Lies Uncovered In New Book on Rwanda and Kagame
Anjan Sundaram has authored a book â€“ Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship â€“ that is full of things about Rwanda and its leadership which not only bear very little resemblance to facts on the ground, but are outright fictions and distortions.
I worked with the author, Anjan Sundaram at Internews/EU Kigali for three years and was not surprised to learn he had published a book on Rwanda. He had told me about it. But what I didnâ€™t know was that I would feature heavily as a character in his book under the fictitious name, Moses. Thatâ€™s how I know that most of the events and dialogue in this book, at least those that concern me, are completely fabricated.Sam Gody Nshimiyimana who is one of the supposedly harassed Rwandan journalists frequently mentioned in the book as â€˜Mosesâ€™ and who knows Sundaram and his wife very well refutes the many allegations in â€œBad Newsâ€.-
The Internews project was led by Sundaramâ€™s wife, Nathalie Blaquiere, who had made her hatred of Rwanda known. She manifested it against employees, where she would inexplicably want to set salaries based on your nationality. Rwandans received less. She would say she knew who was a Tutsi or Hutu, though Rwandans generally are not in the habit of advertising what ethnicities they belong to. She frequently moved around Kigali on motorcycle taxis, in a country she said was full of bad people.
When we had training for journalists, Anjan would come and assist as a trainer, since his wife was the boss. In the end she couldnâ€™t convince sponsors about budget implementation, because we didnâ€™t properly utilize the money they were allocating to us, instead we were always recycling projects. That is how grants from the European Union and DFID were stopped.
Coming back to Sundaram, he used to send articles on Rwanda to The New York Times and Associated Press. I noted that Anjan was intelligent and daring. He left the US after finishing his studies and went to DRC at a time when those who lived there were leaving the country due to insecurity. He later followed his wife to Rwanda where he concocted events that have no resemblance to what was happening.
In the book Anjan claims that some of the students we taught were so intimidated they didnâ€™t write, others are jailed, others exiled, and other are â€˜boughtâ€™ for well-remunerating jobs.â€
Concerning those jailed, we always had chats with Sundaram on that subject. There were those who were jailed after extorting people, by threatening, â€œIf you donâ€™t give money I will write a story about you!â€
Another allegation is of a female journalist that was jailed. I remember that particular case prompted us to subscribe to all news outlets to help with analysis during the trainings. The conclusion of all the journalism students at the time was what that individual had done was not journalism, but defamation and insults.
I asked Sundaram what would happen where he comes from, if a journalist were to superimpose a swastika â€“ the Nazi symbol â€“ on an image of their president. He told me that would never happen. In developed countries newspapers avoid defaming to prevent fines or expensive lawsuits.
At that time, Bosco Gasasira of Umuvugizi had gone into self-imposed exile. I explained to Sundaram what Gasasira was in the habit of writing in his newspaper: violent lies that would never see the light of day in any professional newspaper or magazine.
I told Sundaram of other journalists like that, and the list was long. Most of these were people who when they sense an opportunity to reach Europe, which is their estimation of paradise on earth, they grab it! Once there they get welfare, which is superior to the life their poverty can afford them here. It is the sad reality of quite a few that have been joining journalism.
The book â€œBad Newsâ€
Integrity has generally been low in Rwandan journalism. Any of these journalists upon being bribed for instance, would overlook their training of reporting well-investigated facts. I thought I had made Sundaram see that. I think he did, except that as his writings indicate he chooses to ignore it for some reason.
This disingenuousness is at its utmost in the way Sundaram treats the subject of Alphonse Nsabimana who turned up one day claiming he was being intimidated because he worked for Umusesonewspaper. Nsabimana â€“ whom Sundaram disguises in his book as â€œGibsonâ€ â€“ was one of the trainees in our journalism program and had plans of setting up a newspaper. He thought Internews would give funds to people wanting to set up a newspaper or magazine. However the only support we were mandated to provide was offices and Internet.
So when the broke and badly off Nsabimana realized no money would be forthcoming from Internews he changed tactics, and invented a story to leave Rwanda. He secretly talked to Sundaram and Blaquiere telling them that he was â€œwantedâ€ because he was a journalist of Umuseso; that he had just been released by the secret services; that he was held in a secret place by unknown people.
Apparently Sundaram and Blaquiere wanted to believe this story; they wanted to believe it badly enough that they offered a place in their house for the supposed wanted man to hide out. He spent a month there. It was only much later that Sundaram thought of cross checking his heroâ€™s story with me. It turned out Nsabimana had been in the hands of security forces alright, except it was for far different reasons than the yarn he had been spinning to his benefactors.
On the morning of his finding refuge in Sundaramâ€™s house he had been in custody for one night at Nyamirambo Police Station. A sex worker had gone to police alleging that Nsabimana had beaten her up because he thought she had infected him with HIV. Despite learning of this, Sundaram and Blaquiere made the decision to send Nsabimana to Uganda where, apparently with their recommendation Nsabimana was received by humanitarian organizations including Amnesty International.
This is one of the people that features prominently in Anjan Sundaramâ€™s book Bad News as â€œGibsonâ€, one of the â€œendangered journalistsâ€ in Rwanda, as one of the â€œlast journalists in a dictatorshipâ€! The interesting thing is that even when this â€œendangered journalistâ€ returned from Uganda after that too turned out to be a dead end, no one, no police or other security services touched a hair off his head.
Sundaram and Blaquiere would later tell me that those they had recommended to help Alphonse said they had investigated him and found out that he had lied to them.
What could they gain by sending Gibson aka Alphonse Nsabimana away even after they knew that his stories of persecution were dubious at the least? I can only conclude they wanted to have a journalist refugee to fill the need for such in the planned book. And all Nsabimana wanted was a one-way ticket to anywhere in Europe or beyond.
Sundaram who lived in Rwanda for three years and observed the journalism profession here knows that the main problem of journalists is not â€œstate intimidationâ€ or harassment. Journalists in Kigali regularly wrote really incendiary stuff; criticizing the president and other high-ranking officials every day and no harm came to them.
Rather he should have been asking, what were these people writing about and how come they would write it again and again even with their constant claims of harassment?
Maybe he knew the main problem was a life of poverty; of failing to make ends meet; failing to pay the rent, buy food, etc? That sad situation is brought about by factors, such as ours still being a young economy with a very small readership or audience, and an even smaller advertisement market that cannot support all aspiring journalists. Those are the main reasons why many who graduate from schools of journalism opt for careers in PR in government or other institutions where there is a salary for a living.
â€œBad Newsâ€ conveniently skips over such facts in its eager search for bad news.