Monday January 25, 2016

Rwandan president 'extremely effective at crushing dissent,' says author

Rwandan president Paul Kagame has changed the law to allow himself to run for a third term in 2017.

Rwandan president Paul Kagame has changed the law to allow himself to run for a third term in 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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In Rwanda, an entire stadium full of people cheered wildly, after the 2010 re-election of president Paul Kagame. He'd been elected for the second term with a resounding 93 per cent of the vote. And those cheers must have still been echoing inside his head, when he went to the people again last December. 

This time in a referendum to change the rules and extend his term limits, and clear the way for a third presidential term for Paul Kagame. That vote was a landslide victory too...despite heavy criticism on the international stage.

"Time magazine, or something, had written that the majority of Rwandans have chosen a dictatorship. I think that is giving dictatorship a good name. If a dictatorship means, one, the choice of the people; two, if a dictatorship produces security, safety, stability, it's about women empowerment, it's about people living together where the past has been terrible and different. If that amounts to dictatorship, then what can I say." - President Paul Kagame, responding to critics

The president says he has the Rwandan people behind him, for his bid to run again. 

But behind that support and the public jubilation, the journalists who cover Rwanda say there's a darker reality at play.

Rwanda Journalism Quoteboard
Anjan Sundaram

Journalist and teacher Anjan Sundaram exposes the disappearance of the free press in Rwanda, in his book, Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship.

Anjan Sundaram knows those journalists better than most. He's been their teacher, in the capital city, Kigali. Anjan Sundaram is the author of Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship. A book that describes how the brutal dictatorship in Rwanda has been so effective at hiding repression.

Fred Muvunyi was also journalist in Kigali. He was also the first chair of the Rwanda Media Commission, that was a body set up 2013, ostensibly to help journalists and keep them independent from government control. But when Fred Muvunyi tried to do just that, he found himself in a dispute with the government and it was over a BBC documentary questioning Paul Kagame's role in the genocide.

Rwanda's Untold Story Documentary from RDI-Rwanda Rwiza on Vimeo.

Muvunyi stood up to the government because he said it's the right thing to do and believes in truth and nothing else. Friends and diplomats helped him leave Rwanda but fellow journalists still in the country have stopped talking to Muvunyi, saying it's too risky as he is considered an enemy of the state.

The Current did contact the Rwandan High Commission in Ottawa for comment on this story. No one was made available.

This segment was produced by The Current's Karin Marley.