Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship

By Anjan Sundaram, 2016

 

Why You Should Read It

Rwanda is lauded as a shining model of post-conflict recovery, a donor darling, and a truly remarkable country in Africa, for the progress it has made since the horrific genocide of 1994. It is all these things, but Sundaram’s chilling book uncovers more – it has come at the price of silence.

Sundaram leads a journalism training programme for five years in Kigali, and details the slow, relentless harassment, co-option, intimidation and arrests of journalists; paradoxically, even as the space shrinks, more and more newspapers open up. This is possible because of what the book describes as the pensée unique in Rwanda – the singularity of thought.

The country’s much celebrated order and harmony is an eerie calm, Sundaram says, achieved and enforced by violence, a totalitarian squeeze on everything. In his class, his best student is literally driven mad after persistent harassment; he is forced to flee the country and eventually loses his mind, consumed by paranoia. His crime – starting a magazine that in its first edition provided information to mothers struggling to feed malnourished children; this undermined an official narrative that the nation’s president had banished hunger.

There are many such gloomy notes in this little book.

Why You Should Grumble

Sundaram’s account relies too much on describing the sinister, dark mood of terror, and doesn’t nearly do enough in making sense of it – there is little historicity and context, and  he doesn’t attempt to explain why President Paul Kagame’s regime behaves in the way that it does.

Terror cannot be its own explanation. Without this critical analysis, the book provides much valuable information, but not nearly enough insight.

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