Journalism at War: The Case of Rwanda Tribune in Associating Banyamulenge with FDLR
On September 7, 2020, I published an article entitled "Journalism at War: The Case of IGIHE in Defaming the Banyamulenge Community." In the article, I based my argument on what IGIHE had published about Banyamulenge. IGIHE is an online news journal based in Rwanda.
When a lie is not refuted, the lie becomes the truth to many. The goal of writing this short analysis is to refute what the Rwanda Tribune has been publishing about members of the Banyamulenge. The Rwanda Tribune is an Internet-based newspaper. It is believed the newspaper is headquartered somewhere in the African Great Lakes Region, possibly in Rwanda. Although criticized by the academic community for not being a trusted and reliable source of information, Wikipedia documents the Rwanda Tribune. The Wikipedia entry by a Kmosky, last edited ten years ago, describes the Rwanda Tribune in Kinyarwanda as "a newspaper based in Kigali [the capital city of Rwanda] and publishes on the Internet. The goal of this newspaper is to broadcast only true news." The same statement can be found at the bottom of the newspaper's website homepage. The contacts box shows Rwandan phone numbers. Furthermore, the same website section reveals the journal to be copyrighted in Rwanda.
Rwanda Tribune's Publications on Banyamulenge
Visiting the Rwanda Tribune website, I used the website search field and searched the word "Makanika." I intended to explore the word "Makanika" because it is a name that belongs to one of the top Twirwaneho leaders, a name widely used in the Rwanda Tribune published news articles. Makanika is Colonel Michel Rukunda's nickname, a deserted colonel from the Democratic Republic of Congo's armed forces (FARDC). He is a member of the Banyamulenge community. Banyamulenge people have been going through a rough time since 2017 when other communities in the south region of South Kivu began attacking them for no apparent reason, except that of physically looking different from them, the reason of being called "Rwandans," "foreigners," "refugees," and other many defaming names. Twirwaneho, which means "let us defend ourselves," is a self-defense group to defend Banyamulenge and their property. Like many others, Col. Makanika abandoned his assignment in the Congolese army because the Congolese government wasn't doing anything to protect his community.
When I searched the word "Makanika" on Rwanda Tribune, I found 15 news articles dated as far back as January 2020. In a month and a half, the newspaper has published six articles: March 1, March 2, March 5, March 8, April 14, and April 14, 2021. All the articles are in Kinyarwanda, the Rwandan national language. Three of the six news articles are just full of lies, making several members of the Banyamulenge community believe in a hidden agenda somewhere against them.
The March 5th Article
Written by an Ally (2021) Jado (website registered user ID) or Mwizerwa Ally (a name found at the bottom of the article), the article's title in Kinyarwanda is, "RDC: Col. Bisetsa wo mu bwoko bw'Abanyamulenge wari ukuriye ingabo za FARDC i Nyanzare nawe yatorotse igisilikare asanga Col. Makanika." The translation of the title is as follows, "RDC: Col. Bisetsa of the Banyamulenge, who was the leader of the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) in Nyanzare, has also deserted the army and joined Col. Makanika." This news article is simply a big lie and misleading. Colonel Bisetsa never left his military assignment to join Colonel Makanika. The article's subtitle contains the phrase "inyeshyamba z'Abanyamulenge," meaning "Banyamulenge rebels." As previously mentioned, Twirwaneho is not a rebel group but a self-defense one. It started as a result of the Congolese government's perceived irresponsibility to protect its citizens, especially members of the Banyamulenge community.
The article's second paragraph states that Col. Bisetsa was on military leave when he decided to join Colonels Makanika and Sematama, both members of his community. Additionally, the fourth paragraph of the article mentions another army officer's desertion (a lieutenant colonel) of the same community. However, the article fails to mention the officer's name. It should be noted that on March 8th, the journal published an article that Col. Bisetsa did not join Colonels Makanika and Sematama, actually after journal staff realized the Marth 5th article's content was misleading.
The April 13th Article
Written presumably by two individuals, the article was titled in Kinyarwanda as "Col. Makanika mu mugambi wo kwigarurira Kivu y'Amajyepfo mu gihe mai mai Nyatura na FDLR bakubitiwe inshuro i Masisi." The translation reads, "Col. Makanika to capture South Kivu while Mai Mai Nyatura and FDLR have lost in Masisi." The website registered user ID is shown to be Ildephonse, while the name at the bottom of the article is Shamukiga Kambale (2021a). The first paragraph translates as follows, "Zoe Kabila is said to support different groups, including Twirwaneho, Mai Mai Nyatura, and FDLR to overthrow President Tshisekedi." Zoe Kabila is Former President Joseph Kabila's brother. While this paragraph demonizes Twirwaneho by mixing it with groups whose goals are way different from Twirwaneho's, the second paragraph worsens the demonization by labeling Twirwaneho as part of the Mai Mai coalition. The author lists Mai Mai groups, including "Mai Mai Twirwaneho and Mai Mai Nyatura." Twirwaneho has never been and will never be Mai Mai.
For the sake of clarifying the Rwanda Tribune's mixture and confusion, Mai Mai fighters are made up of members of several communities in South Kivu and North Kivu. Without exaggerating, all Mai Mai groups in South Kivu have been fighting against the Banyamulenge community for nearly 60 years. Calling Twirwaneho, a Banyamulenge self-defense group against Mai Mai fighters, part of the Mai Mai coalition is an insult toward Banyamulenge. The Rwanda Tribune vaguely alleges that Zoe Kabila, alongside his brother, Joseph Kabila, supports Twirwaneho and many armed groups in eastern Congo. It should be highlighted that the Twirwaneho leadership has not communicated the intent of fighting against the South Kivu government. Therefore, the newspaper's article on Marth 13th should be highly condemned for its misleading information.
The April 14th Article
The same names on the April 13th article appear on the April 14th one (Kambale, 2021b). A coincidence? The title of the April 14th article reads in Kinyarwanda, "Abarwanyi ibihumbi 4 nibo bamaze kwisuganya muri Bijombo, Minembwe na Uvila bayobowe na Col. Makanika." This translates into "Four thousand fighters led by Col. Makanika are ready in Bijombo, Minembwe, and Uvira." The sequence of both articles, one published one day after the other, sends a strong message. One news story tells the reader that Col. Makanika and his followers plan to capture South Kivu. Simultaneously, the other communicates that the same individuals are now ready to execute the plan. What a deceiving method of lying!
At least this article acknowledges that Banyamulenge have been under constant attacks from Mai Mai groups and their allies, foreign armed groups, such as Red-Tabara from Burundi; in responding to the question about the source of Col. Makanika and his men's support, the author claims the same: the Zoe Kabila's support to the Banyamulenge's self-defense group, Twirwaneho.
The Bottom Line of Rwanda Tribune's Lies
What is behind the Rwanda Tribune's lies about members of Banyamulenge? What is the hidden agenda? Although there are no answers to these questions, one can read through the lines and develop an educated guess. What would be the motive of associating a local self-defense group with internationally labeled terrorist groups, such as the FDLR? Let us connect the dots. The FDLR fighters are Rwandans who fled their country after the 1994 Rwandan genocide. They have been operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo since their arrival. The international community and many Central African countries have accused them of committing all sorts of dangerous crimes. Mixing local self-defenders fighting for their country's rights with a foreign armed group internationally known for its terroristic actions sends a strong and negative signal to the world.
What would the international community perceive when they learn about this misleading information in the Rwanda Tribune's articles? A couple of things would be the results:
1) The self-defenders, Twirwaneho, would be placed in the same category as the FDLR.
2) Twirwaneho would face similar sanctions as the FDLR.
3) Because Twirwaneho defends Banyamulenge's rights, the international community would question the legitimacy of Banyamulenge's claims.
4) The Rwanda Tribune's misleading information would put the entire Congolese population, precisely the current political situation, in more jeopardy.
5) The Rwanda Tribune's lies would increase the likelihood of Banyamulenge being hated and killed by their neighbors, creating more intensive ethnic confrontation.
What is not surprising is the trend of misleading news stories from several newspapers in Rwanda, including IGIHE, Rushyashya, and many more. For example, on January 22, 2020, IGIHE published an article stating that Col. Aaron Nyamushebwa had abandoned his military assignment to join Col. Makanika. Col. Nyamushebwa, a member of the Banyamulenge community, was stationed in Kongo Central (formerly known as Bas Congo), nearly 1,700 kilometers from where Col. Makanika was located. Nyamushebwa was shortly interviewed and refuted IGIHE's misleading information.
The Code of Ethics in Journalism
Society of Professional Journalists (2014) provides four fundamental principles of ethical journalism. The principles are: seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent. The first point under the first principle reads, “Journalists should take responsibility for their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.” The second point states, “Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.” In other words, rushing to report a news article can be detrimental for journalists and readers. There’s no excuse.
Laws on Defamation and Libel in Rwanda
Article 288 of the Rwandan Penal Code of 2013 “criminalizes malicious and public acts made by a person to adversely affect the dignity of another person or to cause such a person public contempt” (Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 2013, p. 35). An offense under this article is punishable by an imprisonment term of six (6) months to one (1) year and a fine of one million (1,000,000) to five million (5,000,000) Rwandan francs, or one of the two. Institute for War & Peace Reporting (2013) also states that libel is the same as the publication of defamatory information. The Institute says that the Rwandan Penal Code of 2013 does not contain the offense of libel. However, “The offense of defamation which is discussed above may be relied upon to prosecute persons (especially) journalists who publish defamatory information” (p. 35).
Conclusion and Recommendations
An undeniable trend of the Rwanda Tribune's news stories shows that the newspaper possibly has a hidden agenda against members of the Banyamulenge community in South Kivu, the Democratic Republic of Congo. This analysis provided a clear picture of the journal's deliberately misleading information based on three of its articles. A critical takeaway is that the misleading news puts the entire community of Banyamulenge in danger of being misinterpreted as the country's rebels and terrorists due to the journal's association of the community's self-defenders, Twirwaneho, with the FDLR. The Rwanda Tribune is highly recommended to be professional and avoid putting a community as a whole in jeopardy. The newspaper is also recommended to follow the code of ethics in journalism and Rwanda's defamation and libel laws. Most importantly, a lesson from genocide-driven newspapers, such as the RTLM during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, would be appropriate to learn.
Ally, M. (2021, March 5). RDC: Col. Bisetsa wo mu bwoko bw'Abanyamulenge wari ukuriye ingabo za FARDC i Nyanzare nawe yatorotse igisilikare asanga Col. Makanika. Rwanda Tribune. https://www.rwandatribune.com/rdccol-bisetsa-wo-mu-bwoko-bwabanyamurenge-wari-ukuriye-ingabo-za-fardc-inyanzare-nawe-yatorotse-igisilikare-asanga-col-makanika/
Institute for War & Peace Reporting. (2013). Media laws: Training curriculum [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://iwpr.net/sites/default/files/download/publication/rwanda_media_laws_final_print_web.pdf
Kambale, S. (2021a, April 13). Col. Makanika mu mugambi wo kwigarurira Kivu y'Amajyepfo mu gihe Mai Mai Nyatura na FDLR bakubitiwe inshuro i Masisi. Rwanda Tribune. https://www.rwandatribune.com/col-makanika-mu-mugambi-wo-kwigarurira-kivu-yamajyepfo-mu-gihe-mai-mai-nyatura-na-fdlr-bakubitiwe-inshuro-i-masisi/
Kambale, S. (2021b, April 14). Abarwanyi ibihumbi 4 nibo bamaze kwisuganya muri Bijombo, Minembwe, na Uvila bayobowe na Col. Makanika. Rwanda Tribune. https://www.rwandatribune.com/abarwanyi-ibihumbi-4-nibo-bamaze-kwisuganya-muri-bijombominembwe-na-uvila-bayobowe-na-col-makanika/
Society of Professional Journalists. (2014). SPJ code of ethics. https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp
Criminal Justice: Homeland Security
Helms School of Government
Lynchburg, Virginia, United States