Tit for Tat

As the dominant narrative about Paul Kagame began to change, some Western journalists failed to catch up. They get mad when that's pointed out.

Philip_Gourevitch. By Andrew Brucker. Via Wiki Commons.

What happens when journalists attack? To find out, look no further than the pages of this month’s Columbia Journalism Review. The story begins with “One Man’s Rwanda,” Tristan McConnell’s feature on American journalist Philip Gourevitch, most famous for his best-selling book on the Rwandan genocide, We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families. As McConnell notes, the feature is “an exploration of the debate over how Paul Kagame and his Rwanda are represented in the Western press, a debate approached through the frame of one Rwanda’s best known chroniclers.” McConnell’s point, which I don’t dispute, is that as the dominant narrative about Paul Kagame has begun to change, Gourevitch’s writing and reporting has failed to change with it. This, despite the release of high-profile documents implicating Kagame and his government in serious crimes, including most recently the UN Mapping Report on the violence and human rights abuses in the DRC as well as signs of growing repression within Rwanda. It’s a fair piece, which in the end, also reveals that almost 17 years after the fact, no one has yet to figure out how to talk about Rwanda, least of all Gourevitch.

Gourevitch, of course, responded by doing his best Alex Perry impression. You’ll remember fellow American journalist Alex Perry’s freakout last year over criticism about his coverage of the Congo, or as Perry likes to put it, “the sucking vortex where Africa’s heart should be.”

Gourevitch’s response is just as entertaining, as well as shrill to the point of embarrassing, sparing no words in calling McConnell’s feature “a porridge of innuendo and insinuation, misrepresentations and deliberate distortions.” For reasons that are not entirely clear, though, Gourevitch saves most of his vitriol for Howard French, who is only one of several Central/East Africa journalists and observers quoted in McConnell’s piece. This then prompts responses from McConnell, the CJR editors and French himself, who unsurprisingly proves to be the most level-headed of the bunch.

Of course, as the gatekeepers of the Western journalism establishment continue their tit for tat, it is business as usual in the country over which they are fighting for bragging rights. Last week, in yet another example of the ways in which vague laws prohibiting “genocide ideology” and “divisionism” are being used to stifle dissent, three High Court judges in Rwanda sentenced Agnès Uwimana, former editor of the now-defunct private weekly Umurabyo, to 17 years in prison and former Deputy Editor Saidati Mukakibibi to seven years. The charges? Insulting the head of state, promoting discrimination, sectarianism, and genocide denial. The Committee to Protect Journalists has more.

Perhaps we can focus on that.

Further Reading

Stop selling out

Ugandan activist and politician Dr. Stella Nyanzi challenges a new generation of women to take up the struggle for political freedoms and revolution.

Soft targets

What was behind the assassinations in the 1980s of two key anti-apartheid figures: Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme, and senior ANC official, Dulcie September?