Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s recent interview with France 24 went viral in what I would refer to as a “reclamation of dignity”. The interview with France 24 journalist Catherine Nicholson and Neven Mimica, the EU commissioner for cooperation and development, was meant to be about development but eventually spiraled into a conversation about human rights in Rwanda.
Nicholson started the interview by introducing Kagame, who has done wonders for his country, as having been Rwanda’s president since 2000. This was a tacit way of referring to the fact that Kagame has been in power for 19 years. One would never hear any reference being made to Germany’s Angela Merkel’s long stay in power. It has become typical for African leaders to be attacked based on issues like this, even when the focus of conversation has nothing to do with it.
President Kagame told the interviewer, “You need to stop this superiority complex nonsense about human rights. You think you are the only ones who respect human rights, while for others it’s about violating human rights.” The cynicism, condescension and moral superiority displayed by many Western journalists when it comes to questioning human rights on the continent is laughable.
In 1994, when more than 800 000 Rwandans were killed, Western media remained silent. This silence has become part of the script for many of these media houses. Feigning care and love now for Rwandans that was nowhere to be seen back in 1994 is nothing short of hypocrisy. It also serves as a distraction from the real and important issues that we should be dealing with as a continent, which is getting our own solutions to our own problems on the continent.
Yesterday I got into a healthy argument with a friend on the definition of democracy and tyranny. I asked her, can we find tyranny in democracy? Yes, we can, she said. America’s President Donald Trump is a perfect example. While America claims to be an advocate for democracy, it is equally tyrannical and very much a violator of human rights. Yet, we hear no one talk about the US or UK regarding human rights malpractices. When white supremacists take guns and mow people down, no one issues a travel warning to America. When America detained 16-year-old Kalief Browder, who was kept in solitary confinement at Rikers Island Prison for over two years without trial, no one called for the head of former President Barack Obama or asked him any questions about human rights abuses in the US. Why, then, does every African president face questions from Western media about human rights abuses?
Unfortunately, Africans have not learnt to question the obvious strategies that the white man uses to divide our continent. While it is more important that Africans should be questioning our own definition of democracy, it has become the easy, lazy option to take up the democracy practiced in the US and Europe without questioning if it fits our context as a continent.
Paul Kagame’s response was reminiscent of Patrice Lumumba’s speech on 30 June 1960, at the independence day celebrations of Congo. More importantly, it raised the ongoing question and the importance of Africa owning its own media house to tell its own stories.