This week, the Rwandan government under Paul Kagame passed a measure suspending all BBC radio broadcasts in the most common language, Kinyarwanda, to protest the news organization’s recent documentary about Rwanda’s genocide. You can read more on the story at The Huffington Post.
The documentary in question, “Rwanda: The Untold Story” relies on recently uncovered evidence, detailed fieldwork and research, and the firsthand accounts from many in Kagame’s inner circle to debunk a myth central to the entire genocide story in Rwanda. All the evidence points clearly to the fact that, while hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were killed at the hands of Hutus, hundreds of thousands of Hutus were also killed. To make this claim in Rwanda is illegal because the official genocide story, designed and controlled by a powerful Tutsi government, portrays only the Tutsis as victims of the genocide. To say Hutus were targeted by Tutsis (and other Hutus) is to be a “genocide denier”.
The most serious claim made by the documentary is that President Kagame not only had intimate knowledge of the planned attack on the plane carrying the former presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, he orchestrated it. The attack on Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane is frequently cited as the spark that ignited the genocide.
Kagame has accused the BBC of bringing together genocide revisionists in order to distort the facts about the mass killings and the Rwanda government has called for the BBC to apologize.
I watched this documentary several weeks ago and my immediate thought about the producers and crew and everyone interviewed was: “Well, they just got blacklisted from Rwanda.” In my PhD program I am concentrating on comparative politics in Africa and my main region of study is the Great Lakes. For a while I considered focusing my work in Rwanda, but the more I see how limiting the freedom of speech is in the country under Kagame, the more I worry about my academic future were I to become a Rwanda specialist. So many great researchers with a deep love and respect of Rwanda and its people have been blacklisted form the country, meaning they can no longer enter, because of the type of research they conducted and the conclusions they came to. As a scholar of political science and peace, I am naturally drawn to exploring contentious political topics. This is very difficult in a country where the government is so powerful and so protective of their image.
I applaud the makers of this documentary and all those who dared to be interviewed, particularly the native Rwandans, and hope that they remain safe while BBC deals with the fallout from the Kagame government.
You can watch the full documentary “Rwanda: The Untold Story” here:
Since posting this, a response by Davenport and Stam, the two US scholars interviewed for the documentary, was brought to my attention. In their response, Davenport and Stam address the three main criticisms leveled against them and their research: 1) playing down the number of Tutsi victims, 2) accusing the RPF of shooting down the plane, and 3) playing down the crimes of the Hutu militia. Davenport and Stam tackle each criticism. You can read their response on their website, GenoDynamics.