Rwanda Classified: Belgian Journalist Colette Braeckman Faces a Dilemma

Colette Braeckman

On May 28, 2024, a collaborative investigation titled Rwanda Classified was published by Forbidden Stories in collaboration with 17 international media outlets and over 50 journalists. This investigation highlighted various accusations against the Rwandan regime of Paul Kagame, provoking a series of reactions from the Rwandan government and its supporters. This complex situation highlighted the tensions between independent journalists and those accused of sympathizing with the Rwandan regime, notably Belgian journalist Colette Braeckman.

From the moment Rwanda Classified was published, the Rwandan government mobilized all means at its disposal to discredit the investigation and its participants. A harassment campaign on social media, official statements, and media interventions were orchestrated to defend the regime and attack the involved journalists.

The reactions of the Rwandan authorities were varied. An op-ed was published on Al Jazeera by a fervent Kagame supporter, and another, signed by about thirty pro-Kagame writers and academics, appeared in Jeune Afrique and Le Point. These actions aimed to question the credibility of the investigation and defend the image of the Rwandan president.

Jean-François Dupaquier, known for his unconditional support for the Rwandan regime, interviewed Colette Braeckman for the AfrikArabia website. This interview allowed Dupaquier to express his disagreement with the Rwanda Classified investigation and to strongly criticize its methods and conclusions.

In the interview with Dupaquier, Braeckman stated that she had not been informed of the nature of the Rwanda Classified investigation before the publication of her article in Le Soir. She criticized the way her work was used within the investigation, claiming that it distorted her original intent.

After the publication of the interview on AfrikArabia, Christophe Berti, editor-in-chief of Le Soir, published an article responding to Braeckman’s statements. Berti refuted Braeckman’s claims, stating that she had been informed of the investigation’s existence since April and had participated in several internal discussions on the subject.

Colette Braeckman posted a clarification, apologizing to her colleagues and the members of Forbidden Stories. She specified that her initial criticisms had been misinterpreted and that she supported the investigative work carried out by the consortium.

The Rwanda Classified investigation involved fifty investigative journalists from eleven countries, raising questions about the methodology and objectivity of the investigation. Criticisms were made regarding the fact that some journalists had never set foot in Rwanda.

In her interview, Braeckman used the term “conjuration” to describe the Forbidden Stories investigation, insinuating a secret operation against Kagame. This terminology sparked strong reactions, notably from Le Soir‘s editorial team, who deemed these remarks unacceptable.

A particular point of tension was the investigation into the death of Rwandan journalist John William Ntwali. Braeckman insinuated that the Forbidden Stories journalists had not investigated on-site, which was refuted by Le Soir, stating that four journalists had traveled to Rwanda to investigate.

The Rwanda Classified affair highlighted the challenges and tensions surrounding investigative journalism in Africa. The controversy surrounding Colette Braeckman and the reaction of the Rwandan government underscore the difficulty of maintaining an independent press in the face of authoritarian regimes. The response from Le Soir and Forbidden Stories demonstrates the determination of journalists to continue their work despite pressures and attempts at discreditation.

This situation also underscores the importance of transparency and rigor in investigative journalism. Investigations like Rwanda Classified play a crucial role in highlighting abuses of power and human rights violations, but they must be conducted with the utmost professionalism to withstand criticism and manipulation attempts.

Braeckman faces a dilemma between her loyalty to the newspaper Le Soir, with which she has worked for many years, her image in the journalistic world, and her long-standing pro-Kagame stance. This situation has placed the Belgian journalist in an embarrassing position, exposing her to contradictions in her statements to save her reputation, at least within Le Soir.