Did Radio Commit Genocide? – By Frank Asare Ayensu

“We said NEVER AGAIN in Rwanda but how many Rwanda’s do we have Today?”

Radio was invented in the latter part of the 18th century. Since then, it has become a vital instrument of informing, educating and entertaining. It has become an inevitable device in our daily and social lives. Monarchs, Nations, professional bodies and the Church have found radio very useful, the Military; Police, Aviation and Shipping Industries are all beneficiaries of radio.

My daughter’s class one information and communication technology book makes radio a part of ICT and digital technology. But the political commentary and propaganda of the day makes me scared of the negative effect radio will have on my six year old daughter. Radio today, has become part of military arsenal to attack political opponents and critics.

Others are using it for pornography whiles some religiously use it to swindle. Judging by these developments, will radio continue to play its primary role of informing, educating and entertaining? The Rwandan genocide of 6th April to July, 1994 portrayed the negative use of radio. It caused the slaughter of about 800,000 (people) Tutsis and moderate Hutus in just 100 days.

The Hutus and the Tutsis of Rwanda have lived together over centuries with the Hutus making about 85% of the population with Tutsi’s comprising 14% and the Twa 1%. Their colonial masters the Germans and Belgians believed the Tutsi minority were better leaders than the majority Hutus. Both tribes have been united by Mwami the traditional king from the days of kingdom hood until it was colonised by the Germans and later the Belgians.

King Kigeri Rwabugiri ruled from 1860 to 1895. By the end of his rule the minority Tutsis were in charge of most administrative regions in the kingdom of Rwanda. But the Germans and Belgians muddied the peace when they put Tutsi’s in control of administrative areas managed by the Hutus because they believed the Tutsis were better leaders than the Hutus, hence making the former superior to the latter.

As the colonialist tried to consolidate power in the region, they began interfering in the traditional affairs of these two peaceful ethnic groups. This believes of superiority over inferiority started building tensions amongst the two. Assault by a Tutsi on a Hutu political party member sparked a revolution in November, 1959. The political landscape changed in favour of the Hutu, breaking the long existed myth of superiority.

A new President, Gregory Kayibanda, a Hutu was now in charge. Political vendetta was underway against the Tutsi and again continued under his predecessor Juvénal Habyarimana who had overthrown him in a coup sentencing him to death. The political vendetta took the form of killings, expulsion of Tutsi’s from schools, the civil and public service.

As tensions mounted, most Tutsis with their families fled the country to neighbouring Burundi and Uganda from where a rebellion will start. The Radio muhabura started its broadcast as a mouthpiece to speak the voice of the minority Tutsis. The inner circles of the ruling party responded also by setting up its radio station, the Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) to also make the voice of the majority Hutus.

Propaganda and counter propaganda which will eventually lead to the slaughter had begun. The Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), “one thousand hills free radio” in Rwanda had become the weapon of extremists, journalist, politicians to launch attacks on the ethnic political minority. At this stage, all manner of professionals and institutions such as the Church, Religious Leaders, Doctors, Military Officers, Lawyers, Police Officers, Bankers, Teachers, Nurses, and local government officers had joined the extremist agenda.

Some deposited monies in banks to finance the nefarious activities of the hate radio broadcasts. In addition to all of these, news papers editors were being paid by the political elite, to propagate falsehood with the sole aim to encourage the masses to see the Tutsis as a great threat to the existence of the majority. A news paper editor and the extremist minds master minded the genocide by coming up with the “Hutu 10 commandments” to do the slaughter.

The code name for the Genocide was “cut down the tall trees”, meaning kill the opponents. This code was used extensively on radio by extremist journalists, politicians and some citizens who supported the ethnic political extremism. This radio station with its ethnic political stand had highly qualified staff with the editor holding master’s degree in communications but yet, journalistic ethics were set aside for ethnic political boot licking leading to hatred broadcast against its fellow citizens the Tutsi’s whom they referred to as “inyenzi” meaning cockroaches.

All these broadcast from both ethnic political radios contributed to heightening the tensions in the early 1990’s finally leading to the massacre in 1994. The propaganda impregnated atmosphere couldn’t take any more pressure. On 6th April, 1994 the mysterious bombing of the President’s (Juvenile Habyarimana) jet killing him alongside the President of Burundi with other top state officials was the last straw that broke the back of the camel to the start of the genocide.

The hate radio at this stage was in full flight, re echoing the birth of their long believed “prophecy”. Most of the killings were encouraged by radio broadcast. Occasionally, opponent’s names and addresses will be mentioned on air with their car numbers. Few minutes after such broadcasts the slaughter was executed. Ghana has over 300 registered news papers and radio stations, what are we using our radio and newspapers for? Propaganda and counter propaganda?

The Rwanda genocide and others that precede it should be a pocket Bible/Quran lesson for the Clergy, Police, Military, Journalist, Civil Society, Serial callers and “killers” to desist from using the radio negatively for the radio can kill faster than the Kalashnikov. Some journalists have connived with some politicians and have used radio and news papers to accuse their political opponents unjustly and unduly with no evidence to back their accusations.

Others have used the radio as a court where cases are heard and adjudicated. Some suspects and even innocent people have already been sentenced by the propaganda radio court. Why will a criminal matter turn so political such that you have accusations and counter accusations from both the “Tutsi” and the “Hutu” camps of the political divide? Our criminal code, the Police, Attorney General and the Judiciary have the capacity to deal with all the gargantuan financial and cocaine crimes, so why the studio noise and propaganda?

It won’t change the course of the criminal proceedings to the left or right. The criminal code is not a chameleon to change colours for or against any political party. Our Democracy must be that of tolerance, decency and respect for the institutions of state. The National Media Commission and National Commission on Civic Education should wake up to the call to educate the populace about radio phone in ethics or direct the radio stations to organize periodic forum for its listeners to be objective and fair to their critics when on air.

Freedom and Justice does not imply freedom of false accusations, misinformation and establishment of political radio courts. It is sad to read and watch reports on the Rwanda genocide how radio, a beautiful information, educative and entertaining invention had been used negatively to obliterate humanity. The holocaust had long been planned after World War 1 before its execution in the 1940’s.

Almost two decades ago, Rwanda was under massacre, and this too had long been planned. Today, there is massacre ongoing in the Sudanese region of Darfur, suppression and killings also in Syria. Here too, the radio propaganda is at work. Will the world ever know some peace? Don’t be an agent of radio propaganda, if it does not kill you today, it may kill the generations after you tomorrow.

History they say repeats itself. History has also shown that much weaponry purchased by states does not go to fight external wars but most often than not, it has been used on the very people it is supposed to protect. Does your country have weapons? Beware. The genocide cost the people of Rwanda. Many of the country’s human resources and infrastructure was lost. What lessons are we learning from the Rwandans?

It’s almost 20 years of the genocide and the country and its two major tribes are still nursing their wounds. The souls of the Rwandan martyrs are wailing loud from Kigali, Bugesera, Gikongoro, Kibilira, Bagogwe, Ruhengeri, and Gisenyi, just to mention a few. Will someone listen? Fathers and Mothers, will you advise your children? Politicians will you stop the radio propaganda? Journalist, will you stick to the journalistic ethics? Serial callers, will you stop the serial “killings”? The martyrs are dead and gone but their scars will forever be our guilt. Radio propaganda and counter propaganda are bombs, they hit none than us.