The critical role of Rwandan media and

The Rwandan Genocide is frequently regarded as one of the most horrific human rights atrocities in recent history. The conflict forced many individuals, both within Rwandan society and in the broader international community to grapple with the implications of genocide and how it may be reconciled and prevented in the future. The topic is particularly imperative when analyzed in the context of colonialism and how the nation’s former colonizer, Belgium and its historic relationship with Rwanda directly contributed to the dividing and ranking of Hutu and Tutsi people and the conflict and eventual genocide that followed. The topic is even further complicated in the participation (or lack thereof) of the international community and their negligence in preventing a genocide with such deep historical roots. In total, the genocide resulted in casualties estimated between 500,000-1,000,000, the majority of whom were Tutsis and some moderate Hutus. However, in reflecting on the conflict, the critical role of Rwandan media and propaganda cannot be denied as one of the many complex factors that lead to the conflict. In the years leading up to and during the genocide, radio and print media played an imperative role in persuading both citizens and military to participate in mass killings and had a significant impact on Rwandan society and the international response to the crisis and its aftermath. Between 1990 and 1994, anti-Tutsi propaganda was sourced and distributed through many different locations and organizations. Both local and high officials often embraced hateful rhetoric when discussing Tutsis and propaganda remained highly visible in songs played on the radio, speeches at party meetings, nationalistic Hutu publications, and in state radio news items and peasant demonstrations (Karnell).  However, when examining all of these propaganda sources, it may become evident that radio played the most distinguishable role in creating the conditions for genocide and supporting the mass killings of 1994. As Aaron Phillip Karnell articulates in The Role of Radio in the Genocide of Rwanda, very few people escaped exposure to radio’s messaging, whether it be through direct listening, discussions with neighbors who could access the radio or in public spaces including bars where the radio frequently blared (Green). Furthermore, although only 29% of households had radios in their personal belonging in Rwanda at the time, nearly 59.7% owned them in the city. This access created conditions for conflict within a highly population region and allowed for hasty communication between communities. (Green) The radio also possessed particular popularity and widespread distribution as a result of low-literacy rates. In the 1990’s, approximately 66% of the population were literate, and many lacked formal education (Green). Therefore, While many Rwandans at the time read the news, particularly in the capital, radio served as the most accessible forms of communication. (Drott) Even in communities where the radio was not directly accessible, many scholars have observed a “spillover effect” where news and information from the radio quickly spread amongst neighborhoods, leading to a stark increase in militia killings (Drott).In order to fully comprehend the impact of propaganda through this form of broadcasting, however, the history of radio in Rwanda must be addressed. In 1991, Radio Rwanda served as the only radio channel in the country (Green). After receiving criticism for their partisan stances, the station decided to appoint Jean-Marie Vianney Higuro in an effort to shift towards more moderate reporting. Partially in response to this executive decision as well as rising tension in the region, Hutu extremists founded Television Libres des Mille Collines (RTLM) in April 2013. The program operated on the same frequencies as Radio Rwanda, but broadcasted during a different, but influential time of day between 8am and 11am. As the creators of the station expressed, the program was designed to “prepare people for genocide” (Green) and appealed especially to delinquents, unemployed populations and gangs. The broadcast rapidly garnered attention amongst these groups, and by many other members of society. Drott observes this rise in popularity was in part due to a perception that RTLM was more credible than Radio Rwanda; on the day the President was killed, Radio Rwanda was reported to have played classical music all morning while RTLM reported on the news (Drott). However, as Bill Berkeley observes in Sounds of Violence, both radios “systematically blurred the distinction between rebel soldiers and Tutsi civilians” (Berkeley).In normalizing and endorsing violence against the Tutsi people, RTLM emphasized broad differences between Hutu and Tutsi people and their inability to co-exist within society. Although the Rwandan Genocide is often regarded solely as an ethnic conflict, the station degraded against many different aspects of Tutsi identity including but not limited to culture, education, occupation and politics. RTLM exploited these various aspects of identity to demonize all Tutsi people as enemies who intended to take over society. As Drot details, “The radio encouraged people to participate because it said the Tutsi is the enemy. If the radio had not declared these things, people would not have gone into the attacks (Drott). Often drawing on historically constructed stereotypes about the target population, the radio contributed to the creation and perpetuation of violence through their complete disregard for human life. The station often persuaded its listeners that “the graves are only half full” and insisted that systematic extermination of Tutsi people was essential to Rwanda’s future. Even after the capturing of Kigali, the defeated government was still “scaring people out of their wits” through radio communication. (Berkeley).  One prominent study estimated that RTLM alone was responsible for 10% of the violence that occurred during the genocide, clearly illustrating the vast impact of the media and its connection to historical tension in the region (Drott). Although radio served as the most influential and widespread media in the years preceding the genocide and during the conflict itself, extremist print media on behalf of Hutu leaders also played a prominent role. Specifically, Kangura, a bimonthly newspaper edited by Hassan Ngeze and supported by Hutu extremists sought to garner support for the mass killings through demonization of Tutsis and slanted representations of  Rwandan history. As Marcel Kabanda details in The Media and the Rwandan Genocide: The Triumph of Propaganda Refined, the publication sought to provoke “hysterical hatred of all Tutsis as well as any Hutu who expressed a desire for change, freedom and democratic openness” (Kabanda). The organization advocated for a dissolution of Rwanda’s historical, political and cultural communities and expressed a desire for a nation that was more “authentic” and “pure.” The newspaper often described itself as “the voice that seeks to awake and guide the majority people” (Green) and sought to spread these ideals even when the government was constrained by international pressure. Propaganda in the newspaper was delivered both through published articles and cartoons insulting Tutsis and advocating for “Hutu Supremacy” (Green). As one article claimed in a March 1993 issue when describing Tutsis, “A cockroach cannot give birth to a butterfly” (Green). Such comments demonstrate that similarly to RTLM, the publication held no regard for human life and believed extermination of Tutsi people was the only solution to solving the problems of Rwandan society. As poverty rates rose in the country while access to education, healthcare and agricultural opportunity decreased, this approach was particularly effective in providing the people with a source of blame for society’s most significant challenges. (Kabanda). The extremist messaging of Kangura was achieved in part through the display of dramatic representations of pre-revolutionary Rwanda.  These depictions often ignored, disregarded and overlooked the progress the nation had made in the past 30 years, particularly in its redistribution of power and wealth (Drott). The publications often focused on the 1959 revolution when the country transitioned from a Belgian Colony with a Tutsi monarchy to an independent republic dominated by Hutus. Aiming to convince its readers that the nation was still living underneath 1957 conditions, the paper often included writing and speeches from current and historical leaders. In one graphic from November 1991, the question “What tools will we use to defeat the Iyenzi once and for all?” was accompanied by the depiction of Kayibanda, the First Republic president and a Machete next to each other. (Kabanda) Hassan Ngeze also re-published a declaration delivered by Gregoire Kayibanda himself against the Tutsis:  “We have told you what we expect from you in our 1963 speech: awaken to democracy, follow the new custom in Rwanda. What we want is brotherhood amongst citizens…goodness and wisdom will be our weapons. But if you rest the wisdom of democracy, you can blame no one.” These historical references were designed with the intention of normalizing violence against the Tutsis and justifying violence against civilians (Kabanda). Further, as Kabanda explains, in a society that possesses a deep respect for elders and their authority, these representations provided effective evidence for the publications extremist arguments.While Kanguru discussed many areas of Rwandan life where Tutsi people were allegedly  guilty of harm, the publication focused primarily on the history of the workforce and labor, a source of clear tension and conflict throughout the region. As Green cites from an article published for the paper, “Did you know that Tutsi represented 58 percent of the population living in the city of Kigali? When all those who had no job were sent away, only the Hutu left. As for the Tutsi, they managed to obtain work certificates through their brothers who attested that they used them as maids and servants.” While Kanguru was published in Kigali, urban workers often carried the paper back to the hills on weekends (Green). Therefore, the newspaper frequently employed rhetoric including the text above depicting Tutsis as job “robbers” who intended to rule Kigali and Rwanda as a nation in their favor. These depictions exploited the most vulnerable insecurities of Rwandan society and created a culture of antagonism and hatred amongst the two  groups. However, perhaps more than any other piece of writing published in the paper, the “Hutu 10 Commandments” served as the most compelling evidence of how propaganda may contribute to conflict and violence. The document asserted that Hutu individuals who affiliated with Tutsis in any way, whether it be through marriage, business or politics, would be considered traitors and deserving of extreme punishment. The commandments also demanded that Hutu maintain majority within all state institutions including education, the military, the economy and the political system (Karnell). The document has been compared to rhetoric employed by the Nazis during the Holocaust and was discussed in depth when Ngeze was convicted for his role in the Genocide in the International Court (The New York Times Opinion). Such an example illustrates how hate speech may translate to violence, particularly within a tensely divided society. Although propaganda through both radio and print channels contributed to the documented deaths during the genocide, such media also contributed to casualties that are not as clearly visible, including violence against women. Widespread sexual assault was committed against Tutsi women throughout the Genocide including through rape mutilation, and collective and individual sexual slavery (Green). Print and radio propaganda played on gendered stereotypes about Tutsi women originating from the colonial period including their representation as “evil seductresses” who would readily use their sexuality to manipulate others and conquer Rwanda. Specifically, the continued raping of Tutsi women was pursued with the goal of destroying their image as beautiful and desirable human beings by humiliating and degrading them. (Green). Women were commonly depicted as sexual objects and were repeatedly taken from their homes and gang-raped. Such atrocities were frequently encouraged by extremist Hutu media, including in Kangura’s  10 commandments, 4 of which directly targeted Tutsi women (Karnell). As a result of this gruesome violence, many women were left unable to perform their expected roles within society including mothering and marriage. Women were frequently detained in order to provide sexual services and forced impregnation resulted in a severe loss of reproductive freedom and sexual autonomy. Extremist media consistently endorsed this culture of violence against women as they degraded against both their ethnicity and gender, leading to many grave impacts that continue to resonate in Rwandan society today. Particularly in a country of 60- 70% women following the genocide (Warner), the burden of sexual violence and fear often created insurmountable barriers for communities of women across the nation.Lastly, propaganda during the Rwandan Genocide significantly informed the International Community’s response to the conflict and its aftermath. In October of 2000, the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda opened a media case and reached its first verdict testifying against Kangura editor Hassan Ngeze and RTLM founding members Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean Bosco. In 2002, Rwandan historian and Human Rights Watch advisor Alison Des Forges testified before the ICTR, maintaining that RTLM and Kangura both played considerable roles in the Rwandan Genocide. As Des Forges stated in court, “I am not saying that any one broadcast or any one media was the determinant for people’s behavior, I am not saying that RTLM acted alone to cause the genocide, but it was an integral component of efforts to encourage and bring about the attacks on ethnic Tutsi with the intention of eliminating them as a group.” (Kimani) Such a statement and the actions of the UN clearly illustrate that the prominent role of media has sustained the test of time, as historians, scholars and UN members continue to assert its impact on the Genocide.  The Rwandan Genocide held enormous implications for the role of the International Community in approaching ethnic conflict and in the prevention of future conflict. This rings particularly true when analyzed in the context of media, and how its various forms are often employed to exacerbate ethnic and social divides within different societies. In the years following the Genocide, several scholars including Jamie Frederic Metzl examined the ethical implications of tactics including radio jamming as scholars sought to determine the most effective and moral tactic in preventing ethnic conflict and violence. Although such tactics have been largely opposed, the role of media and propaganda remains increasingly relevant in many societies today as nations continue to grapple with how to support media that may inform and connect, rather than divide.

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