16 December 2012

Rwanda: Are Our Newspapers Also Waiting for Crisis News?


I have always found myself thinking a lot about the rather small issues that in one way or another help me to better understand this whole thing called the East African Community.

Some of these things hit you when you least expect them and you are left with the trouble of piecing things together. For example, in 2007 while In Tanzania, I was told that you could tell a Tanzanian anything about Uganda but dare not speak ill about Jose Chameleone or President Museveni.

I was later to learn that Museveni's stay in Moshi as a lecturer had won him this affection in the same way Chameleone's Swahili-laced songs had done. But I have also heard stories of a Matatu in Nairobi that had artwork dedicated entirely to Pres. Kagame as far back as 2009.

And although the time I was in Nairobi I never got to see "Kagame's Matatu", it still felt nice seeing Kigali Road in Nairobi. Yes, and not just that, they have roads named after Bujumbura, Kampala, Dar and other neighbouring countries as well.

Every day I try to go through most of the news websites in the region. But despite all the talk of how the media should play a key role in fostering regional integration, I am saddened by the near absence of regional news in most local papers.

Of course it is important to give due credit to Nation Media Group for its East African publication. But I am more concerned with local dailies that only think of covering stories beyond their borders when there is a major crisis.

You do not have to look far to understand where I am heading. The other day almost all our media houses jumped on the Goma story and gave it all the coverage until they moved on to other things. The problem here is that you have people wondering what is really happening in Goma and who is who in the conflict. All because they knew almost nothing before the crisis broke out.

In every East African country there are events going on that will eventually have an impact - in one way or another - on the whole region. But because they are ignored, we lose an opportunity to learn about ourselves and understand the situations better.

Kenya is moving towards a crucial election and considering how much Kenyans have invested in other East African countries and how the results of the election can positively or negatively affect other countries, it is a shame that you barely read about Kenya except when reading Kenyan papers.

Uganda is in the midst of crucial oil legislation and manoeuvrings that could greatly affect the economies of Rwanda, Burundi and even Kenya but how often do you read about this in the newspapers of Tanzania, Burundi or Rwanda.

Here in Rwanda, the ruling party is celebrating 25 years. The role of this party in the transformation of Rwanda cannot be overstated. One of the party's most amazing innovations is the National Dialogue that took place recently. To see a trace of some of these issues in regional papers is a tough call. Yet you can be sure to read about Susan Rice.

How then can we expect to move and integrate as a region when we can barely read and know about what happens across our borders? Many times you see stories about events across the borders being picked up from other media establishments like China's Xinhua, AFP or Reuters.

In other words, China's Xinhua is delegated the job of picking up news in Burundi for Kenyans and Ugandans to read in their papers.

President Kibaki signed bilateral deals with Burundi's Pierre Nkurunziza some time back. If it is good to do business in Bujumbura, it must as well be worth it for Kenyan media houses to cover the country enough for others to know about it and maybe know how to also invest there. I remember the day when Kibaki was there; Citizen TV had a crew down there which was good but does not have to be the end.

Back in the day, Tanzania's IPP media, under its East African TV and Radio, covered the region and introduced different music stars to different EAC countries. I wonder why they have not thought of spreading to Rwanda and Burundi since the two countries joined the community. Integration will not be achieved if we ignore regional events.

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