'Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship': Pulling back the curtain on Paul Kagame's Rwanda
March 6, 2016 12:00 AM
"Bad News Last Journalists in a Dictatorship," by Anjan Sundaram.
By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In the early 1990s, the world watched in horror as Hutus and Tutsis slaughtered each other in Rwanda. When it ended, Paul Kagame was heralded as one of the leaders of forces that ended the bloodshed.
"BAD NEWS: LAST JOURNALISTS IN A DICTATORSHIP"
By Anjan Sundaram Doubleday Books ($25.95).
As president since 2000, President Kagame has fooled much of the world into thinking his country is a happy democracy and has received tons of international funding because on the surface Rwanda shines as an example of stability. The capital is clean, it has modern roads and lighting, malls — all the trappings that look good to the Western eye — and many of his measures have improved people’s lives, from a reduced mortality rate to an expanding economy and national health insurance.
But author Anjan Sundaram tells a different story, one so chilling and painful that it should encourage international eyes on elections there. Mr. Sundaram, a mathematician by training, published ”Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey Into the Congo” in 2014. In his latest book, “Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship,” Mr. Sundaram tells of his years as a mentor in an internationally funded program to train young journalists in the fledgling democracy.
He had eager young students and people who had worked as journalists who wanted to wear the title more respectably. Increasingly, as they set out to do the serious work of watchdogs, they came under surveillance. One reporter in particular, Gibson, is a heartbreaking soul, a young man with integrity, talent and tenacity. He had bought a couch as a symbol of the serenity he craved but ended up selling it to pay for his escape to Uganda.
A paper that took on the authorities had to close. Mr. Sundaram’s charges began turning, joining the reporting corps that fawned over the president and ran flattering, congratulatory articles about his work. One by one, students left the program. The author approached foreign visitors with clout for help, and they scoffed, telling him they knew of the repression but to give it time.
Mr. Kagame has received the accolades of Bill and Melinda Gates, former President Bill Clinton and many other world leaders. Paul Kagame was a victim of trauma himself as a refugee to Uganda when he was a child, and his people, the Tutsis, were killed in such numbers in Rwanda that the violence was referred to as genocide.
He is meticulous, learned and savvy, but he has carried his promising leadership into the trap that catches so many who get power, especially when their countries are poor and rocked by destruction.
There is residual messiness and anxiety when countries emerge from trauma, and many leaders respond with dominance to maintain quiet. That just leads to disquiet. Dissent — even mild criticism — is treated as a threat. This is the way dictators seal the fate of their nations. As they clamp down, the initial pushback makes them clamp down harder, making docile people paranoid as they themselves get more paranoid, until nobody trusts anybody.
“Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship” reveals this scenario on a person-to-person level, leading the reader to a heightened recognition of how fear can be used to seep into any society, subtly at first, and then malignantly transformative. President Kagame’s rule is supposed to end in 2017, but the term limits now in place are expected to be overturned.
Diana Nelson Jones: email@example.com or 412-263-1626.
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