Rwanda under a veil

Sundaram’s title, “Bad News,” is appropriately titled to describe what reporting the news in Rwanda is not about. There, under President Kegame, only half of the news is written. Bad news, news that in some way slightly criticizes or negatively portrays the dictator, is treated harshly and in multiple ways.

This is the main reason for the author’s training program for journalists in Rwanda: to reconnect the country, covered in a dictatorial cloak of secrecy, with reality.

Although the program did not start this way (journalists needed to be trained in the fundamental journalistic principles of covering relatively benign stories with government approval), Sundaram makes it clear early in the book that the journalist’s mantra is always to seek the TRUE. as uncomfortable and dangerous as it is. We know from the apprentices’ description of him: suffering from “hunger and fatigue”, some “with deep wounds”.

The repression in Rwanda, difficult for all but those in power in a dictatorship to cope with, was particularly difficult for one of the journalism students, “a certain Gibson”. Gibson is a fascinating study of a talented and intelligent if “quiet” man. The author shows us how this thoughtful and introspective man was affected by the threats that the repression had on him. He is an important figure in history. The author weaves together the story of Gibson’s struggles and fears with the stories of his fellow students. He is there near the end of the book still the author’s “favorite student,” a testament to journalism at its best in the face of the omnipresence and seeming indestructibility of the Rwandan state apparatus.

And there are also surprises in the Sundaram edition. The reader will be surprised to learn about a journalist named Roger, his confidential conversations with Sandaram, and the revelations that would ensue.

Anjan makes us see the extent to which the government controls the minds of Rwandans by the comment made by one of his journalism students speaking on behalf of the class: “We have freedom in Rwanda.” These words strike us in awe from a member of the critical press, a member who should be the first to arrive at the truth from the facts.

Rwanda is a country in denial. First, in a denial orchestrated from above, the government. Second, in a denial by capitulation of the population before the news that the government does not want to print.

One of the recurring themes in “Bad News” is the harshness of the repression in Rwanda. Or how the author’s immediate circle of friends, “almost all the leading journalists had fled or been arrested.”

It is interesting to note that little is shared with others, even with a family member persecuted by the government. The family will seek to get rid of the dissident for fear that he will be exposed.

A dictatorship dehumanizes people. It makes them harm themselves. Everything they have belongs to the dictator. If they are told to give up what they have or even destroy it, they will gladly do so to please the dictator. On a larger scale, dictatorships are like local cults that we read about or see on television. Or like the man who said, “I did it.” What did this man and all the able-bodied men and women in town do to harm themselves and their families? The answer will be one that the reader and author at the time “would never have expected.”

There is irony in the book. Sundaram tells us about the beauty of the city of Kigali and the unspeakable violence of the 1994 genocide, and today the apparent calm in the country and the relentless persecution of dissidents.

Anjon Sundaram has given us a glimpse of life under a dictatorship and how power and tyranny emerged in Rwanda from the catastrophe of the genocide. I highly recommend the book.

One of the most revealing aspects of the crackdown in Rwanda is how the international community sings the praises of the government. All that is left to defend the truth is a small group of journalists inside Rwanda fighting the secrecy of repression not with their words but with their lives.

When the story of Sandarum is told, the reader appreciates the uproar, even in America, over excessive surveillance intrusion. Gibson says, “We hide from the government, which wants to see us all the time.” Thoughts immediately turn to more video surveillance in the United States since the era of terrorism intensified with the 9/11 attacks. And in recent years, Americans have learned that the National Security Agency could be listening to a citizen’s most sensitive phone calls. So our citizens struggle with two fears: the fear of government control over their thoughts and motivations, and the fear of a nebulous external threat of international terrorism that turns their lives upside down.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *