: Creators of opinion on one hand, and creators of policies on another hand.”
“We lost the logic of checks and balance that lead to a marriage between creators of policies and formers of opinion (media). If that marriage was not there, the Genocide couldn’t have happened to the extent it did. It wouldn’t have been a “Popular Genocide”..”
On the panel discussion, social media and the recent phenomena of “fake news” dominated the conversation. The state of professionalism of the current media fraternity was also questioned – some speakers calling for development of critical thinking to be added in the training curriculum of journalism schools.