Genocide architect used media to incite Rwanda mass murder

Ms Aline Uwase, a genocide survivor, looks at the skulls of victims inside the Genocide Memorial in Gisozi Kigali, on April 3, 2019. [File]

Rwanda quietly marked its 27th Liberation Day yesterday in the shadow of the new coronavirus ravaging the world.

The day, also known as Kwibohora, is observed on July 4, to remember the end of genocide against Tutsi.

It marks the day Rwandan Patriotic Front captured the capital Kigali, ending the 1994 genocide against the minority Tutsi and moderate Hutus. Over a million people died.

A day before the ‘Kwibohora,’ French Court of Appeals rejected a request by Agathe Habyarimana, the widow of President Juvenal Habyarimana, whose death sparked the genocide, to reopen a probe into the assassination.

The court had been asked to revisit a 2018 decision by the High Court in Paris to throw out an investigation against nine members of President Paul Kagame’s entourage.

In 2012, a report by French military experts pinpointed Kanombe camp, which was controlled by Habyarimama’s army, as the launch site of the missile that brought down the presidential jet into the presidential palace in Kigali. The assassination was said to have been the pretext Hutu extremists had been waiting for in order to start an elimination campaign against Tutsis which they had planned for about three years.

And no one is possibly more responsible for inciting the killings than billionaire businessman Felicien Kabuga, who was arrested in Paris in May. He provided thousands of militia with machetes and logistical support in form of lorries, to pursue and kill their victims. 

He had another far more insidious weapon that fuelled the mass murders of 1994 – a mass media platform called Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines, or simply the RTLM radio station. During the launch of RTLM in Gisenyi Prefecture, Hutu politician Jean-Bosco, took over the microphone and led the crowd in a chilling chant ‘Tuba tsemba sembe’, which means in the local language, let’s exterminate them.

That evening at the Amahoro Hotel in Gisenya, in the presence of a group of about a 100 Akazu, an informal organisation of Hutu extremists, Kabuga thanked one Ferdinand Nahimana for the idea to create RTLM. He assured him that he’d secured a ‘big loan’ from Bank BACAR, whose Director General was one Pasteur Musabe, younger brother of Theoneste Bagosora, of the Ministry of Defence.

Kabuga and Bagosora were among eight commanders of a group of 76 Hutu civilians called Les Dragones (The Dragons), who abrogated themselves God-like power of deciding who dies. The announcements were made over RTLM of which Kabuga was the main shareholder. The Dragons had some military men, who were part of the Akazu.

These civilian and military associations converged in the nefarious Le Reseau Zero, or the Zero Network to plan the massacre. The meeting was referred to as Zero Network since ‘zero’ was the number of Tutsis they intended to leave in Rwanda after the massacre.

By 1992, Rwanda had only one radio station, Radio Rwanda, that like Kenya’s Voice of Kenya in the 1980s, was staid and solemn. It had pro-government propaganda posing as news, some rural farming programs, Catholic choirs and a staple of folk songs.

“Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines was set up to create harmonious development in the Rwandese society,” Kabuga’s lawyers wrote in RTLM’s Memorandum of Association when incorporating it in 1992. RTLM broadcast as an FM station.

At the same time, Kabuga flooded the market with cheap Chinese portable radios. By the start of 1993, almost everyone was tuned into the new radio station, which with its pop music, phone-ins, disc jockeys and presenters who used street slang, became popular, especially among the youth.

RTLM’s broadcasts began at 8.30am in Kinyarwanda as Gaspard Gahigi, the Editor-in-Chief, held the editorial meeting during which people were sent out to conduct interviews and collect information. At midday, music and DJs went on air until 5pm.

From 5pm, the station went vernacular in Hutu until 8pm, when it would start to broadcast in French until 10pm. At midnight, there would be a show where fake news and incitement to hatred against the Tutsi was spewed.

Francois-Xavier Nsanzuwera, the State Prosecutor of Kigali, was concerned about the anti-Tutsi propaganda. When RTLM journalist Kantano Habimana made a broadcast alleging that then Attorney General Alphonse Nkubito, a Hutu moderate and intellectual, was involved in a plot to assassinate the president, Nsanzuwera had him arrested, alongside another notorious presenter, Noel Hitiman, who openly gave out hit lists of Tutsi to be targeted.

“All I did was read out a telegram given to me by my general manager,” Habimana would protest.

Continued incitement

Nsanzuwera released the journalists but got so incensed by the station’s continued incitement that on February 9, 1994, he together with the AG Nkubito, summoned both RTLM GM Nahimana and Rwanda’s Information Minister Faustin Rucogoza.

“You have to stop these inflammatory broadcasts,” the AG said. They are illegal.”

“Do you know who the backers of the station are? They are the Akazu,” Nahimana said.

“If you continue, then we’ll have no choice but to shut you down,” Nsanzuwera said.

“If you interfere with The Work,” the Information Minister said, “you’ll be silenced!”

By March 1994, RTLM journalists were openly extorting Tutsis and well-off Hutus, to pay them off not to broadcast their names as ‘ikotanyi-Tutsis’, those who should be killed.

Last year, at Amahoro National Stadium in Kigali, Kagame said he would fight to protect Rwanda and gains made over the years.