Rwandan journalist flees to exile but media body questions motives

Sunday November 19 2017

Journalists.

Etienne Besabesa Mivumbi is the second journalist to flee the country in the span of two months, after Obed Ndahayo, the owner and managing director of Intambwe newspaper also fled in September. PHOTO FILE | NATION 

By LEONCE MUVUNYI
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Days after former presidential candidate Gilbert Mwenedata fled the country, a broadcast journalist working for a local radio station has gone into hiding citing “threats from government agents.” 

Etienne Besabesa Mivumbi, who until recently worked for Flash Radio and TV, told Rwanda Today that he left the country on October 6, following "numerous threatening phone calls from unknown people", who identified themselves as government agents.

However, head of Media Affairs and Communication at the Rwanda Governance Board, Gerald Mbanda, dismissed the claims as a cover for seeking political asylum.

Mr Mivumbi, who did not disclose his current location, claims the threats were related to a corruption story against several officials in the Kigali city administration.

“After incessant phone calls linking me with opposition groups in exile and labeling me an enemy of the state, fleeing the country was the only option I had left,” Mr Mivumbi said.

Besides the phone calls, the reporter claims he also noticed suspicious people “following me from my workplace to my residence after work at night.”  

Mr Mivumbi’s story was on flaws in the issuance of a construction permit in Kigali, and was aired on August 10 on both Flash radio and TV.

He said the reportage looked at the case of a woman in Gisozi sector, Gasabo District in Kigali City, whose 20 houses were demolished by local authorities after they accused her of putting up structures that contravened the Kigali city masterplan. 

“After the story aired I started getting calls from people allegedly from the Ministry of Infrastructure and the City of Kigali asking me to change the story and remove people’s testimonies about how they bribe local authorities to get construction permits. But I refused,” Mr Mivumbi said.

He becomes the second journalist to flee the country in the span of two months, after Obed Ndahayo, the owner and managing director of Intambwe newspaper, who left the country in September over security concerns.

Complaints

The media self-regulatory body, Rwanda Media Commission, said neither the reporters nor their media houses have brought the cases to its attention.

“We have not received any complaints from both Mr Ndahayo and Mr Mivumbi about them being threatened or from their media houses, and information about them fleeing the country is new to us” said Cleophas Barore, the Rwanda Media Commission chairperson.

The Rwanda Governance Board, which overseas media, has accused the two journalists of making unsubstantiated claims and using them to seek attention and get asylum.

Head of Media Affairs and Communication Department at Rwanda Governance Board, Gerald Mbanda, questioned Mr Mivumbi’s claims about being threatened by officials from Kigali city or the Ministry of Infrastructure.

“Both journalists know their claims would attract some attention from the international community and help them get refuge, but all their claims are fake,” Mr Mbanda told Rwanda Today.

He questioned why the two journalists had not formally reported the alleged threats to the media bodies or the authorities.

Mr Mivumbi claims he informed his employer, but they did not act. However, his employer denies being made aware of threats to Mr Mivumbi’s life.

“No claims of threats made against Mr Mivumbi were brought to the management’s attention by the journalist and no complaints faulting his story have been filed to the broadcaster so far,” said Louis Kamanzi, the proprietor of Flash radio and TV.

Mr Kamanzi added that Mr Mivumbi was no longer an employee of Flash radio and TV because “his contract ended last month.”

The reporter claims his contract was due to end in March next year.

The Rwanda Governance Board said that in October, it was told Mr Mivumbi had been sacked from the radio and TV station because of incompetence.

This is the second time Mr Mivumbi is in the limelight after his arrest and subsequent release in Burundi, in 2015.

Mr Mivumbi crossed into Burundi “in pursuit of a story,” and was apprehended by Burundian security officials and accused of spying for Rwanda. He was released two days later without being charged.