BBC genocide talk show pulled off air in restive Rwanda

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Our say: Voters queue to cast their ballots last year for the second parliamentary vote since the 1994 genocide. What the BBC and others call opinion, the Rwandan government calls ‘intentional dissemination of genocide ideology’ into a delicate and still-healing population. File picture 


Posted  Monday, May 11   2009 at  20:56

An old saying in Rwanda, Kwihaakabanga (don’t wash your dirty linen in public) aptly sums up much of the local culture.

It is a philosophy that permeates nearly all aspects of life in Rwanda.

For instance, the would-be Saturday morning broadcast of a local-language British Broadcasting Corporation radio show, discussing national reconciliation efforts since the 1994 genocide, was suddenly pulled off the air.

Imvo n’Imvanoh, a weekly programme broadcast from London, was asking Rwandans from across the globe what they thought of the country’s reconciliation efforts.

“I think reconciliation comes from people talking about their experiences,” said Jeff Timmins, a director of the BBC’s World Service.
Some of the commentary spoke harshly of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, an originally Tutsi-centric rebellion that grew up in refugee camps in neighbouring Uganda in the late 1980s.

When a Hutu-extremist administration in 1994 slaughtered nearly a million Tutsi in Rwanda, the RPF seized control of the country and formed a unity coalition with other political parties.

Because of its content, Timmins said, the tape was previewed by the minister of information the night before.

By the next morning, the Kinyarwanda and Kirundi-language transmission had been cut, and in a letter sent to the BBC and the British government, Rwanda accused the station of genocide denial and inciting divisionism.

The British embassy is now embroiled in the affair — the BBC Great Lakes Service is funded by the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office — and according to both Rwandan and British officials, it isn’t ending soon.

“We don’t understand why the government responded in the fashion it did,” says Mr Timmins.

Rwanda agrees: The West just doesn’t get it.

The suspension of transmissions, which occurred just minutes before the show was due to air illuminates a longstanding misunderstanding of Rwanda’s political structures, partially caused by the country’s successful but idealistic marketing.

The BBC is not the first to find themselves at odds with this fiercely proud nation.

To an administration that has fought back in recent years against the French, Spanish and German governments, a United Nations investigation, and a swarm of advocacy groups and humanitarian agencies, it’s more of the same.

“All these groups are going to come in here and be on everyone’s case,” says Shyaka Kanuma, editor of the independent weekly Focus. “They don’t understand the genocide.”

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