By David Himbara
The New Times is unquestionably part of Kagame’s extensive propaganda machine. As its today’s front page shows, the lead article of the paper must always be about Kagame. In this case, the lead story is ”Embrace responsibility, Kagame tells leaders.” And other main articles have to be positive, and self-flattering stories about Kagame’s Rwanda. In this case, the two pieces are ”How Rwandan women in science are empowering girls,” and ”Police in fresh campaign to safeguard the environment.”
That said, The New Times plays a highly valuable role in Rwanda today — if not the most vital role in as far as shading a bit of light in what is going on in the country. I know. This may sound strange coming from yours truly, David Himbara, a diehard critic of the regime and its dictator for whom Himbara worked for no less than six years.
So now why would I say The New Times plays an important role in Rwanda?
I advance five reasons for making this claim:
- The New Times is the only daily print and online newspaper in Rwanda;
- Being the mouthpiece of the regime, we learn from the newspaper how the regime is thinking;
- The paper has a fairly comprehensive coverage of Rwandan politics, business, and regional/international affairs.
- The New Times covers national, provincial, district, and local news across all corners of Rwanda;
- The paper occasionally conducts specific analyses of economic sectors that suggest where the country is headed.
Without The New Times, therefore, we would be in total darkness.
The editors and writers of the New Times are also the victims of the regime
Let me share something here. I got to know The New Times fairly well during the time I worked in Rwanda, especially from 2007 to 2009. I volunteered my time to mentor the editor and his team. That’s when I realized how poorly-treated the editor and staff of the newspaper are. They are underpaid — so most of them leave as soon as they find other opportunities. Kagame is incredibly cheap, in other words.
The editor and team have zero editorial independence. The Kagame’s presidential office literally runs the newspaper. The editors who fail to tow the line are fired — or even worse. Remember the infamous case of Joseph Bideri?
Back in 2011, The New Times editor Bideri published stories highlighting corruption in the construction of the Rukarara hydropower plant. Costing US$23 million, the Rukarara plant could only produce a meager 5 megawatts in sharp contrast to the projected 9.5 megawatts. Bideri implicated the powerful James Musoni, Kagame’s crony, and powerful cabinet minister. Bideri was thrown in jail, released, and dumped into poverty.
Nonetheless, congratulations to The New Times
It cannot be easy to run a newspaper under a system characterized by lack of freedom of expression, arbitrary arrests, detention and enforced disappearances. In a system where even editors are thrown in prison. Nonetheless, congratulations to The New Times, for the new and user-friendly design. Keep doing your best under your peculiar circumstances.