Al Jazeera World

Rwanda: From hatred to reconciliation

The story of the 1994 Rwandan genocide told through the prism of the media, exploring their role then and today.

Newspapers weren't sold. They were given away free to people who couldn't afford to buy them. They'd give the papers to a militia group in a village to distribute.

by Sam Judy Chmimana, Journalist

Between April and July 1994, more than 800,000 men, women and children, mostly from Rwanda’s Tutsi minority were slaughtered.

In one of the worst atrocities in recent history, Hutu paramilitaries unleashed a bloodbath, killing every person they could find, as neighbours murdered neighbours.

Sparked by the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, when his plane was shot down above Kigali airport on 6 April 1994, Hutu extremists seized on his death to exterminate the Tutsi community.

In Rwanda: From hatred to reconciliation , we explore the genocide through the prism of the media, exploring their role – both then and now.

This film explores how the country’s earliest print journals, followed by newspapers and radio, all played a major part in reinforcing prejudices, inciting racial hatred and fanning the flames of violence.

The Catholic church and its journal Kinyamateka, the country’s first periodical, are now seen as playing a vital role in the creation of racist ideology.

Produced in the 1930s under Belgian rule – one of Kinyamateka’s  early journalists, Gregoire Kayibanda, would later become the country’s first president after independence.

“[Kayibanda] used to encourage the Hutu to expel the Tutsi or fight them, viciously,” says Jill Bayafra from Rwanda University. “He used to compare them to snakes.”

Rwandan genocide survivors forgive their attackers

In the 1960s, radio would become a powerful means to spread hate and when the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), made up of exiled Tutsis, invaded in 1990, Radio Rwanda stepped up its anti-Tutsi propaganda.

In June 1993, a new radio station, Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLMC), encouraged people to arm themselves and attack Tutsis. Far from being a unifying force, it divided Rwandans – and played songs with inflammatory lyrics: “Let’s praise the Hutu who suffered from heat and thirst;” and “Come let’s celebrate friends. The warriors are finished. Come, let’s celebrate friends. God is always impartial.”

“RTLM looked like it was fanning the flames of war,” says journalist Sam Judy Chmimana. “It was as if they were reporting on a football match. They didn’t just encourage the militia. They made them more skilful and not fear anything.”

At the height of the genocide, it broadcast lists of people to be killed and instructed killers on where to find them.

“I had no regrets back then as Tutsi were described as enemies,” explains Safari Aatsien. “They had to be killed…Back then the Hutu believed those songs were good.”

“Feeling pressured” says another genocide participant Emmanuel Ndaysaba, “I took my sword and joined the militias.”

Twenty-three years on, and with many of those responsible serving sentences for war crimes, the media now spreads a new spirit of reconciliation – and Emmanuel has since re-visited his violent past. “Driven by my conscience, I confronted those I committed crimes against,” he says. “I approached them and asked for forgiveness. Some were hesitant. It was hard for me too.”

“When he [Emmanuel] came in front of me, he knelt down”, says genocide survivor Mucaro Alice Rinda. “Then he managed to tell me that he was asking me to forgive him because he was the one who cut me”. Mucaro lost 26 members of her family.

“I was speechless…It took me a whole week to think about it. I finally decided to forgive him from the bottom of my heart with no other influence.”

Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis fled to neighbouring countries fearing retribution after Rwanda gained Independence in 1962 [Al Jazeera]
Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis fled to neighbouring countries fearing retribution after Rwanda gained Independence in 1962 [Al Jazeera]