Rwandan minister: ‘It’s OK to be anti-government’

By Tom Rhodes/Africa Program Coordinator on September 10, 2009 12:41 PM ET

CPJ sat down recently with the Rwandan minister of information, Louise Mushikiwabo, who spoke of several media developments, including a new press law. “I am convinced the new legislation will help professionalize our media—there were many holes in the former law,” she told CPJ. Some, however, do not share her enthusiasm. 

As former Rwanda University Lecturer Charles Kambanda points out, the law requires journalists to reveal their sources in court for any criminal investigation. “The principle of nondisclosure of sources in this field is a core ‘professional ethic.’ If we oblige this profession to disclose the sources, then we are actually closing the profession,” he said in a BBC interview.

(Radio Okapi)

Mushikiwabo, at left, also supports the inclusion of criminal defamation in the law—this includes such arbitrary clauses that punish journalists for “publications which endanger public decency.” But the minister told CPJ that any article that proves problematic can be amended in the future. President Paul Kagame had sent the bill back to parliament in May after listening to some concerns given by local media groups.

One way the minister sees the law improving the profession is through its education requirements for journalists. Rwanda has two institutions for journalism, including the two-year-old Great Lakes Media Center in Kigali, which offers certificates in journalism. “I visited the center and some of the students told me they now have the skills to tackle us,” she says, “That’s fine by me. It’s OK to be anti-government, but be professional.”

Although the minister said she is pleased with the local radio stations in her country, she said Rwanda still has “excessive” and unprofessional local newspapers. A leading private paper, Umuseso, currently faces a potential three-month suspension ordered by the country’s Media High Council. The suspension order comes from a July opinion article in Umuseso that compared Kagame with former President Juvenaal Habyarimana, whose 1994 assassination helped trigger the genocide. Mushikiwabo said she cannot fathom the comparison: “One man started the genocide, while the other ended it.”

Umuseso Managing Director Didas Gasana, however, defends the article as an opinion piece that compared two governance systems, not personalities. Gasana said he thinks the suspension was the result of a June 27 press conference in which Mushikiwabo announced that “the days of Umuseso are numbered.” Prior to the new law, however, the minister would have made the final decision whether to suspend a publication—the media law now places such power in the hands of the Media High Council.

This doesn’t ease the mind of the director of Umuseso, Charles Kabonero, who says the Media High Council is controlled by the government and will help the government allay future blame for press censorship. According to a 2007 survey by the nonprofit International Research and Exchanges Board in Washington, most local journalists also viewed the council as partisan to the government.

Kabonero told CPJ that the minister has blocked Umuseso’s access to government press conferences and state advertizing revenue. “They always put forward the idea of a lack of professionalism in Rwanda’s media but they make it impossible to become professional,” he told CPJ.   


The Minister is not honest in the statement highlited above. The statement is far from what the government she represents, does on the ground.

It is a totalitarian government that believes in controlling the media. Press freedom in Rwanda has been deteriorating even more under her regime as minister.

Those are just words-the Kagame regime is out and out to silence the media as they did to politicians and civil society.

Ministers words are very shaming,
Some one may ask his or her self, how many tongues does minister mushikiwabo has, on 27/07/2009 she clearly mentioned that days of umuseso and umuvugizi newspaper are numbered in front of president kagame praising the new media law which gives power high press concil to shut down the papers and praised rushyashya newspaper bacause of changing its editorial line and start praising the Government,and at the same time you start saying that its ok to be anti government in Rwanda
when will they stop deceiving the world and intimidate media ?

Pl see our report on Rwanda recently released. The context is that Rwanda has applied for membership of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, an independent non partisan NGO is of the view that it is not compliant with the democracy and human rights criteria that are set as bench marks for its entry and for it to be brought in without significant improvements in its human rights record would send a wrong signal about the values that the association espouses and would encourage other authoritarian regimes to apply for 'respectability'. The report echoes much of what has been said by the UN human rights committee in its concluding remarks. Our report is available at
we are available at [email protected]

Considering the recent arrest of Innocent Irankunda, it is impossible to believe that the government of Rwanda, including the judiciary, has any respect for human rights. It is imperative that people from outside Rwanda put pressure on the judiciary through their own embassies and/or NGOs to make certain that Mr. Irankunda does not spend another day in prison for imaginary crimes. The media reports coming from Rwanda about this case are, to be blunt, complete nonsense where facts as simple as his father's death are wrong. In a desperate attempt to make itself look "good" it seems as though the government in Rwanda is willing to move its country back to 1910 instead of looking forward to 2010 by allowing the press to dissent from the insane decisions of "courts."

It is okay to be anti-government so long as one does not reside in Rwanda seems to be the actual message of the minister. This is an unfortunate development not only for Mr. Irankunda but also for all those living inside the borders of Rwanda or in the vincinity of those who support the government, be they in other African countries or overseas. When will this madness in Rwanda end? Journalists must be free to do their jobs or else governments become too powerful. There are too many unsolved murders in Rwanda already. It is my hope that Mr. Irankunda is freed immediately so that there is a ray of hope for all dissenting voices in Rwanda.

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