Rwanda:Attacks against the BBC documentary ‘’Rwanda’s Untold Story’’ are a betrayal of freedom of speech and democracy

I have read with a great interest the article published on Open Democracy by Dr Andrew Wallis on 6thOctober 2014.  After reading it, I wonder if Wallis has watched in full the BBC documentary ‘’Rwanda’s Untold Story’’ he is criticising. There is no part of the film in which Genocide is denied or such views expressed or supported.

The fact that some views were expressed that questioned the validity of official numbers of those killed in genocide, does not constitute those denial or genocide.

To qualify any killings as a genocide does not depend on the number of people killed, but on the intention and motivation of those killing.

All interviewees in the BBC documentary agreed that there has been a genocide against Tutsi populations. Conflicting arguments about numbers of those killed in the genocide does not change its nature or name.

As the title of that BBC documentary suggest, it was about ‘Rwanda’s Untold Story’’ not the ‘’true story’ ’as Dr Wallis claims. It is a contribution to our understanding of this tragic event to which many more people will undoubtedly add further evidences.

To access the untold story the BBC interviewed people whose opinions have never been shared or expressed in a Rwandan television related programme before.

In the past 20 years, BBC and other media outlets have broadcast programmes, documentaries and films that had views and opinions about what happened in Rwanda in 1994, which are in line with the one given by the current Rwandan government.

At every moment in the film where views or opinions were expressed were of an accusative nature (i.e towards Paul Kagame or Tony Blair), BBC informed viewers that they have given the opportunity to those accused to respond. Unfortunately for the debate they refused to participate.

The BBC can’t be accused of being one-sided when they have made an effort to give a voice to those whose opinions it challenges.

Dr Wallis also questioned the fact that BBC had not interviewed any survivors as part of the film. There is not necessary for two reasons.

First, the survivor’s story and experiences have been told on numerous occasions since the end of the Genocide. They have not only been portrayed in many documentaries and news bulletins,  They have also been portrayed in films such as Shooting dogs, Sometime in April,  Hotel Rwanda and Shake Hands with the Devil.

From film like this people have informed that bloodthirsty Hutu militias hunted down Tutsis driven by a desire to decimate them. BBC documentaries in the past have been dedicated to the survivor’s story such as Valentina’s Story (1997)

Secondly, no one among those who expressed their views and opinions in the film criticise and accuse or accused genocide survivors. If they had done so BBC would have been under an obligation to give them a voice to respond.

It is crystal clear that Dr Wallis’ article has been designed to attack the BBC for having given freedom of expression to views and opinions that the Rwandan government and its supporters don’t want to be made public.

Expressing those views in Rwanda have resulted in prison, in exile or in graves for many people.

Looking in the last 15 years Rwanda hold the world record for having the highest number of political assassinations trigged by the disagreement with government or for daring to criticise it.

Looking at the same period Rwanda hold a world record of having the highest number of high ranking military officers who were forced to go into exile.

Those assassinated include T Lizinde, S Sendashonga, A Ngirabatware, L. Hitimana, A Rwisereka, P Karegeya, T Turatsinze, J Uwilngiyimana, JL Rugambage, S Sendashonga.

Among high ranking military officers who were forced to go into exile are Major Furuma, Lt A Ruyenzi, Lt A Ruzibiza, Ct Musonera, Major R. Higiro, Major JMV Micombero, Major Dr  Rudasingwa, Col P. Karegeya, Lt General Nyamwasa.

These facts reveal how dangerous for Rwandans to express an opinion different to that of the government.

Foreigners who dare to criticise the government are banned from Rwanda and labelled as negationists, genocide deniers or friends of evil.

Dr Wallis’ article reinforces and promotes the Rwandan government views that no one should express a different opinion, and that if one dares he or she should be vigorously and personally attacked instead of constructively challenged in open and frank debate.

This article has enabled me to conclude that Dr Wallis has also been contaminated by the Rwandan government contempt and fear and intolerance of opposing opinion and evidences.

It is heart-breaking to realise that Wallis can use his academic credentials to misrepresent views and opinions expressed by others in order to ensure that those views do not contribute an open debate about Rwanda’s tragic past and the lesson we can learn for our common future.

Dr Wallis’ desire to close down debate and censor ideas he found offensive is an insult to the survivors of the Genocide. They do not need protecting from ideas and evidences that may contribute to the discovery of the truth.

As an academic, Wallis should understand the importance of allowing, promoting and supporting expression of different opinions in order to enrich freedom of expression a necessary foundation of democracy and human rights.

The encouragement of such a foundation would help the development of a country whose populations can live in harmony, driven by a strong sense of belonging and guided by clear values of justice, reconciliation and equality.

Through the BBC film ‘’Rwanda’s Untold Story’’ the BBC has made a small but a valuable contribution toward this vision.

I am greatly thankful to BBC and immensely disappointed by Dr Andrew Wallis.

René Claudel Mugenzi