Debra Black's Notes From the
August 1, 2007 – Press freedom, unresolved
The one unresolved issue for me as I wrap up my five weeks or so in Rwanda is freedom of the press. According to an international audit of 150 countries Rwanda ranks 140th when it comes to press freedom. Not exactly a sterling statistic. Freedom House, a U.S.-based NGO, which was originally founded by Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell Wilkie in 1941, does the survey. The idea behind the audit is to evaluate good governance and freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
In Canada we take freedom of the press for granted. We take for granted that as reporters we have the right to interview whoever we want. We scoff at the idea of politicians or governments controlling what we write. As long as we print the truth and don’t slander or libel anyone we are able to write just about anything. In close to 30 years of journalism I have never been told I couldn’t write a story or investigate an issue. I have never been afraid to write about a subject or ask a certain question or explore a certain idea.
But here in Rwanda, it is my observation after a little more than a month on the ground that a kind of culture of fear exists around the media. Many of the journalists automatically censor themselves from asking questions or probing certain subjects. They believe their jobs, their careers, their lives may in fact be on the line. And for them the fact they have a job that pays and makes sure they have food in their stomachs is something they want to protect. That is their reality. And those in the so-called independent press struggle with the reality that what they are doing puts them at risk.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are not yet part of the social underpinnings of Rwandan society. It is perhaps too close to the Genocide for many to understand the need for a free press. Thirteen years is not very long in a historical sense. Here in Rwanda the press is still viewed by some with fear since it played such a huge role in instigating the slaughter of close to a million people.
Over the past month I have spoken to a number of experts and officials on the topic of press freedom. Many suggest that Rwanda is slowly moving towards a freer press, but that given the role of the media in the Genocide it will take time before Rwandan society and government opens up to the idea of a free and robust media. Some media types even suggest there are no restrictions here and reporters can write about anything as long as they have the facts. I have not seen that to be true.
I don’t agree, however, with those who suggest that a slow evolution is the way to go. I firmly believe that the way to keep another Genocide at bay is to have a free and open press and laws that deal with the publication or utterance of hate and racism. We have such laws in Canada and while they are slow and cumbersome, they do work. And one need only look at post-Nazi Germany to see the laws that were put into place there to prevent another Holocaust as a good example of how such laws can work.
One visiting business type told me he thought that Rwanda would allow more press freedom here when it realizes that its image is being hurt on the international scene and with potential investors. And he may be right. But in the meantime the Rwandan people are losing out – they are entitled to a rigorous and vibrant 5th estate.
Good journalism is hard to practice here in Rwanda. The actual ABCs of how to do a news story or a feature – be it for print, radio and or television – are missing here among many reporters. Some of the reporters have no formal training in journalism whatsoever. They just fell into it. The craft of reporting and writing has a long way to go here. And all the media outlets – including the state run radio and television, the pro-government New Times, the independent media – French, English and Kinyarwandan – could take a lesson or two in everything from the craft to the ethics of journalism.
All the principles we in North American espouse and cherish are often not understood here – balance, objectivity, attribution, documentation. Many media outlets think nothing of printing innuendo and rumor without substantiating anything and the papers are filled with wild opinion pieces that are based on nothing but air. Others print letters to the editor which are nothing more than fabrication, justifying their conduct by saying they don’t get many letters to the editor.
Journalists themselves accept free meals, free hotel accommodation in exchange for restaurant reviews or travel pieces. They routinely ask for transportation money to attend press conferences. Some of the so-called independent press has gone even further. The head of an American NGO told me while I was interviewing him that one of the independent papers tried to extort money from him and suggested a bad story about the NGO would go away if the NGO bought a special section or supplement with the newspaper. Some foreign government officials have also said they have literally been given carte blanche by some of the media and told to write whatever they want for publication themselves.
Then there is the question of presidential or government interference. To this I can only speak from personal experience. While I was doing media training at the New Times an editor was sacked because he had approved publication of a picture of President Kagame that was deemed to be unflattering. The rest of the staff was told in no uncertain terms that this was not to be done again. They were also told to avoid criticizing the government, the presidency and the law. They only needed to be told once for the message to sink in. As I leave it is still unclear to me whose decision it was to fire the editor – whether it came from the newspaper’s board, an aide of the president or the president himself. But editors at the New Times still assure me that they too would like to have a free and robust press –one without interference where they are left alone to do their job. They however assert that it can’t happen overnight. That freedom will come bit by bit along with increased credibility. And so their struggle continues.
The journalism world here is almost like the world of espionage during the Cold War – with some journalists working at the independent publications as spies while others who have been fired from the New Times for writing something critical are suddenly rehabilitated and write under a pseudonym. In other instances some sources have been known to provide tips for the independent media, which turn out to be false and are designed strictly to ruin their credibility. All the lines are very murky here.
Just a month before I came to Rwanda a new weekly newspaper began publication. It was supposed to give The New Times a run for its money and was apparently very well designed and had some former staff of the New Times at its helm. It ceased publication after one issue -- closed by the government. The move was seen as highly suspect.
But at his monthly news conference in July President Paul Kagame said he knew nothing about the reasons behind the closing. He called on his information minister to explain. And then the president said that it seemed the newspaper had given some false information and the Ministry of Information was looking at the application and would make a decision shortly about whether the paper would remain closed or re-open. As I leave, no decision has yet been made.
Still Kagame himself has acknowledged publicly that there are problems in the media in Rwanda and he assured the members of the press at this same monthly news conference that he would like to see a better quality, more vigorous press. “I have known for too long about the media and what is lacking and the consequences of that,” he said.
“The disadvantages of that are very clear to me. I don’t know if they are clear to you people in the media. If somebody says there is something lacking, people take offense. There is a lot lacking…we’re still building capacity.”
Kagame told the members of the press that they should bring a plan for media development to the government and the minister of information would look at it. “The ball is in your court,” he told members of the assembled media.
Whether Kagame actually means that he would like to see a more open and vibrant press remains to be seen. In the meantime the journalists I have met here – at all the media outlets – both state run and independent – struggle on, some desperate for information on how to craft a news story; how to do interviews, how to determine fact from innuendo. Others are less open to new ideas and new ways of writing a story. But all are hindered by language problems, lack of skills and expertise and lack of basic equipment. So many of them need extensive training. But my hat goes off to all of them for just hanging in long enough and caring enough to try to make a difference.
July 29, 2007
The HIV special project has finally been put to bed. And I’m happy about it finally being over, done. This week has been very stressful as we tried to finish stories, edit them, arrange pictures and finalize the layout. And as so often happens it all had to be thrown out of the window at the last minute because of other stories and concerns. Still, I am happy about the fact that the project was completed (there were a couple of minutes when I actually doubted it would ever see the light of day) and that I was able to work with some of the journalists and editors at the New Times and show them how such a project can be done and what real value projects like that can have for the paper.
Everyone in the end really pulled together and I think did some of their best work – from the photographers to the reporters and editors. Everyone wanted it to be good. The New Times may be a pro government paper – or as some say actually owned by the President – but sometimes the sheer joy of journalism and telling a story can win out no matter what. Such was the case when the newsroom earlier this month covered the landslide in downtown Kigali, which killed three people at a construction site or today’s HIV/AIDS package. Sometimes a story is a story no matter what; no matter what paper it appears in. I hope the reporters and editors at the New Times have learned that if nothing else. I hope that my month here, talking to them about the basics of reporting and writing and even a little about freedom of the press will help them in the months to come.
They have a tough job here. They have few resources -- no notebooks, often no pens. Ironically they do have computers and Internet access, but the computers are antiquated and the Internet connection slow. They don’t have tape recorders or a regular form of transportation to get to a story. Sometimes three or four reporters and a photographer have to pile into one jeep and a driver takes each from one story to the next. They all wait for each other or sometimes are forced to make their way back to the office alone.
They face all kinds of interference and roadblocks and suffer disdain from the general public and oft times those in power. They work within a culture of fear – a fear that is partially self-imposed and partially very real. And they suffer disdain and criticism from other media outlets, which if truth be told have their own ethical problems. Indeed, the entire journalistic world here is a kind of ethical cesspool to a Western journalist.
And yet despite everything, every day the reporters and editors at the New Times get a paper out. You may not like The New Times’ editorial position. You may think it’s a government rag or a propaganda vehicle controlled by the President. You may laugh at some of its stories and the odd turn of phrase in headlines and copy. But it’s doing something that few other outlets do here, publishing a daily paper. And for that it should be commended. I had a friend who used to say that “newspapering” was history on the run and a kind of daily miracle. That holds true be it here in Kigali or at home in Toronto. And for that and all the travails the reporters and editors face at the New Times on any given day –sometimes even something like getting to work becomes complicated because of “umagundu”, or national clean up day, when cars and buses don’t run until noon — they deserve to be praised for just their sheer tenacity and determination at trying to get a paper out.
July 27, 2007
Thirteen years after the Genocide the city of Kigali looks like a thriving, booming city – with apartment buildings and hotels being built all over town to accommodate a growing population. It is hard when you look around and see all the lush gardens and well-kept city streets to think that they once ran with blood. So when you meet and talk to someone like Simeon – a taxicab driver who took me into town one day – you are struck by how completely devastating life was before and during the Genocide.
Simeon told me that growing up in Kigali he was discriminated against and not allowed to continue his education even though he was at the top of his class. The reason he was a Tutsi. He protested, but there was no vehicle of appeal. It was as if he wasn’t a person, he said, to me as we drove along the main route into town.
Suddenly we slowed down and moved to the side of the road. It seems the Presidential motorcade was passing by. Simeon remarked on how much he loved President Kagame. I asked him why? The answer was quite simple as far as he was concerned. The President stopped the Genocide. That was enough for him. Now, his son will get the education Simeon never was able to get. And more importantly the people are one, he said. There are no more ethnic divisions. Now they are truly one people. His son sits by a Hutu in school and they study together and are treated equal. That is a truly great thing, he said.
Simeon’s story is not to be underestimated. It explains the depth of affection many in this country have for their president. It is enough for them that he stopped the Genocide. It is everything for them. And whatever Kagame’s flaws or the country’s problems for them it is better than before when many were living in exodus and those who remained in Rwanda were raped, mutilated and massacred.
Earlier this week I met Elijah and Celestine – two men who are the best of friends in the district of Bugesera, just outside of Kigali. Their friendship in many ways doesn’t seem all that extraordinary until you hear the way their lives are entwined. Thirteen years ago Elijah helped killed Celestine’s brother and his family and killed his sister and participated in the murder of her family during the Genocide. It is a moment he deeply regrets and has agonized over. He was taught to hate Tutsis as a young child and that he blames his parents for passing on their irrational hatred, he said. He has been in prison. Now some 13 years later he has returned to his village to live and work as a carpenter. How Elijah and Celestine reconciled is one of the most extraordinary stories I have ever heard. The two men as they talk hold hands and hug each other. They explain how at a three-day peace and reconciliation seminar, sponsored by the faith-based NGO World Vision, they found the strength to forgive each other. Celestine stood up for Elijah at his wedding last year. They have formed an association to promote peace between former enemies and want everyone to hear the story of their reconciliation. They are now like blood brothers – a bond formed on a pyre of hatred, which has grown into a remarkable well of love. As I listen to the details of their story – the injuries Celestine suffered during the genocide, the murder of his family, I am overcome. But I am even more surprised – if that is possible – at their friendship and love for each other now. I take a picture of them – their hands are tightly woven together. Two separate parts of one strong bond of love and forgiveness.
Nearby I also met two women – both of who have HIV, both of who have children but no husbands. They live in tiny concrete three room homes – with a metal roof and small well-tended gardens. Despite the stark surroundings to them the houses are like mansions. All were built with Canadian donations to World Vision. Their children are well scrubbed and cleanly dressed. And they wait expectantly for us to arrive.
Mwjuma Muteteri is 37 years old and has four children as well as an adopted child. She discovered she was HIV positive in 1999 while she was living in Kigali. Her husband died of HIV/AIDS in 2003 so that’s when she came to Nyamata. He had been unfaithful and she got HIV from him, she said showing little emotion.
One of her daughters shyly tells me she wants to be a journalist. She wants to work at Radio Rwanda – the state run radio station. I tell her to make sure she studies hard and goes to journalism school. Muteteri’s second child wants to be a doctor and medical researcher – and perhaps discover a cure for HIV/AIDS.
When Muteteri discovered she had HIV/AIDS she said that she wanted to kill herself. “I felt really bad,” she said through a translator. Then she joined a local association called the Power of Love — made up women in her area who are HIV positive. Their support along with counseling and antiretroviral medication has made it easier for her to not only continue to live but look after her children and earn a small living making baskets. “I no longer have anger and shame,” she tells me. Now she has hope. “When I try to look back and I know there is a big difference. I was about to die. I had no hope. My children were going to be orphaned. But now…I have my house. My children are growing up. I am hopeful tomorrow will be better.”
Twenty-two year old Priscilla Uwamahoro lives not far from Muteteri. She too has HIV/AIDS. She discovered she was HIV positive in 2004. She has four children – three are negative; one is positive. At first when she found out she was HIV positive she was desperate, she said in Kinyarwandan through a translator. Her husband, who was HIV negative, abandoned her as soon as he heard the news. “All I thought about was suicide -- about killing myself. I was feeling meaningless.” But then she found comfort amongst other HIV positive women and counselors. She is taking a vocational training course in tailoring and hopes to support her family making clothes. She gets up and shows off some of her work – a top made with lime green batik material. It is distinctly African. She worries about her future -- about the future of her son with HIV and the future of her other children should she die. She hopes to leave them a kind of legacy – by teaching them to sew as well. “I used to get worried, but I’m no longer worried,” she said. “Before I could spend the whole night without sleeping. And those sleepless nights could me make me loose weight and be weak physically. Now I’m very confident that tomorrow will be good.”
The women of Rwanda impress me with their strength -- be it these two women who I met on a recent hot sweltering July afternoon; the women politicians who I met in Kigali over the past month or the women at the Village of Hope on the outskirts of Kigali – many of whom are widows and were raped during the Genocide, their husbands killed and they were left for dead only to survive with their children and find they were HIV positive. All of them are passionate and full of an inner fortitude that is impressive. Each and very one of them carry themselves with a dignity and grace that leaves its mark on you long after your visit with them is over.
At the Village of Hope I met Lourance Mukamuragwa. She has HIV and is a widow with six children. She was raped, her husband killed in the Genocide. Mukamuragwa it turns out was at the Grandmothers’ Gathering in Toronto – an event organized by the Stephen Lewis Foundation last summer just before the International AIDS Conference. She gets very excited – as do I – when I realize she is the same woman who scooped up and danced Angelique Kidjo around the room after Kidjo performed at the Grandmothers’ conference last summer. I tell her through an interpreter that I have a picture of her that the Toronto Star published and I will send it to her. She thanks me and sends a message to Stephen Lewis. Tell Stephen she said that Lourance says hello and that she loves him and sends him a big hug. Then she wraps both her arms around her immense body to show me just how much a hug she wants to send him.
Tonight as I sit in my house in Kimahurara and think on the events of the past week, I can’t help but think of Lourance and the other women at the Village of Hope.
I close my eyes and see the women from there dancing and singing for their own pleasure. They stand tall and proud; their arms spread out like eagles as they move to the African drums the orphans and other widows of the village play. Their bodies are loose, supple despite their age. Their dance is regal, a kind of prayer to the fact they have survived. One of the women tries to teach me to dance. I am awkward, self-conscious as I try to follow her lead. Then the music carries us away. No longer are we a poor African widow and a clumsy Western journalist. For a moment we are simply two women bound together in the joy of a summer’s afternoon and the beat of an African drum.
July 22, 2007 — “Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!”
Okay I didn’t see any lions, tigers or bears, but I did see giraffes, hippos, zebras, warthogs, baboons, spider monkeys, antelopes and an amazing array of birds. Sadly the elephants were hiding as were the crocodiles, or said Deo, our sterling guide and expert in all things animal and geographic.
I went on a one-day safari on Saturday to Akagera National Park on the border of Rwanda and Tanzania. I left just before dawn, got there around nine am and was able to fit in a safari in both the morning and the afternoon. It was absolutely amazing – really one of the highlights of my month here.
The golden light made everything radiant and luminous. And the landscape was much more typical of what one thinks of when one thinks of Africa – brown, parched, with this incredible red dirt everywhere. It is very different from the green lush tea fields and banana plantations and the jungle of the area near Gisenyi and the Virungas Mountains which borders on the Congo. To me it was reminiscent of the Badlands of the prairies. But of course one would never see a giraffe, hippo or zebra there running wild and free.
I was particularly taken with the majesty of the giraffes as they stop to graze on leaves from the treetops. They are beautiful to watch and exude a quiet elegance and peace, content with their place on the African plains. I have to say I fell madly in love with the giraffes and zebras. I’m actually not a big wild animal fan – but this was magical. To see these animals in their natural terrain as the morning light came up over the hills was an absolute joy. There was hardly a sound except for the occasional bird, the odd sound of a hippo, which kind of sounds like a cow mooing and a pig grunting, and the conversation of our guide Deo and driver Zacky.
As I looked out over the arid parched land, the thorn bushes, cactuses and trees I saw immense beauty, grace and a kind of spirituality. It seemed to me anyway that the land was indeed touched by God. But the safari was not without its lighter moments, including watching two hippos having “hippo” sex at dusk. Much of the journey was around Lake Ihema, which roughly translates in Kinyarwandan as “tent”, or so says Deo. The story goes that when the African explorer Stanley came to Rwanda, he pitched a big white tent there and all the natives came to see the “minzungu” explorer living in the tent. Eventually they called the lake – Ihema Lake – in his honour.
I was traveling with Scott Hannant, News Director of CTV Ottawa, a media trainer working at TV Rwanda, and we returned to the Akagera Game Lodge to spend the night. As soon as we arrived back we jumped into the pool to refresh ourselves. We were literally covered in a layer of red dust. After a good night’s sleep we returned early today to Kigali where I spent the day preparing for my last week at the paper.
I have one week left before the HIV/AIDS special project is to be published and I’m getting anxious about it. Much remains to be done. Three out of the five stories are almost ready. I went over the stories with each of the reporters, looking at the structure, suggesting they go back and try different ledes and work on making it easier to read and understandable. But the main story remains the challenge. Still outstanding are a graphic with stats on HIV and Rwanda, an editorial and an op-ed piece and one other feature. The interviews for the main story are in hand. It will be a kind of umbrella piece on the state of HIV in Rwanda today and where the country is going in its battle against the disease. Two reporters went out to interview the head of the AIDS Treatment and Research Agency, the head of the National AIDS Commission and a third compiled data from a World Bank study on HIV in Rwanda. My challenge is to merge all those components into one story.
After that’s done the Sunday editor and I will edit the stories to length, talk about pictures and just make sure everything comes together for Saturday when it is all put to bed. It has been quite a project – literally a first for the New Times. They have never attempted a comprehensive project like this before. And while I can’t say it’s absolutely incredible –it’s not bad given the limited resources and limited skills of some of the reporters.
As for my work last week was quite hectic. I began to do some of my interviews for the stories I’m going to be doing for the Toronto Star, including one on women parliamentarians and politicians here. Compared to Canada the number of women actively participating in government is extraordinary. It comes out of political expediency and the political experience of most of the women pre and post-Genocide. And it is fascinating to talk to these women.
I interviewed one of the MPs in the Parliament Buildings, which still are in dire need of disrepair. A lot of damage was done to the buildings during the battle for Kigali and the Genocide. One women parliamentarian told me awful stories about some of the women she worked with – the widows of the Genocide who were severely traumatized and remain so even today. She recounted how one woman not only was raped and witnessed the murder of her husband but was also forced to put her husband’s penis in her mouth just before he was castrated.
This just one of the stories I heard last week about the cruelty and evil that reigned during the Genocide. On Friday night, I had dinner with Eugene Nkurunziza, from Plan Rwanda, a local branch of Plan International which used to be known as Foster Parents Plan. It has recently started an operation here in Rwanda. A former colleague at the Star had arranged that I meet him. Eugene brought with him – Deo, a Plan member from Tanzania who is here working in Rwanda for three months and a U.S. intern from Princeton, Amnity. We shared a wonderful meal at the Novetel – which has a lush outdoor garden and buffet dinner.
During the dinner Eugene waxed poetically about his wife and how much he loved her and what a stir they caused when they married because she is more than 6 feet tall while he is about my height – on a good day that’s about 5 feet 4 and a half inches. Oh la la, he said. People couldn’t believe it when they decided to marry, he said. But he didn’t mind. He knew she was the one for him. But at the wedding, he did admit, it was hard for him to lift her veil away from her face so he could kiss her.
Later after dinner, the conversation turned to more serious affairs and we talked about Plan’s initiative to build a brand new health center in the Eastern province of Rwanda where there was virtually nothing. His hope was the center would be ready by January, 2008 and it would begin offering a wide array of health services, from HIV/AIDS counseling and treatment to dealing with malaria and tuberculosis – all three major killers here. The focus for the centre: the health of the local children and their families.
Then we began talking about his family and his background. His parents had left Rwanda in 1959 and he had grown up in Uganda. They returned after the Genocide and his parents ended up adopting his cousins and raising them as his own. It seems his aunt – his mother’s sister – had been killed in the Genocide. Her death organized by her own husband – a Hutu. After she had been killed – she had been cut in two – the soldiers had told her children that they had killed a fat pig and they should dispose of the body. Her own children went with a sheet and picked up their mothers’ remains and buried her. Then he told me about how his brother had recently been killed in a motorcycle accident. He just shook his hand as he recounted the tale. We were so close, he said. My brother really loved me.
His tale reminded me of what a colleague at the New Times had said earlier in the day. George Kagame said that in all likelihood I would outlive him even though I was more than double his age. Africa takes people very young, he said. He spoke from a recent experience. Earlier in the week he had come to me and said he had to leave immediately for Uganda and couldn’t do a story I had assigned him. When I asked what was up, I was shocked by his response. His best friend friend’s brother had stabbed his best friend in Kampala, he said. It was a financial dispute. And so this too is Africa.
On Friday, I gave a seminar for the reporters – this one seemed well attended and everyone was full of questions. In fact, I had a hard time wrapping it up. One of the topics being rigorously debated was a story that ran the day before in the New Times about a man who admitted to killing his brother. He had been charged with murder. The paper ran the story and his confession on its front page. I tried to explain to the reporters here the Canadian legal concepts of innocent until proven guilty and the danger of prejudicing a court case but the reporters seemed puzzled by these ideas, suggesting that they run stories like that all the time, including confessions of Genocide criminals.
Afterwards one of the reporters interviewed me for a story for the New Times. She said she wanted to do a feature about me to show readers that you don’t have to be young to be a reporter. With age comes experience, she said. (I didn’t know whether to be complimented or insulted about her reference to my age.) She hoped readers would realize how important a reporter is to society, she said. So I agreed to do it. I thought it would be a good way to see how she performed in an interview situation. And I must say she wasn’t bad. But I won’t judge her performance until I see the article.
Earlier in the morning I was supposed to do an interview with some officials at USAID about its role in funding HIV/AIDS projects here in Rwanda. When I got to its offices, I was told I could not take in either my camera or tape recorder because neither had been authorized. It seems the communication officer hadn’t arranged for permission for me to bring these tools into the mission.
I said that I wouldn’t do the interview without my tape recorder and pointed out the irony of not being allowed to enter the USAID compound with my tape recorder. After all, here I was in Rwanda trying to teach good journalistic practices and trying to encourage freedom of the press and I wasn’t being allowed to bring a tape recorder into an interview with American officials. This is the same country where democracy is held very close to its citizens’ hearts and where freedom of the press is considered a pillar in a democratic society. The interview – with a tape recorder I hope –has been rescheduled to this Tuesday.
Freedom of the press is a lively topic of debate here in Kigali. When I was talking to Rwandan artist Epa Binamungu – whose last name means son of God – he spoke at length about the artistic freedom that he has here. Artists are truly free here, he said. Artists are free to say what they want because no one understands what they say. They say it with their brushes, he said. Journalists need to speak, but politicians don’t like them to speak. For a journalist a pen should be a tool just like a painter’s art brush.
July 17, 2007 — Random notes from Kigali
At night Kigali is wrapped in fog that clings to its hills. One night as I walked to catch a taxi home a set of headlights came beaming out at me from the dense fog. Suddenly, a truck full of men headed towards me and then drove on. But for a second I wondered what it must have been like when truck loads of Interahamwe were driving like madmen around the city looking to round up Tutsis and take them to their death. It is not hard to imagine machete-wielding men coming after people as the madness escalated and neighbors turned on neighbors and family on family. It is hard not to think of the Genocide as you wander through the streets of Kigali – almost everywhere you go you can feel the presence of those dark days and nights. Sometimes it feels like the streets are literally haunted by the ghosts of those who were massacred here and that their blood is permanently etched on the streets. The Hotel Milles Collines stands pristine high on the hill, overlooking the city and beckoning tourists. But 13 years ago it was a hideaway for many Tutsis seeking safety from the madness. And so it goes here. The Genocide is still very present even as the country tries to continue to heal itself. Even something as simple as a truck load of prisoners – dressed in pink Bermuda shorts and shirts – driving through the city to a work detail reminds city residents of the awful past. These men are all prisoners – convicted or awaiting trial for their participation in the Genocide.
And yet there is much that is charming and lovely about downtown Kigali – the hustle and bustle of vendors, phone card salesmen, taxi and moto or motorcycle taxi drivers mixed with the daily traffic of pedestrians. Women with baskets on their head walk down the main boulevard straight as arrows. Men holding hands walk quickly to work. Others stop for a coffee. A man walks from the market carrying two recently killed chickens. Hawkers are everywhere. selling everything from “antique” wooden statues to leather belts to the passing parade. Above the shops that line some of the dusty streets are hand-painted signs for Sleeping Baby and Colgate Toothpaste. Cars drive around at a breakneck speed without little adherence to any rules of the road. And everywhere there are streets such as Boulevard de la Revolution, Avenue de la Justice and Avenue de la Paix.
I love the way the Rwandese express affection with each other. The other day in the newsroom I was talking to the Sunday editor and as we were talking she would hold my hand or stroke it or clasp it tightly – much like teenage girls do with their best friends. There is nothing going on here – it’s just an expression of friendship. And its not just women men also love holding hand with each other or walking arm in arm down one of the downtown streets. I wondered what the reaction would be at the Star if I began to stroke one of the editors’ hands there as we talked about a crime scene or murder. Imagine their reaction and surprise. And of course it would have a whole other meaning wouldn’t it?
What also I find interesting is the way people dress here -- an odd combination of African and Western. Many of the clothes people wear here are very Western – taken I can only assume from the vast quantities of used clothes given away in Canada and the U.S. and then sent here. It’s not unusual to see someone wearing a shirt that is distinctly Canadian. But in the early morning as I walk to work I find myself in the middle of a parade of African women of all shapes and sizes wearing the most incredible patterned batik clothing. There is a kind of unintentional majesty and pageantry to the procession as these women go off to their jobs.
Many of their clothes are hand made by local tailors. I got to experience this first hand at the beginning of my time here. “Fashions by Andre” is in a little alleyway near the Post Office and Kobil Gas Station in downtown Kigali. Well, the tailor shop is not really known as that, but I choose to call it that because it has no sign or no name. The tailor, however, is indeed Andre. And a visit to his tiny vestibule size shop is well worth it. He takes your measurements and creates whatever your heart desires – within reason. And his work is quite wonderful. I wowed everyone at the paper with one of the dresses he made for me. The cloth is a navy blue batik pattern with birds. Andre made it into a kind of sundress that fits like a glove and is very comfortable in the hot weather here. But the piece de resistance is the African top and skirt he made me. I’m going to wear it later this week to the New Times. He even taught me how to wrap a headscarf a la the women in the Congo.
On Monday I interviewed the Minister of the Environment Patricia Hajabakiga for a story I’m doing for the Star on women and politics. The interview was set for 7:00 am and here that’s the norm. We began the interview and she absolutely floored me when she announced that she not only knew Toronto and the Toronto Star, but also had studied there. It seems she did her environmental degree at York University and also had studied at Ryerson University. What a small world! She lived as a student near the Hudson’s Bay Centre. She had come to Canada to study, leaving her children in Tanzania with her husband. Kigali seems an awfully long way from Charles St. in downtown Toronto.
A team of 42 Brits is also currently in town – fanning across the city. Members of the Conservative Party, public relations types and journalists are here to do some advance work for the head of the party who arrives next week. I met a couple of them – a pr guy and a freelance journalist for the Economist (I think) and they asked me to join them for dinner and drinks sometime next week. They’re here to help out in any way they can – to advise business and build some kind of lasting relationship between Britain and Rwanda.
Today while I was wandering around over lunch hour I came across the Iganzo Art Gallery. A Rwandese artist Epa Binamunga, a 54-year-old painter from Butare, owns it. I spent about an hour talking to him and looking at his art – a unique mix of abstracts and figures in mixed media. I was so taken with one I bought it. He told me it was his favourite -- it is an abstract that is meant to represent the destruction and evil of the Genocide as well as the healing of his country.
It made me feel somewhat insignificant as I try to bring journalism skills to journalists here. I keep pounding away at the fundamentals, hoping that someone will pick up what I’m saying. But every time you feel there is a victory, then you face another setback. This morning I gave a seminar for the editors and only half of them came. I wonder sometimes what I should have said to the young reporter who asked me the other day: “How do you keep up the professional standards and ethics of good journalism if you’re afraid of losing your job?” My answer about doing his best to live up to his own personal code of ethics while trying to do the best job possible as a journalist somehow didn’t offer much of a solution in a world where journalistic ethics at all the media here is sometimes shady at best. Some days it is very hard to tell the good guys from the bad.
July 14, 2007 — Dative and Ewan McGregor: Two worlds collide
Today I met Dative. She has dark brown doe like eyes. They are deep pools of sadness. Her face is etched with pain. She smiles, but only just a bit. It is controlled, tentative. But it is her eyes that haunt me. And I think they likely will forever.
Dative, 22, is a guide at the Ntarama Church Genocide Memorial. Well dressed and soft spoken, she stands before the church and tells a tale of evil. She relates the events shyly, reluctantly. Sometimes her words are hardly audible.
Ntarama is a small village five kilometres down a dirt road that branches off the main road 20 kilometres outside of Kigali. It is here where Dative and her parents live -- in this small village – with mud huts, an orphanage and a church.
And it is here in this same church where her brothers and sisters died. Now she is curator and guide of the church – a living memorial to the genocide and the Tutsis who were killed here thirteen years ago.
In 1994 when the genocide was in full throttle 5,000 Tutsis came to this simple red brick church in Ntarama to hide. They locked themselves inside the church and for three days they sat and waited, huddling against each other for warmth and comfort. Then the Interahamwe arrived – with grenades and machetes.
First the genocidaires lobbed grenades into the church, and then they killed those who were still alive with guns, machetes and spears. In the building behind the church more Tutsis hid behind mattresses. Members of the Interahamwe set the mattresses on fire and burned them to death.
Dative escaped. She doesn’t really know how. She just took a chance and ran and ran into the nearby African swamp. So did her parents. But her two brothers and four sisters never made it. They died in that church.
But Dative lived – lived to tell the tale of those who died. She somehow survived, living in the African bush for a month -- always hiding, always fearful. Now she is the guardian of all those who didn’t survive. She chooses to stay in her village and tells visitors about the Genocide in honor of her family members and all the others who died in this senseless massacre.
Inside the church are row upon row of disembodied skulls, torsos, legs, arms. They are displayed as a kind of talisman against the Genocide; a warning of what happens when evil goes unchecked. Thousands of bloodstained clothes hang from the rafters of the church. Moths have eaten some of the clothes. Others are shredded and rotting from decay. Time has taken its toll. Near the altar sits a table full of shoes – mud stained, grimy, holey shoes -- and other personal effects – pens, rosaries.
On the altar sits a number of wooden coffins – full of bones from the dead. Above the coffins a series of primitive religious paintings adorn the wall. A blue stained glass window remains partially intact. By the door a box of schoolbooks and a lone coloured photograph of a family – the picture slightly tinged from age. One can’t help but imagine their story – how they came to the church looking for safety and sanctity and instead found Hell.
Outside the church a wall of names of those who died sits near a beautiful lush garden. Behind the wire fence —decorated with ribbons of white and mauve (the colours of mourning here) -- the village. It is a nondescript village – like thousands that dot the continent. Children play nearby. They wave, smile, preen for the camera. They are like children everywhere, happy, playful, laughing. They are innocent of the shadow of evil the church casts on their land.
Dative asks for nothing other than a small payment for the memorial. I sign the guest book. Among the many names that adorn the pages – Ewan McGregor, the star of Star Wars and Moulin Rouge, and Charles Boorman, a motorcycle enthusiast. The two, authors of a book on long distance motorcycling, are in Rwanda making a documentary. McGregor has written in the book: “We must never forget.”
I am tired, weary from all the sadness and the ghosts that haunt Rwanda. I take Dative’s photograph. I promise to send it to her. She tells me she has email and gives me her address.
When I look at the photograph of her face later, I realize how deep the sadness in her really is and how the fear has touched her. Her eyes do not shine. Her partial smile is perplexing. Perhaps the idea of smiling is too unbearable – an insult to the dead. She says she is no longer scared, but her eyes belie the statement. They look haunted. It hits me as we head home that she is only a few years older than my son. I ask Chantal, a wonderful Rwandan taxi driver who has driven me to Ntarama, if many Rwandans go to the church or is it just foreigners? It’s not just foreigners, she said. Many Rwandans go as well -- in silence to remember and grieve their dead.
July 13, 2007
Today was a long day. I arrived at the paper early at 8:00 am and spent the next 12 hours working with both editors and reporters. On Thursday there had been a massive landslide on a construction site in Kigali – not far from the downtown. Three people had died and six were injured. The paper had really out done itself in its coverage and after two weeks of hounding reporters and editors about ledes –something seems to have kicked in. The front-page headline said it all: “Disaster” and there were three front-page stories and a number of follows. And for the most part the stories were clear and concise. It was as if something had clicked and suddenly they understood what I have been talking about for the past two weeks.
Just to get a sense of how reporters work here I went out with them on their “follows” today and it was really interesting. All the relatives and neighbors of the dead had gathered at another building owned by the owner of the land and construction company. There were many tears and accusations as the New Times reporters began to interview them. It seemed they were upset because the bodies had not been released so they couldn’t bury them. The owner wasn’t doing anything to help them.
Meanwhile, other reporters had spoken to the police and there were reports from city officials that the site had already been shut down once before because it didn’t have proper architectural plans and other necessary documents. It also seems that a report had suggested there was a problem with soil stability.
By noon the reporters came back and started to write their stories. I spent much of the afternoon, helping them write and then I stayed on and helped the News Desk edit the paper. It was long and showed me there are a number of weaknesses that could be quite simply addressed at the paper. The first is that a kind of mentoring partnership should be set up between reporters who have good working knowledge of English and those that don’t. That would go a long way towards ending some of the bizarre phraseology in the paper. The second is that reporters should really talk to their editors before they sit down to write their stories.
I stressed this is the reporters’ seminar I gave later in the afternoon. For about an hour I tried to explain to these fledgling reporters how to do a good interview and reviewed some more writing tips. Before the paper went to bed I spoke to the Managing Director Ignatius about the HIV/AIDS project the reporters are working on. We clarified the amount of space it’s going to be given. I had hoped we could do a whole issue on HIV/AIDS – a la Vanity Fair and its Africa edition – but Ignatius didn’t see the point. So we’re going to do a front-page story and features on three inside pages and hopefully an editorial. It still should be pretty good. And it is the first time the paper has attempted anything like it.
Later, I spoke to one of the reporters involved in the project George Kagame who told me he had decided to keep up the momentum once I’d left. He was in the midst of proposing a special set of features on NGOs in Rwanda. I felt thrilled when he told me. Perhaps I am having some effect after all.
Totally exhausted I left the paper and headed to meet some of the trainers and students from the Rwanda Initiative at Indian Khazana –the best Indian restaurant in Kigali. However, I had a huge misadventure on the way over. The taxi I was in kept stalling out – not a really safe thing in Kigali, a city of hills. It took me about 45 minutes to get to the restaurant and it should have only been a 10 minute drive. Of course there’s no taxi commission to call and report the misadventure. Once there I told the driver, I thought his car was very unsafe. But I don’t think he was going to do much about it.
But once there I quickly forgot about the dodgy ride. The food was absolutely fantastic – better than anything I had eaten in India and almost as good as the Indian food in Toronto. We all had a fantastic time and left feeling happy and finally sated. As we drove home –the six of us took two separate cabs and ours fortunately was very safe – I looked out at the hills that make up Kigali in Africa’s heartland. Porch lights on thousands of homes across the city were on – beaming a safe path home. But as we drove through Kigali to our temporary home those lights on the hills suddenly transformed themselves, looking like thousands of dancing fireflies in the night sky.
July 12, 2007
Today I spent the morning doing some of my own work. I did some interviews and arranged other interviews for stories that I plan to do for the Star. After two weeks, I finally had some success in setting some stuff up. Later, this afternoon I went back to the newsroom and worked with three or four reporters on the structure of their stories for tomorrow’s paper and spent some time helping them figure out, along with their editors, what was the news in the story. One reporter – who I have been working with – called me over to show me his lede. He was covering the Rwandan commission hearing into the Genocide and the first French witnesses’ testimony. He asked me what I thought of his lede. It was pretty good as was the rest of the story. He told me – “See I’m listening to what you’re telling me. Tomorrow there will be even less to correct. Later before dinner when I read today’s paper, I felt somewhat pleased – some of the reporters were really getting it and suddenly seemed to be writing shorter snappier ledes and stories that made some sense. The question is: Will they continue to do it?
July 11, 2007
I spent most of my day in the newsroom, working with reporters on their stories for tomorrow’s paper and working with the reporters involved in the HIV/AIDS paper we are working on for publication on Sunday July 29th. I also attended an editors meeting and suggested that given the skill level of reporters that it might be a good idea for reporters and editors to meet and discuss the story before a reporter sits down to write. I also suggested that reporters be asked to hang around until the story is edited so any problems can be fixed before they leave. At the moment many reporters leave well before their story is even looked at and there can be huge holes in the copy.
I took the editor David for lunch today and we talked about the ongoing problems at the paper – editorially. There are a number of problems, including accuracy as well as the use of language. While many reporters speak English their facility with the written word leaves a lot to be desired. While lunching he received a call from the Minister of Education, complaining about a story in the paper and how she had been misquoted. He tried to appease her, but she threatened to freeze the paper out of any further interviews. No ombudsman’s office here.
This afternoon, I spent three hours going over a story on HIV/AIDS and a World Bank report that is supposed to go in the HIV/AIDS edition. It was clear from reading the copy there was a story somewhere in all the words, but the reporter just didn’t know how to explain it in clear, concise English. Many of the reporters at the New Times have no journalism training and just kind of fell into the job. Those that do have some training or have worked as journalists for a while are few and far between. But they shine.
The one bright note of the day was a personal one. This morning when walking to work, a journalist from another paper stopped me on the street and thanked me for asking the question at yesterday’s news conference about the paper – the Post – being shut down.
July 10, 2007 — From Gisenyi with love
The past few days have just flown by. Last Friday I gave a writing seminar at the New Times, talking about good writing and reporting. I spent over an hour with the reporters, explaining the various ways one could write a news story with a straight news lede or an anecdotal lede. Many of the ledes reporters here write are just simply one big run on sentence. They can be confusing and often they don’t really make much sense – partially due to the fact that sometimes various expressions in English aren’t really totally understood by the reporters.
People seemed to absorb what I had to say, but some were skeptical, suggesting that in Rwanda it is better to not hit people over the head with the news right away. I understand what they were saying – but in other parts of the paper the news editors are constantly scalping news stories from international media and running them. I tried to explain to the reporters that whether you are in Kigali, Paris, London, Toronto or New Delhi journalism is universal. Not all the reporters came to the seminar and later I heard that if they didn’t attend their salary was going to be docked.
By the time I left the New Times on Friday I was absolutely exhausted and was looking forward to spending a weekend away. I was heading to Gisenyi – on the border of the Congo and Rwanda – to a beach on Lake Kivu and a really posh place called The Serena Hotel. But little did I know that Saturday was a half-day holiday in Rwanda. It’s called “umuganda” or roughly translated from Kinyarwandan it means “common work.” Apparently, the last Saturday of every month the entire countryside shuts down to do some kind of community service and cleaning. Not a bad idea, I suppose. Later I was told by a woman on the beach at Lake Kivu that it began about six years ago and was an attempt to get citizens here to clean up their garbage, look after the environment and take pride in their home, business and landscape.
But because the national Liberation Day celebrations fell on Wednesday this year “umuganda” was postponed until this past Saturday – the first weekend in July. And so on Saturday we found ourselves trying to get from our residence in Kimihurura to downtown, but we couldn’t find a taxi anywhere. Then we found out from a fellow pedestrian that virtually the whole city was shut down until about 11:00 am and that meant no cars or taxis or buses were running. Everyone was to pitch in and clean up something.
We had little choice but to walk into the downtown – an hour and a half walk – mostly uphill and me with a bad knee. Sigh. It wasn’t a pleasant sight. But eventually we got downtown and found the only spot open for breakfast, until the bus to Gisenyi began running, was the Hotel des Milles Collins (or otherwise known in Hollywood as Hotel Rwanda.) So we went up to their restaurant on the top floor – which has a magnificent view – and had a fantastic brunch. It was absolutely spectacular – both the view and the food. Then we went to catch the bus --- a little minivan kind of autobus with rows of two seats and a third seat at the end of each row for that extra sardine effect. But it was cheap and efficient. The fare was 2,000 Rwandan francs or about $5.00 – the equivalent of a day’s return ride on Toronto’s TTC. The drive to Gisenyi was absolutely breathtaking through incredible mountains, which were green and lush with vegetation from eucalyptus trees to fields of tea and bananas.
The drive was about three hours – but once there it was well worth it. Gisenyi is set on the shores of Lake Kivu and the hotel we were staying at was right on the beach. It was very French – complete with a wonderful swimming pool and an amazing view. It was a real treat and a weekend of much needed R&R.
As we returned on Sunday our bus was stopped by police just outside of Gisenyi and everyone was asked to get off the bus and show identification. One passenger said it was because the police were checking for plastic bags (they are illegal in Rwanda), but another said that she thought it had to do with the fact the bus had picked up passengers in Goma in the Congo and the police were searching for possible rebels.
Monday, I was back at the New Times – refreshed but wondering how effective I was really going to be in terms of training writers and reporters here. Voicing my doubts to George Kagame, a colleague in the newsroom, buoyed my spirits. He said if you only help one or two of us then that will be significant and eventually it will make a difference. I spent the day working with individual reporters on a number of stories and left the newsroom, feeling that perhaps no one was listening to what I had to say about reporting. But then I worked with one reporter who truly left me inspired. He had no formal journalism training. In fact he was a business writer and had a degree, I think, in business. But he loved journalism and writing and wanted to learn. He had gone out on his own and talked to a woman beggar on the streets of Kigali who had six children—including triplets. She had no other way of making a living. We worked on his story for a couple of hours as I showed him what he could do with it. He was thrilled and said he would be trying some of the things I suggested in other stories. But when I saw his version of the story the next day it fell short and I knew he had still a long way to go.
I left the Times on Monday at around 5:00 pm and walked home, arousing a lot of curiosity. Everywhere you go when you’re walking on the streets – young children scream out: “Mizungu, mizungu” – which literally means white person. Many have never seen a white person before. They want to touch you, shake your hand and even hug you. Today, when I was walking home after a really trying day it felt wonderful to have all these young children smiling at you, hugging you, touching you, calling out. “Bonjour, bonjour,” they would say as they passed. One young girl – dressed in her blue school uniform -- suddenly stopped and reached out her arms, grabbed me at my hips and just hugged me as if the world was going to end. Then she looked up and smiled. It was a smile that would break a thousand hearts.
It was a sharp contrast to Tuesday morning. I woke early and headed for the paper at 7:00 am. I was to meet up with Felly Kimenyi, the presidential affairs reporter. He and I were going to the once a month press conference of President Paul Kagame at his offices at Village Urugwiro. Once there a member of the Presidential Guard checked a list to make sure our names were there. Then we went through security just like at an airport. My tape recorder, camera and bag were all x-rayed. A guard shot a picture with my camera to make sure it was working. Then we went into a waiting area and after about 20 minutes about forty or so journalists were beckoned to follow a guard into the press conference. Once there we waited patiently for another 20 minutes until the press conference began.
The President entered the room, as did some of his cabinet ministers and then journalists hands began to fly up and almost out of their sockets. The president’s press secretary decided who would be allowed to ask questions. In many ways it was similar to press conferences back home except there was no phalanx of television and newspaper reporters at the front of the room, blocking your view. Only three television cameras were there – from TV Rwanda –broadcasting the news conference live. Radio Rwanda was also broadcasting the news conference live.
For about two and a half hours reporters peppered the president with questions about the Genocide, the Congo, expulsion of Rwandans from Uganda, a scandal on a shady land grab in the eastern provinces of Rwanda and a story in Le Monde that suggested the office of the former president of France Francois Mitterand knew about the planned Genocide.
Marcel Museminali, a journalist from Business Daily, got up and asked the President about the capacity of media in the country and suggested he might consider treating it like any other development issue. President Kagame responded by saying that he has been aware for a long time there is a problem with the capacity of the media. But he added however he’s not sure if it is clear to the citizens or the media. Earlier this summer the government announced a plan to study the qualifications and training of journalists in Rwanda. And he suggested to reporters that they come up with some plan to bolster their capacity and present it to the government.
Just before the news conference ended, I got to ask two questions – one on the government’s plans to protect the country against an increased transmission rate of HIV/AIDS as development in Rwanda continues and the other was on the closing recently of a weekly newspaper The Post which only put out one edition. The president reviewed the country’s AIDS policy, stressing that the projects they establish are not just about prevention or medication, but rather sustainability. He also said that the country has lowered its HIV transmission rate from about 11 per cent to about 3 per cent and that the country fares well compared to others in the region. As to the question about the closing of the weekly newspaper, the President said he didn’t know anything about it and deferred to his Information Minister who said little other than to suggest the paper was being investigated and a decision would be released shortly as to whether it could publish again.
July 6, 2007
“From the Heart of Darkness into the Light”
Yesterday, I went to the memorial at the Nyamata Church in the District of Bugesera – the epicenter of the genocide. It was in this district in the 1930s the Belgians resettled many Tutsis. It was here that in the1950s the killings of Tutsis first began – a phenomenon that continued through until the 1970s and then again in the early 1990s, leading up to the genocide in 1994. It is located in one of the poorest areas of Rwanda.
As I approached the church I couldn’t help but think of the Rwandan saying – “God visits other countries by day, but every night he returns to rest in Rwanda.” It was here at this church that the Tutsis of this community came to hide when the killings began in 1994. But it seems on that occasion God may have not have returned to Rwanda.
Sarafina Mukamusoni--a resident of the area and keeper of the memorial -- gives New Times reporter George Kagame (no relation to President Paul Kagame) and myself a tour of the church, beginning first with some bunkers outback.
We descend down some steep steps and as my eyes adjust to the light I realize I am descending into a kind of inferno where thousands of skulls and bones are laid out on rusty iron racks. As the shock of what lies before us is absorbed, the early morning sunlight begins to hit the skulls, making them radiate. I grasp George’s hand tightly as we proceed into the depths of the bunkers. I continue to hold it until we leave this part of the memorial.
Within this bunker are the bones of 39,000 people killed in the area, Sarafina told George in Kinyarwandan. Inside the church itself another 10,000 people were killed. Thanks to the Gacaca courts – a kind of community based court system -- being held in the area more remains of the dead continue to be found, she added. Nearby in another bunker are about 20 caskets – each casket has 15 people buried in it, she explained.
At the side of the church is a grave for an Italian nun –Tonia Locatelli -- who in 1992 tried to save the local Tutsis from another wave of mass exterminations – a kind of practice run for 1994. The nun looked tried to look after them but all food and water was blocked into the church, recounts Sarafina. The nun finally called the BBC to do a story on their plight, she said. Then the genocidaires killed them all.
In 1994 the story was similar. Ten thousand local Tutsis came to the church seeking protection. They padlocked themselves inside – only to have the genocidaires blow open the door with a grenade. Inside the church – bullet holes are all over the ceiling, faint bloodstains remain on the floor and wooden caskets sit in the sanctuary. Remnants of brains and blood discolour the ceiling.
George and I go downstairs to the church basement where in a darkened room houses more skulls with deep incisions from machetes and mallets with nails. They are lined up in precise and immaculate rows on glass shelves. Below the rows of skulls is a coffin. One can look down through the skulls and glass and see it. It bears the remains of a woman who was raped by the genocidaires, said Sarafina.
Her story is particularly gruesome. First she was gang raped by genocidaires, then they took a machete and raped her with that and then took her children and placed them on top of her chest and they speared them to death. Sarafina betrays little of emotion as she recounts the tragic details of this woman’s murder. Like so much of what I hear and see about the genocide, I am left speechless. George and I leave the church – both of us mute. It is his first time at the memorial as well.
It is an odd beginning to my birthday – but one I shall likely never forget.
From there George and I continued on our journey to the Millennium Village Project – a unique pilot project which is designed to help residents of Bugesera deal with the issues of poverty and hunger. The theory behind the project is that if residents no longer have to worry about making money or being hungry that other issues such as the HIV/AIDS pandemic would be easier to deal with.
According to research it’s simply not terribly useful to address the issue of AIDS, hunger, water and sanitation in a vacuum in Africa. Thus was the Millennium Village Project born – one of 79 such villages across 10 African countries – a partnership between the U.N., Columbia University and economist Jeffrey Sachs’ own non-profit foundation Millennium Promise. These villages are designed to deal comprehensively with issues such as AIDS, hunger and poverty.
Rwanda’s village project has the support of the Rwandan government -- along with some funding from Canada’s own Stephen Lewis Foundation. The goal is to see if proper systems to deliver medicine, food and water are in place would the lot of the whole community benefit. And from the looks of things in this community, it has. Even my colleague George – who knows what the region used to be like – is impressed.
Over the past year and a half or so since the project began the community has indeed benefited. Malaria rates have dropped substantially thanks to the distribution of nets. Food production has increased due to the introduction of better farming techniques. And when we visit the nearby health centre, which is abuzz with activity, those without farmland are receiving food as well as medical advice. The health centre is a vibrant part of the community – with a number of outposts spread throughout the district. It is an epicenter of wellness.
We visit the half-acre farm of Celestine Ntagwabira, a 54-year-old farmer. He has two mud huts, a cistern for rainwater, five goats, a lamb and a cow. He grows bananas and maize and he is also growing seedling fruit trees that will eventually be distributed to other farmers in the district. By African standards he is a wealthy man. His wife Adele Mukaruziga washes clothes in the yard as he tends his crops. They have six children – four are still at home. He is even building another pen for more cows – a stronger breed being brought in by the Millennium Village project. His success can be directly attributed to improved farming technique suggested by workers from the Millennium Village project.
As we stand in his field the wind blows across the land, blowing the leaves of the banana trees together. They make an odd sound – like that of two hands clapping. The sound rises like a crescendo in a piece of music – then fades just as suddenly.
There is also a pretty serious AIDS problem in this district, explained Josh Ruxin – head of the Millennium Village project, as he showed George and I around. And it could become even more serious – with the advent of the new paved road that is being built through the district. Three to five percent of the population have AIDS in Rwanda – but here in Bugesera district the new road will not just bring quicker transportation times but also sex-trade workers. And sex-trade workers may mean higher rates of transmission of HIV/AIDS. And that could have disastrous consequences for a community still slowly recovering from the genocide and drought.
As we returned to Kigali – I tried to absorb the significance of what I had seen. The Millenium Village project seemed to be bringing a form of prosperity to the region. There were still many battles to be fought – but for the first time in a long time many in the community had hope.
I couldn’t have planned a more interesting birthday – there was much to think about and when I returned home, I tore open a birthday card a friend had given me before I left with instructions not to open it before my birthday. Later in the evening there was a birthday cake and a drinks at a bar called Legends, which has a beautiful view of the city at night. I was feted and toasted – joined by some of my colleagues from the New Times, others from the Rwanda Initiative and some volunteers from VSO, a British NGO. There are gifts of peanut butter, popcorn and vodka.
July 4, 2007
Life at the New Times is extremely interesting. It’s not like any newspaper I have ever worked for. Every morning when reporters and editors come into the office they shake hands, hug and often kiss.
I was wondering this morning as I watched this lovely interchange play out how it would be accepted at the Toronto Star when I return. I may try it my first day back and see how the assignment desk feels about it or some of the other reporters on city side.
For the past two days I have been dealing with the issue of my name. Nearly every reporter, editor and manager at the paper has puzzled over my name. Why are you named Black when you’re clearly white, they say. Shall we call you Black, is that your first name. Or is it Debra. And what does Debra mean? I told everyone I should become an honorary Rwandan because of my name since they refer to me as Black.
I also did try to explain the long story of my parents changing their name after World War II to Black from Schwartz once they had come to Canada. They were fearful of anti-Semitism, I explained, and decided to translate directly from German and Yiddish Schwartz, which means black in English. Everyone nodded seriously as I told the story. But I’m not sure they understood.
I have also been learning some Kinyarwandan so I can make my way around. For example – Good morning is mwaramutsi; good afternoon is miriwi. How are you is amukuru? And the answer is nimeza or I’m good. Iki, pronounced ichi, means what? Muh mwiza means good day! Murakoze means thank you. Uri mwiza means you’re beautiful and muraho means hello. So I’m all set for a three-minute conversation – almost as limited, although not quite –as my French.
Yesterday I attended a reporters and editors meeting in the newsroom. The editor David Gusongoirye stressed the need for accuracy. Reporters are prone to making mistakes here and some editors are prone to let them go through. David stressed how embarrassing it is for the paper and for the reporters at large.
For example on Monday July 1st, the paper misidentified a woman in their front-page picture. It went with a story on the gorilla baby naming ceremony that is held every year here. The mountain gorillas of Dianne Fossey fame are revered here. The paper identified the woman as actress Natalie Portman who starred in the prequel to Star Wars. Portman, along with many others, was here to participate in the gorilla naming.
But the cut line on the picture was dead wrong. The error stood out like a sore thumb. And this isn’t the first time there have been problems in cut lines or headlines at the New Times. Cut lines and captions are apparently routinely wrong, as are headlines. In Saturday’s edition the headline for a story on the gorilla naming had the names of the gorillas spelled incorrectly.
Similarly the paper has an ongoing problem with accurate information and sometimes quotations. The editor in chief drilled away at how important this is and how reporters must double check and triple check their facts and information. Errors have become such a widespread problem the New Times have decided to institute a penalty for serious errors. Reporters who continue to get their facts wrong will be penalized, taking a 10 per cent pay cut if they make four errors or more. I believe my work may be cut out for me.
Other problems facing the paper include note taking and interviewing. Many reporters don’t seem to take very extensive notes, nor do they seem to know what to ask the people they’re interviewing. The also don’t often know whom to interview and rely on institutional sources. And some even weave their personal opinions into the stories. I can see editors at the Star shuddering already.
The other hot topic of discussion at the newsroom meeting was the bathrooms and hygiene. I’ll not dwell on that part of the meeting. But only will add that there is a big debate about keeping the bathrooms open or locked for use.
I spent much of yesterday meeting with reporters reading their stories, analyzing them and suggesting what else they can do to improve the stories. The biggest problem with many of the stories is there is no depth, no context. Reporters usually only have one source in the story and were surprised when I asked them to go back and do some more interviews. Their ledes also tend to be clumsy, wordy, totally confusing and way too long. Usually the news can be found about half way down. When I mentioned how long and confusing the stories were and that they should be cut, one of the reporters told me he is paid by the word and that’s why his stories are so drawn out.
Today, July 4th is Liberation Day here, which was marked by celebrations countrywide to mark the end of the genocide. While celebrations were underway at the Amahoro Stadium in Kigali I attended an editors meeting where David along with the Managing Director or Editor in Chief (a kind of editor and publisher job combined) Ignatius Kabagambe discussed generation of news stories and whether or not reporters should take more initiative at getting stories. Editors also looked at setting up benchmarks for awards for the reporters. And it appears reporters will receive an award either once or twice a month for the best story, most improved reporting techniques or most improved writing. The categories are still to be established, as is the prize.
The editors also discussed copy flow and production deadlines, which are very unusual here. They also discussed some problems in assigning stories and planning ahead. It seems this is a huge problem here, leaving many editors scrambling for stories to put in today’s paper marking Liberation Day. David begged editors to remember to hold planning meetings with the reporters and get a list of stories to him and the editor in chief as soon as possible.
Deadlines at the paper are inconsistent. Sometimes reporters must hand in their copy by 11:00 am; editors look copy over and edit it for noon. Then the graphic designer takes it and lays it out on the page. But sometimes the front page is held for an “important” story. And so quite often the paper doesn’t go to bed until 8:00 or 9:00 pm or sometimes even later.
I have asked the reporters to provide me with some clippings of their stories so I can read them and I am going to set up some individual sessions with them for next week. Everyone is really keen and wants to have me read their stories, even editors are asking for help and I plan to work with them as well. On Friday I will hold my first writing seminar, going over some fundamentals.
But there are some real issues with press freedom here and I plan to discuss them at the end of my stay in Kigali, once I have a comprehensive feel for what’s going on. It has me troubled, but I’m trying to remember what a fellow traveling companion said to me as we flew from Addis Ababa to Nairobi. I am not going to use his name because I don’t want to get him in trouble. He is an engineer in Nairobi and he said as we discussed the politics of the region: When it comes Africa perhaps all one can hope for is an “enlightened dictatorship.”
His words are quite telling.
July 2, 2007
Today was my first day at the New Times. It was quite an experience. I met the Editor in Chief, the Managing Director – or Publisher—the reporters and editors and even the folks in advertising and accounting. Everyone was very receptive and very excited that I had come to share my reporting, writing and interviewing skills with the staff at the paper. The managing editor and I discussed some of the problems at the paper and how they might be addressed.
Then I met with the Sunday Editor and we discussed my idea for a special section on HIV/AIDS and Rwanda. The idea is that we’re now going to produce a special Sunday edition of the Rwanda New Times that is all about HIV/AIDS. We’re going to use some experienced and some inexperienced reporters and fan out across the country over the next month to report on some of the more unique programs that have been established and also look at how Rwanda fares when it comes to other African nations when it comes to dealing with HIV/AIDS. We are going to meet tomorrow afternoon for a brainstorming and planning session.
Tomorrow morning I am going to talk to the reporters and editors about how I report and write, how a typical day at the Star unfolds, beat reporting and some of the crucial ethical dilemmas that journalists face both here and in Canada. I also will be asking reporters for samples of their work so I can offer some suggestions on how they can make their writing better. I plan to set up meetings with everyone next week to go over things on a one to one basis. I also plan to hold casual seminars on writing, interviewing and researching. Here there is a heavy emphasis on institutional reporting and less reliance on interviewing real people. I hope that through this month that may change somewhat – and reporters here will begin to integrate real people who are affected by the news into their stories.
July 1, 2007 — “Francine: Milk and Fanta Topical”
Today, I visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial – or Gisozi as its known locally. It was a moving and disturbing experience. The memorial not only thoroughly outlines the roots of the genocide – including videos of the dead and the survivors—but also outlines other genocides in the 20th century from the Holocaust during World War II to more recent genocides such as in Bosnia.
It also looks at the failures of the international community to intervene. It provides a unique historical snapshot of the genocide in the making, beginning essentially with the colonization of Rwanda by Belgium – complete with photos from the time, including one of a scientist doing a kind of eugenics experiment that was reminiscent of the Nazis. It also talks about the publication of the “10 Hutu Commandments” in the Rwandan paper the Kangura.
I shiver with fear as I read the quotes – they are so similar to some of the propaganda of the Nazis against the Jews it is absolutely chilling. I can’t believe what I’m reading. The similarities are incredibly striking – which I suppose says something about the nature of racism and hate.
Videos of the aftermath of the genocide here also tell the story of this racism and hate that was left to ferment and rot away an entire nation. Bodies that are decomposing, bloodied, chopped up.
But it is perhaps the rows of skulls and bones of the victims, which are laid out on display that is the most harrowing and unnerving. My eye roves to find a place to look that doesn’t feel so intrusive. But there is none. I glance to the right and see a pink beaded rosary and a tiny shoe framed by a skull. A soft dignified voice utters some of the names of the dead.
Nearby old and tattered pictures of some of the dead hang on the walls. It is a wall of loss and despair — much like the walls of pictures that formed in New York City after 9/11. There are pictures of mothers, daughters, sons, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives. All smiles; all content. Unaware of the cruel and brutal death they were to face during the genocide.
A video of some survivors runs on a continuous loop. Many of them are children and recall their favourite memories of their parents. In another room clothes of the dead hang from the ceiling encased in glass. A woman’s soiled dress hangs near a dirty t-shirt with Ottawa, Canada emblazoned on the front. In another glass display case a woman’s sullied African sarong hangs.
Upstairs are more pictures of the dead. This time they are of children. A dozen or so enlarged pictures –including one of Francine Murengezi Ingabire. Her eyes seem to follow me around the room. Underneath the picture sits a plaque with Francine’s vital statistics. Her age: 12. Her favourite sport: swimming. Her favourite food: eggs and chips. Her favourite drink: milk and Fanta Tropical. Her best friend: her elder sister Claudette. The cause of her death: hacked by a machete.
Another plaque on the wall has a quote from a survivor of the genocide. It reads: “When I am at the market in the middle of a large crowd, I always think I might just find my brothers.” The author is Rose, a 16-year-old.
It also talks about the failure of the United Nations and the international community overall to stop the genocide and calls out for stronger measures than the UN’s convention against genocide which is difficult to enforce.
Outside a mass grave of about 200 Rwandans is marked with some fresh, some dying bouquets of flowers. Three coffins are left exposed. An eternal flame burns nearby. I keep thinking of the motto Jews have taken to heart after the Holocaust – Never Again. We are all quiet on the way home.
Later in the day once home I met a young man called Billy and a young girl Mediya who were both helping Marie-Jo Proulx – one of the interns on the Rwanda Initiative – learn Kinyarwandan. Billy is just 18 -- just a year older than my son. His mother died in the genocide and he lives with his father. He joked about my becoming his mother. My heart broke for him. Mediya spoke nothing but Kinyarwadan. She drew a funny picture of me that makes me look like a kind of cubist African mother.
June 30, 2007
I woke this morning to the sounds of roosters crowing and the golden sunlight of Rwanda streaming into my bedroom. After two days of travel I have arrived in Kigali and settled into the house that I am sharing with some other journalists from the Rwanda Initiative in the neighborhood known as Kimihurura. As I type this I look out over a terrace and a beautiful garden and an incredible view of the city, which is built into the hills. Morning traffic has just started and the occasional horn blasts and nearby birds sing like an early morning serenade. It is quite the contrast from London, England where I stopped over on my journey in order to visit family. The red-dirt roads and the green countryside of Kigali look like an impressionist painting far from the roar and hustle of London’s west-end or the cement-baked summer streets of Toronto.
Yesterday, I arrived mid-afternoon after spending the day in London where I visited with my cousin and her husband. Once upon a time we had lived together, sharing a flat for a very brief time in north London. It was wonderful to see her again and catch up. We hadn’t seen each other for about nine years and traded stories about our children and siblings. After getting a good night’s sleep I went off to see the Tate Modern, which had an incredible Salvador Dali exhibition as well as a special show by a Brazilian artist, Helio Oiticica. The Tate was also featuring a small exhibit by a Congolese artist Cheri Samba, one of a group of modern painters to come out of the worn-torn nation. He has gained quite an international following. One of the pictures of a child soldier, in green khaki, with a gun surrounded by bright-coloured flowers just blew me away.
After spending five hours at the Tate Modern – an amazing structure in and of itself on the banks of the Thames, I went back to Heathrow and checked in for my flight to Rwanda. I met some really interesting people on the plane – a Scottish girl Rose Foley who is in Rwanda working for a British based organization called VSO. She’s working at the Ministry of Education, trying to help set up a program to empower young women here.
On the plane between Addis Ababa and Kigali, I also met Rangira Bea Gallimore, a very interesting Rwandan American woman who is a linguistics professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Her first name means “Be Famous” in Kinyarwandan. Her family was here during the genocide and was affected by it, she said. But she didn’t say in what way and just left it at that. She spoke passionately about the situation for women survivors of the genocide, many of whom have HIV/AIDS. Her husband is working in Africa at the international Genocide Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania.
She is doing research into women who survived the genocide and has set up a foundation – Step Up American Association for Rwandan Women -- to help them. She has been working with some survivors in Butare, Rwanda and speaks passionately about their fight for survival. She said she would take me down to speak to them. She also suggested I speak to her husband who handles media and information at the international genocide tribunal. She told me he is very critical of both the local and international press when it comes to the tribunal. It will be interesting to speak to both of them.
As the plane flew into Kigali I was awestruck by the sheer beauty of the landscape. The countryside is stunning and I couldn’t help but think of the stark contrast of life before, during and after the genocide. It is a wonder to me that a country so beautiful had to endure such tragedy and remains so lush and verdant.
Today was a very hectic day. In the morning I spoke to Leon, a Rwandan working with the Rwandan Initiative. He explained to me that even though tomorrow is officially Rwanda’s Independence Day celebrations now take place on July 4th – the end of the genocide. It’s a national holiday. So I hope to attend the ceremonies, which I believe are to be held in Kigali’s stadium. Then I went off to the crafts market with one of the interns from the Rwanda Initiative and into town to meet the Rose Foley, the Scottish woman I’d met on the plane, to buy fabric and have a coffee. It was so much fun. She took us to the commercial district of Kigali into a small arcade where there were stalls full of the most beautiful batiked cotton fabric I have ever seen. The bolts of cloth were piled high from the ceiling to the floor and others were displayed on hooks on the walls. Material was everywhere. The stall looked like it had been wallpapered in rainbow coloured cloth. It resembled the tailor’s shop I visited in Varanasi, India where you sat and had tea and picked from thousands of bolts of cloth and then were measured for clothes. Twenty-four hours later they would be finished and ready for pick up or delivery. Here there were so many fabulous patterns and colours on display it was hard to choose. Rose also introduced us to a tailor – Andre – who promises he can make fabulous dresses and skirts. I promised to return later in the week for a fashion consultation. He was very sweet. As were all the Rwandans I have met over the past two days – especially the children.
The streets are busy and dusty – very little of the city is paved. Everywhere are hand-painted billboards warning of malaria and reminding people to use bed nets and other billboards warn residents about HIV/AIDS. Women walk the dusty roads with woven baskets full of oranges and bananas balanced delicately on their heads. Often their babies are strapped to their backs. Children in dusty shorts and tops precariously carry fresh water in plastic buckets home. And everywhere you go people want to sell you things from a pair of nicely pressed pants to a wooden carved giraffe. But it’s not like in other developing countries such as India where street vendors are oppressive and aggressive. Here it is softer – once told no the vendors usually fade back into the city’s backdrop.
Rwandans rely on their cell phones extensively and so you find this odd phenomenon of young boys selling phone cards all over the streets of downtown Kigali. The cards are used to allow a certain number of minutes of phone calls. And they do a thriving business, but these young men also carry portable phones that people use to place long distance calls. They are like a human phone box.
But what strikes me as really sharp contrast from other countries such as Canada or England is that when you walk around the city or drive anywhere you suddenly notice that everyone is really young and I mean really young – there are very few middle aged or elderly people around because of the genocide. I am a kind of demographic oddity here. In fact, some people I have spoken to refer to life as before the genocide and after the genocide as a way of explaining their city and country. It makes sense when you think about the definitive nature of the genocide.
As I write this I am listening to a chorus of singers somewhere nearby, singing an African tune. It is very soothing. Tonight there is a party to go to and many of the staff from the New Times, TV Rwanda and other media outlets will be there so I will be able to meet some of the staff from the New Times before I start work on Monday.
The city is now dark — it is about dinnertime and across the way in the hills that I can see out of my bedroom window some house lights are twinkling. My first full day in Africa – it has been wonderful. The house where I am staying is beautiful with a terrace overlooking a garden and a magnificent view of the city – houses are literally dug into the many hills that make up Kigali. I feel content here as I look out my window, at peace.
June 26, 2007 — Journalism: Storytelling with purpose
“I had a farm in Africa…” Isak Dinesen
By the time you read this I will be on a flight to London and on to Kigali, Rwanda via Addis Ababa. I have to pinch myself. I can’t believe I am finally going after weeks of preparation, juggling my reporting job at the Toronto Star and household and family responsibilities as well as preparing for my month-long stay as a media trainer or reporter/coach at the Kigali New Times, an English language daily, part of the Rwanda Initiative. Now, finally, I am on my way.
Being a reporter I’m never truly happy about taking on a job, big or small, until I feel prepared and well briefed. In the past month I have met with Stephen Lewis, the former UN Special Envoy on HIV/ AIDS and a coauthor of a UN report on the genocide, along with a number of other academics and researchers who have spent time in Rwanda.
The picture they paint is of a country slowly but successfully rebuilding itself. No small task given between 800,000 and 1 million people were killed in the spring of 1994 as the world looked away. There are no appropriate words to describe the genocide – the mass extermination of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days. It is beyond comprehension – even for someone who grew up in the shadow of another genocide – the Holocaust where six million Jews were killed.
Being Jewish, I understand only too well the bred in the bone kind of fear that comes from being the victim of racism and hate. It has a lasting impact on one’s world, one’s personality, one’s very being. So I feel a kind of kinship to Rwandans.
My fascination with Africa began many years ago – but I felt compelled to know more before I left for Rwanda. For a geopolitical view of the continent I read The Fate of Africa, a history of African independence by Martin Meredith.
I have also been reading everything I could get my hands on about Rwanda that fateful spring. With each page I turned of Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands With the Devil and Linda Melvern’s A People Betrayed: The role of the West in Rwanda’s genocide, I was gripped with sadness and disbelief.
Both books are an insightful look at what went wrong, but also a sad illustration of how geopolitics can trump humanity. They have made a deep impression on me. But perhaps it is one image from Dallaire’s award-winning book that for me best speaks to the absolute horror of the genocide.
He describes eloquently his shock and horror as he crosses a bridge resting on hundreds of mutilated, dead, bloated bodies that were floating in a river. The idea of such an ignoble and unmarked death for so many – and so many killed by a hate that is simply unimaginable -- haunts me even now as I make my way to Rwanda.
A passage about the Western media’s culpability from Melvern’s book also provides food for thought for me as a journalist. Melvern wrote: “In a harsh rebuke to the media after the genocide was over an international inquiry concluded that, although the coverage had been handicapped by danger on the ground, the press, in characterizing the genocide as tribal anarchy, was fundamentally irresponsible. The media’s failure to report that genocide was taking place, and thereby generate public pressure for something to be done to stop it, contributed to international indifference and inaction, and possibly to the crime itself.”
It is a stunning indictment of the profession I cherish. But it is also an alarm bell, warning us that perhaps now – more than ever before – journalists must be strong enough and brave enough to speak out and write about what they see without fear of the repercussions and be doggedly determined to report what they believe to be the truth.
I have also been reading once more about the craft of writing and reporting, finding inspiration in The Elements of Journalism – What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel. The book, recommended to me by a colleague and friend in the Star newsroom, is a helpful and thoughtful look at journalism, its roots and its future.
“Journalism is storytelling with a purpose,” the authors write. “That purpose is to provide people with information they need to understand the world. The first challenge is finding the information that people need to live their lives. The second is to make it meaningful, relevant and engaging.”
I found this passage particularly compelling – a reminder of why I am still in the business after almost 30 years, including stints as a television and radio reporter, wire reporter, magazine writer and newspaper reporter. I hope that it will be equally inspiring to the reporters and editors at the New Times.
I first heard about the Rwanda Initiative while I was covering the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Conference, organized by the Stephen Lewis Foundation in Toronto last August. It was a kickoff conference to the World AIDS Conference which I also helped cover as part of a team of reporters from the Star.
Many of the participants at the Stephen Lewis Foundation conference were grandmothers from Africa – women whose children had died from AIDS. They were left with a painful legacy – to bring up their grandchildren.
The Rwandan women at the conference had a joy I had rarely seen – especially given the depth of the tragedy they had already experienced. Many of their fellow countrywomen had been raped during the genocide and had contacted HIV/AIDS.
I remember vividly two statuesque Rwanda women overwhelmed at the conference – dancing to a live performance by Angelique Kidjo, the internationally acclaimed Benin singer. They clapped, they laughed, their bodies swayed. And when Kidjo, who is tiny, was finished singing, they jumped up and hugged her enthusiastically. They scooped her up in their arms and danced her around the room. The image was so compelling a picture of it ran in the next day’s Toronto Star.
Their sheer joy was infectious. Later, I interviewed Angelique Kidjo and after the formal part of the interview, I chatted with her about a recent trip I had taken to India and my dream of one day going to Africa. She turned to me, smiled and said somewhat mystically and prophetically: “You must go to Africa.” (And so Angelique, I want you to know that I’m on my way.)
It was while I was in a media pen waiting for the final recommendations of the Grandmothers Conference that I met a CP reporter who was going that September to Rwanda to work as an intern, part of the Rwanda Initiative.
A former colleague of mine from the Star Allan Thompson, now a professor of journalism at Carleton University, had started the program. I called and spoke to Allan about the Rwanda Initiative and volunteered immediately.
And so now I find myself on my way to Rwanda – happy to be able to share my skills and expertise in writing and reporting. I hope over the next month to be able to help out in a small way with writing and interviewing. I’m also hoping that I can do a joint project on HIV /AIDS with the reporters and editors at the Kigali New Times. It may be too grand an idea – but I hope to use it as a teaching vehicle.
In the little spare time I will have while I’m there I hope to read a few more books on Rwanda and Africa, including The Media and The Rwandan Genocide, a series of essays edited by Allan Thompson and Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families. As well I’m bringing a number of books to leave in the Kigali newsroom as resource material.
I arrive in Kigali on June 29 and will be there to celebrate Rwanda’s Independence Day, which just happens to appropriately fall on Canada Day. I start work at the paper on July 2 – my son’s 17th birthday. And on July 4 Rwanda will celebrate Liberation Day – the day the Rwandan Patriotic Front won control of Kigali and the end of the genocide.
The next day, July 5, is my birthday. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than in Africa – sharing my love of journalism with the reporters and editors at the Kigali New Times, experiencing Rwanda and fulfilling a life-long dream of living in Africa if only for a little while.