How the mainstream media in the West gets it wrong on Rwanda

Tuesday August 22 2017

There is one thing that has stubbornly refused

There is one thing that has stubbornly refused to go away from the Western media narrative on Rwanda. This is the labelling of a Tutsi-led government or Hutu so and so. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYANGA 

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Africans have for long been urged to accept the thinking that prosperity and stability can only be achieved through Western prescriptions.

Trying other approaches like what Rwanda has done, means inviting trouble. But, as two editors of The Economist, John Micklethwait and Adrian Woodridge discuss in their book, The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State, the Western model is broken and unworkable, and as such, has lost the power to shape the world in its own image.

The race for the Rwandan presidency had three contenders and no sooner had they started their political campaigns across the country, than the Western media and human-rights organisations started demonising one presidential candidate: President Paul Kagame.

The timing of recycled human-rights abuse allegations during the campaign period was not new.

Robert Bernstein, the founder and former chairman of Human Rights Watch (HRW) has publicly denounced biased reports by HRW under its director Kenneth Roth, as serving political interests rather than protecting human-rights.

The biased Western media coverage demonising Kagame had three main objectives.

The first was to influence the thinking of the Rwandan voters to see their leader as undemocratic.

The second was to influence the international community to change their foreign policy and isolate Kagame.

While the third objective was to change the narrative about the genocide, by turning heroes into villains and victims into killers.


There is one thing that has stubbornly refused to go away from the Western media narrative on Rwanda. This is the labelling of a Tutsi-led government or Hutu so and so, while referring to political leaders, which Western media knows were the building blocks for the Genocide against the Tutsi.

I always ask myself why Western media does not refer for example, to the Belgian government as Flemish or Walloon-led, or the Italian leader as Greek, Albanian, or of Slovenian origin.

Western media’s criticism of Kagame comes at a time when Rwanda has been transformed from a divided and almost failed state, to a unified, prosperous nation with efficiently functioning institutions.

Ironically, the same Western media was absent in 1994, when Rwanda was burning and over a million innocent lives lost.

Allan Thompson, the author of The Media and The Rwanda Genocide, notes the lapse of Western media to inform the world when millions were dying in Rwanda, but flocked into the country when the Nyiragongo volcano in Goma erupted in 2002, killing fewer than 100 people.

Rwandans are still waiting to see when Western media will pressure their governments to take action against hundreds of genocide suspects living in their countries.

Western media and its influence

The link between Western media and its influence on elections is not new.

In the 1960s, Maxwell E. McCombs and Donald L Shaw carried out research on the agenda-setting capacity of the media in the American presidential elections.

They concluded that, “The media may not be successful in telling us what to think, but they are successful in telling us what to think about.”

Biased reporting by Western media on Africa is well documented while “fake news” continues to sink its image.

The 2016 Pew Research study shows that public trust in America’s mainstream media is as low as 22 per cent. Social media or new media, has changed the way people receive and consume content.

Every person with Internet access is now a source of news and is able to give their views, rendering mainstream media’s monopoly as the sole source of news and views obsolete.

For example, one Twitter follower challenged the allegation that Rwandans were forced to vote for Kagame, since Rwandans living abroad voted for the president with an overwhelming 95.5 per cent of the vote.

The diaspora vote showed that the claim of dictatorship and forced voting was fake news.

There were also claims that in a real democracy, Kagame could not have won with 98 percentage votes.

Yet, in Kenya’s presidential elections, results show that Uhuru Kenyatta won with an average of 96 per cent in areas of Nyandarua, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Muranga, Kiambu, Marakwet and Kericho; while Raila Odinga won with an average of 97 per cent in areas of Vihiga, Siaya, Kisumu and Homa Bay. When combined, these areas are far bigger than Rwanda.

President Kagame’s 98 per cent win was due to garnering support from eight main political parties.

Rwanda’s critics and naysayers are fewer than those who are satisfied with the country’s leadership and development and the mainstream media in the West must stop trying to tell the reverse.

Gerald Mbanda is a former Rwandan Diplomat in Kenya. He currently works as the head of department at the Rwanda Governance Board. Twitter account: @GeraldMbanda