What is behind the Western media’s obsession with Rwanda?

‘It is to a tree of ripe mangoes that people throw stones,’ the African proverb goes.

FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020 file photo, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame speaks during the state funeral of Kenya's former president Daniel arap Moi, at Nyayo Stadium in the capital Nairobi, Kenya. The new book "Do Not Disturb" by British author Michela Wrong questions why some in the international community continue to praise Rwandan President Paul Kagame despite repression in his central African country. (AP Photo/John Muchucha, File)
Waves of biased critical reports published by Western media organisations will not turn the Rwandan people against President Kagame and his government writes Ruhumuliza [AP Photo/John Muchucha, File]

These days, newspapers and television channels across Europe are filled with negative stories about my country, Rwanda, and its government.

Produced by an international reporting consortium made up of 17 media outlets – including Germany’s Der Spiegel, Britain’s Guardian and Le Monde of France – and named “Rwanda Classified”, all these articles and news reports appear to be communicating a single message: “Rwanda is not what Rwandans say it is. It is not a dynamic democracy with a welcoming society but a repressive country where everyone lives in fear, journalists and opposition are silenced, and even killed.”

This message, however detached from reality, is not new or surprising to Rwandan ears. Similar stories aimed at exposing the imagined “dark side” of Rwanda routinely appear in Western media, especially near important dates on the Rwandan calendar, such as April 7, when we began our annual 100-day commemoration of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. As we are still commemorating the 30th anniversary of this genocide, and happen to be only a few weeks from crucial presidential and parliamentary elections, we are not at all surprised that the Western media has decided to increase its one-sided, unjust criticism of our country now.

We are, however, very much surprised by the immense scale of the current wave of attacks on the country in Western media. We have seen dozens of stories critical of Rwanda in a matter of weeks. With hundreds of bloody conflicts raging across the world, a global cost-of-living crisis devastating families, and the threat posed by climate change at an all-time high, it is indeed very surprising to us that the West’s leading news organisations have this much time and space to platform one-sided accusations against the government of a tiny African nation which is, by most measures, doing rather well. We are also surprised to see that journalists producing these stories relied for most of their claims solely on the testimonies of Rwandans in exile, including known genocide enablers, deniers and perpetrators, who have ample reason, personal and political, to demonise the government.

There is, it appears, a concerted effort in the West to deny the reality of Rwanda’s rebirth, present the impressive post-genocide progress of our country as an empty facade, and create the impression that President Paul Kagame, who is expected to win the upcoming election comfortably, is a ruthless despot who does not have the support of his people.

The issue is not that there are critical reports about Rwanda in the Western press, but that there are “only” critical reports, and ones that are heavily biased against the government, concocted based on the testimony and alleged experiences of a few people in the diaspora with a clear agenda.

Of course, Rwanda is not “perfect”. It has its problems and challenges like any other country. Furthermore, it is facing unique obstacles as it continues to work towards reconciliation, rehabilitation and recovery following the horrific 1994 genocide against the Tutsis. But it is in no way the hellscape ruled by a murderous regime the Western media paints it to be.

Thankfully, it is not difficult to expose the dishonesty of the Western media discourse on Rwanda. The Rwandan government has been inviting citizens of the world to “#Visit Rwanda” and see the truth about the country with their own eyes for at least a decade. With its relaxed visa and settlement policies, and under the expert leadership of the Rwanda Development Board, the country is working hard to become a global destination for tourism and business.

Would a country that has so much to hide, a country where citizens live in fear of a repressive regime and are routinely subjected to violence, try so hard to attract as many foreign visitors – and permanent residents – as possible? Of course not.

Rwanda is one of Africa’s, and the world’s, most impressive success stories – just 30 years after it experienced one of the worst episodes of mass slaughter in history, it is now a confident, dynamic democracy, looking at the future with hope. It has long laid claim to being one of the most stable countries on the continent. Every year it is visited by thousands of tourists, businesspeople, politicians and world leaders. It has hosted major sports competitions, tech and investment summits among countless other regional and global gatherings. It is home to several prestigious international higher education institutions, such as Carnegie Mellon University – Africa and the University of Global Health Equity, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School.

Under Paul Kagame’s leadership, in 30 short years, Rwanda rebuilt itself and became a land of business, investment and opportunity. It is now a well-functioning welfare state with universal healthcare, education and housing heavily subsidised by the state. It rightfully earned a reputation for holding onto its best and brightest, and at the same time attracting international talent. The World Economic Forum ranked it first in its list of African countries able to retain their top talent. There are more than 1,000 dollar millionaires in Rwanda today. In its 2024 Africa Wealth Report, British investment consultancy Henley and Partners said it expects that number to increase by a whopping 80 percent in the next decade.

The Western media efforts to create in the eyes of the international community a false perception of Rwanda as a repressive and hostile country will all fail eventually, especially as more and more people visit Rwanda and see the truth of our country with their own eyes.

Waves of biased critical reports published by Western media organisations will not turn the Rwandan people against President Kagame and his government, either. Kagame was democratically elected as Rwanda’s president in 2010 and 2017, both times with more than 90 percent of the vote. He will do so again this July, not because he is repressing dissent, but because Rwandan people continue to believe in him – despite all the accusations the West directs at him. In fact, the Western media’s “hit jobs” on the president only contribute to Kagame’s ever-increasing popularity in Rwanda and wider Africa. After the latest wave of articles critical of Rwanda in the Western media, an African colleague wrote to me, jokingly congratulating us Rwandans “for whatever we have done to give the world’s elite such sleepless nights”.

The Western media is targeting Rwanda because it struggles to accept that this tiny African nation, which has been through unspeakable horrors not so long ago, has managed to find peace, democracy and stability, in its own terms, under a government of its choosing, and is refusing to reshape itself in the West’s image or to its liking.

But these attacks will only serve to make Rwanda more united.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.