With his thin face, tall figure, intellectual’s glasses and conservative suits, Paul Kagame looks more like a modern, Internet-savvy politician than a former guerrilla chief and war lord, who seized power in the wake of the 1994 genocide and has since used a reconciliation process to bolster his authority and neutralize the opposition.
President since 2000 and re-elected in 2010, Kagame does not tolerate embarrassing questions at news conferences, often denigrates journalists and brands outspoken media as “Radio Mille Collines.” Every year several Rwandan journalists decide to go into exile because they find the atmosphere unbearable in their home country. This does not worry President Kagame, who refers to these journalists as “mercenaries” and “bums.”
Two women journalists were given sentences of 7 and 17 years in prison in early 2011 for criticizing the president. A year later there sentences were reduced to three years and four years respectively.
Umuvugizi deputy editor Jean-Léonard Rugambage was murdered in Kigali in June 2010, probably for investigating the intelligence services and, in particular, their attempt to murder an exiled general. Umuvugizi and another newspaper, Umuseso, have long been two of the regime’s biggest bugbears.
Defamation, invasion of privacy and insulting the president are the charges preferred by the information ministry and the High Media Council, its (not very independent) regulatory authority. To cap it all, anyone thinking of launching a new newspaper, radio station or TV station is now required to show an exorbitant amount of start-up capital (41,000 euros for a newspaper, for example) in order to obtain a permit. It is a good way of discouraging media diversity.