BY EMMA GOLDBERG:
Tapping phone calls, monitoring emails, suppressing the media — these sound like the practices that mark a nation entrenched in war or mired by corruption. But almost two decades post-genocide in Rwanda, the government continues its heavy censorship, claiming it is needed to maintain peace and stability.
In November 2012 the Committee to Protect Journalists identified Rwanda as a nation whose journalists have notoriously been targeted and killed for reporting on controversial subjects. Their finding isn’t surprising considering the trend of Rwandan media suppression that’s grown more extreme in recent months. In August 2012 the Jambo News declared that censorship in Rwanda had reached a “scary level,” citing newly-passed legislation that permitted the government to monitor exchanges of emails and website surfing within Rwanda. In an effort to prevent Rwandan civilians from receiving information about the regime from reliable news sources abroad, the government has also imposed a surcharge on all incoming calls from abroad. The Kigali Today newspaper was reportedly told by the Minister of Interior, Mussa Fazil Harerimana, that “it will now be punishable in Rwanda to read information that is not approved by the authority.”
Activists and journalists within Rwanda have begun raising their voices against the government’s censorship, but the international community has done little to speak out against the corruption. Why has even the United States, a country that places such emphasis on freedom of speech, turned a blind eye to Rwanda’s blatant violations of civil liberties?The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the current governing regime, successfully drove out the Hutus to end the country’s horrendous mass genocide in 1994. Desperate to maintain power, it has since implemented extreme measures to suppress all forms of political dissidence. And the international community has largely avoided criticizing the RPF — it was, after all, the political party that ended the Rwandan genocide. Moreover, the RPF government has enjoyed substantial economic support from donor states such as the United States for years. In fact, in recent years the U.S. has boosted the amount of aid allocated to Rwanda by 20%, raising it to $17 million. America and many other countries hesitate to make public the unfortunate reality that the very government they have been propping up – both politically and financially – is also guilty of blatant human rights abuses.
The international community does not want to reflect deeply on the RPF’s civil liberty abuses — it prefers to turn a blind eye and believe the pleasant narrative that with the generous support of donor nations, Rwanda’s government has promoted peace and healthy relations between authority and civil society. The RPF is, admittedly, a difficult government to critique. Government administrators have successfully perpetuated the myth that they enjoy wide popular support. In the election of 2003 the RPF’s candidate Paul Kagame won 95% of the vote—though only after all viable opponents had been eliminated through house arrests, false accusations of divisionism, and more.
Superficially, Rwanda today seems relatively peaceful and prosperous, boasting one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. But the country won’t make true progress unless the government can relate to its citizens in a productive way, without inspiring fear and paranoia. If the international community wants to promote true stability in Rwanda, it should take a vocal stance against the RPF’s censorship and suppression.
Emma Goldberg ’16 is in Saybrook College. She writes on post-conflict politics around the world. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.