A fragile period’: Journalism in Rwanda, 25 years after the genocide

Newsellers in Rwanda. Photo: Kigali Wire via flickr.

By Meghan Sobel and Karen McIntyre - 04. April 2019

April 7 marks 25 years since the start of the Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda. Since then, the Rwandan government has had a complex relationship with the press. Last fall, the government of Rwanda updated its penal code, officially decriminalizing defamation, a move that the Rwanda Journalists Association praised as “a very important step.” Yet the code also made it a crime to defame the country’s president, or to “humiliate”—“verbally, by gestures or threats, in writings or cartoons”—a government official. A violation of this law carries a potential jail sentence of two to seven years or a fine of up to 7 million Rwandan francs (approximately $7,750).

These updates to Rwanda’s legal framework reflect the real progress the country has made in developing its media landscape since it was wracked by violence in the mid-1990s. But they also hint at the continued wariness Rwandans exhibit toward the field of journalism, and a recent investigation shows they continue to hold the country’s media industry back. In many ways, Rwandan media, like the country at large, today exists in what one researcher, Dr. Ingrid Samset, referred to as a state of “repressive peace.”

In 1994, genocide killed an estimated 800,000 Rwandans. Animosity between Rwanda’s ethnic Hutu and Tutsi populations had been long-simmering: in 1990, civil war broke out as exiled Tutsis attempted to take back control of the country from the Hutus, in power since the late 1950s. A shaky peace remained in place until the plane carrying Rwanda’s president, Juvénal Habyarimana, was shot down over Kigali in April 1994. In the aftermath of his murder, the country erupted into chaos, and Tutsis were slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands.

Researchers have suggested that specific Rwandan media outlets—referred to by scholars as “hate media” for their incendiary broadcasts urging violence against Tutsis—were partly to blame. A 2009 Harvard Kennedy School study estimated that 51,000 people “participated in the violence as a direct result of propaganda transmitted by the infamous Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines.”

After the genocide, Rwandan society had to be entirely rebuilt—and the media was no exception. In the 25 years since, the country has made impressive social and economic developments, including in its media sector: press freedom is inscribed in Rwanda’s constitution, Rwandan universities offer formal journalism studies, and there are now dozens of media outlets, both public and private. At the same time, international organizations have criticized the relative lack of media freedom in Rwanda; in 2016, Reporters Without Borders declared that “the spectre of genocide is used to justify the extensive constraints that the government places on the media.”

In 2016, to get an on-the-ground look at how Rwandan journalism is functioning, we interviewed 24 Rwandan journalists about the state of the industry. We found that while the number and types of outlets have grown substantially, Rwanda’s media landscape is unique and complex, because Rwandans are still processing the genocide and learning to live in its wake. Most significantly, in addition to legal impediments to free expression, Rwandan journalists are strongly inclined to self-censor to avoid creating conflict or fear amongst the general public or falling afoul of government restrictions.

The first newspaper published in Rwanda was established in 1933 and put out by the Catholic Church. That was the primary source of news in the country until the 1960s, when the Hutu-led government launched a newspaper and radio station. But it was not until the 1990s that the Rwandan news industry became relatively robust. And when it did, the press in Rwanda did not adhere to Western ideals of press freedom. For the most part, news organizations were government-run and most journalists were not formally trained but were hired because of their connection to government officials. Amid the fighting, the Rwandan government and military used national radio to perpetuate what scholars later described as a “kill or be killed” narrative that escalated the violence. Popular radio broadcasts routinely referred to Tutsis as cockroaches, disclosed their hiding spots, and urged Hutus to slaughter their Tutsi neighbors. The so-called journalists of that period incited violence through their broadcasts, peppering their “reports” with words such as “cut,” “spear,” “eat up,” “massacre,” “exterminate,” and “cleanse.”

One prominent radio station, Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, was owned by members of the Hutu-led government and other like-minded people in positions of authority who subscribed to the racist thinking of then-president Habyarimana, who instituted policies that disadvantaged Tutsis. RTLM in particular adhered to the pro-Hutu agenda, but throughout the country, reporters with opposing views were not tolerated; in 1994, while the genocide was taking place, 48 journalists who publicly opposed the genocide throughout the country were killed.

Rwanda was, and still is, a highly religious country—its dominant religion being Christianity—and more than half of the country was illiterate a quarter century ago, conditions which combined to form an ecosystem of strong public trust in media. “People are raised and taught to take what they hear on the radio as gospel truth,” wrote Thomas Kamilindi, a Rwandan journalist present during the 1994 genocide, in the 2007 book The Media and the Rwanda Genocide.

After the genocide, there was an influx of international donors interested in rebuilding the nation, which led to an increase in the number of media houses; and the University of Rwanda established the country’s first school of journalism and communication. Amid this rebuilding, Rwanda’s post-genocide government took steps to ensure that the hate media of the recent past would not rise again. While the postwar Rwandan constitution, enacted in 2003, guarantees freedom of the press, a number of clauses allow for restrictions and censorship. A law prohibiting divisionism—defined as anything that promotes “conflicts among the population”—is widely applied and commonly used to restrict journalists, according to a 2015 report by the Rwanda Media Commission. A broad law banning genocide ideology—which includes acts ranging from intimidating or degrading someone to killing them—carries a penalty of up to 25 years in prison, and has been used against journalists on dubious grounds.

But the journalists we interviewed seldom complained about these restrictions, regardless of whether they worked at government-run media houses or independent news organizations (which rely heavily on government-funded advertising). Since the genocide, the Rwandan government has prioritized reconstruction and unity, and many reporters spoke about their desire to work with the government to promote those aims and, in some senses, to right the wrongs of their predecessors. Desperate to avoid another genocide, journalists largely view themselves as unifiers who are working hand in hand with the government, and who thus self-censor what they publish. “You make sure that you don’t publish things that might separate people, that might endanger national cohesion,” said a journalist from the government-funded newspaper Izuba Rirashe. “In Rwanda, we have a particular history that makes us sometimes do things [journalists in other countries] don’t do,” said an editor there. A reporter from Voice of Africa, a religious radio station, suggested that the government’s media restrictions were promoting national development rather than hindering the press’s ability to report: “The government can control the media, but not in a negative way—just in a positive way, to keep things going on and to keep the country in a good light.”

In fact, during our conversations about self-censorship, it was often difficult to determine which of the restrictions to which they adhered had been put in place by the government and which were self-imposed. “We are still in a fragile period,” said a producer at the privately funded outlet Radio/TV 10. “Even if we are having developments in Rwanda…people who committed genocide are still there; people who suffered are still there; widows, orphans are still there.… It means that we have to be careful.… Even if you can’t get penalized, you self-censor yourself, you say…‘This is untouchable, I’m not going to talk on this [subject].’”

A reporter in Kigali who asked that we withhold the name of their publication agreed that the majority of censorship by Rwandan reporters is self-imposed: “There is a bit of censorship…but I don’t think it’s mostly government-led, it’s individual-led.” Similarly, a journalist at the commercial news website Umuseke explained that his own desire, not government regulation, is what drives his tendency to report positively. “I belong to a new generation,” he said. “I know what we want—we just want peace. We just want development. We just want to survive.… People want to bring us back [into] the stories [of the past]? Why? There is no need.”

Many Rwandan journalists we spoke with explained that while there are necessary restrictions in place for the good of the country, overall they feel as if they can report freely and the level of press freedom is improving. Press freedom rankings have reflected that sentiment, albeit slightly. In the past three years, Rwanda has moved from 161 to 156 (out of 180) in Reporters Without Borders’ annual press-freedom ranking.

Much of what the journalists described as freedom, however, sounded suspiciously like restrictions. “You are free to say what you want depending on the topic and depending on the history of our country,” said a reporter from Radio/TV 10. “I can’t say that we are free or we are not free. It depends on what you want to talk about and when you want to talk about [it] and who you are talking to.”

And journalists have suffered in concrete ways from government restrictions on their reporting. In 2011, an editor of a small Rwandan newspaper received a 17-year sentence on charges that included minimizing the genocide, for an article describing Rwandans in that era as “killing each other” (she was acquitted of this charge on appeal). Three years earlier, she’d served a year in prison for publishing an anonymous letter that was critical of  the government’s work in the aftermath of the genocide.

And in 2012, an editor at the commercial outlet Umusingi spent a year in jail for divisionism because of content in an opinion column published in his newspaper that stated that men who marry Tutsi women merely because of their beauty may end up having regrets. “Why did they imprison me? Because of journalism?” he asked. “Being a journalist is a profession like other professions, it’s not a crime.”

Yet many journalists spoke about consequences of violating press restrictions in the context of harms to society, not to individual journalists. Because of “our old history, bad history,” the journalist from Umuseke explained, he is cautious about what he writes. “If you let the people talk about all of what’s in their hearts, it can be explosive. It can really be explosive.”

“I know some…people who say, ‘Yeah, I’m Tutsi, I hate Hutu, ’cause they killed my family. I can revenge myself,’” said the reporter from Voice of Africa. “Imagine if you give those people the freedom to say whatever they want.”

Nevertheless, the journalists we spoke with were, more often than not, optimistic about the future of media. They said they have seen increased levels of press freedom over the years and that the rise of the internet, and specifically social media, has helped both reporters and the public to speak more freely. Many agreed, however, that only one thing could significantly change the state of press freedom in the country: new leadership. Current president Paul Kagame, who helped end the genocide and has been in office since 2000, has received worldwide praise for the country’s development, especially in education and health care. But Kagame has also been criticized for his increasingly dictatorial leadership. He instituted Rwanda’s first elections, but international groups have called them a sham, as Kagame has always won more than 90 percent of the vote. His last term was supposed to end in 2017, but a constitutional amendment has now allowed him to potentially remain president until 2034.

It is clear that the “bad history,” as the Umuseke journalist called it, looms large in the country and in the nation’s media landscape—and has led the press to limit its coverage, either out of fear of legal repercussions or because of an impulse toward self-censorship. Of course, critics would argue that by conforming to the desires of the government, journalists are in fact hindering development. By exclusively reporting on progress instead of challenges, the news media may be strengthening existing authoritarian power structures that could, in the long term, limit progress and autonomy. Journalists’ desire to join the government’s mission in promoting unity to avoid another civil war is understandable, but now, a quarter century after the genocide, perhaps the country is ready for a new era of democratic process and free expression, in which journalists can write freely and hold power to account.

(*) Authors:

Meghan Sobel and Karen McIntyre are the authors. Meghan Sobel is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Regis University. Her research focuses on the role of media in combating human rights abuses and humanitarian crises. Karen McIntyre is an assistant professor in the Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her research focuses on media processes and effects with an emphasis in constructive and solutions journalism.


Journalists attacked in Rwanda since 1992 (CPJ-2019)

17 journalists killed

journalists imprisoned (annual census)

journalists missing

Rwanda documents by Year



No. 155 in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index

Censorship and self-censorship (2019)

Since 1996, eight journalists have been killed or reported missing, and 35 have had to flee abroad.

The number of abuses registered by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has fallen in recent years, but censorship is ubiquitous and self-censorship is widely used to avoid running afoul of the regime.

Foreign journalists are often unable to obtain the visas and accreditation they need to report in Rwanda.

Despite a new media law in 2010 and efforts to develop Internet connections throughout the country, the legislation is very oppressive.

An overhaul of the penal code in 2018 did not reform prison sentences for journalists convicted of insult or defamation.

The spectre of the 1994 genocide is still used to brand media critical of the government as “divisionist.”

In 2015, the government banned BBC radio broadcasting in the local Kinyarwanda language after a BBC TV documentary referred to the deaths that took place during the advance on Kigali in 1994 by Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels led by Paul Kagame, now Rwanda’s president.

Kagame’s reelection in August 2017, after a constitutional amendment allowed him to run for a third term, means that authoritarianism and censorship are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.


CLICK: UNESCO observatory of killed journalists


How President Paul Kagame crushed Rwanda’s free press

In Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship, Anjan Sundaram recalls teaching journalists in Rwanda under the oppressive regime of President Paul Kagame, who last week announced he will stand for a third term, which could see him in power until 2034. In this extract, Sundaram describes the presidential election in 2010, a critical moment in the destruction of a free press

By Anjan Sundaram - 0

President Kagame shakes hands with members of the crowd at a rally in Gicumbi, northern Rwanda, in August 2010. President Kagame shakes hands with members of the crowd at a rally in Gicumbi, northern Rwanda, in August 2010. Photograph: Margaret Cappa/AP

The election was a masterpiece of authority. The vote passed in an ambience of total serenity. No negative incidents were reported in the country: there were no protests, no complaints, no boycotts or demonstrations. The people queued up obediently. None of the opposing candidates claimed procedural irregularities. They were playing the theatre to perfection, and vowed they would accept the election results.

I called the presidential candidate I had met before the vote. He said the latest polls had been disappointing, but he claimed to be still hopeful for a win. The president indicated he would wait for the official results before making any pronouncements.

The country was teeming with visitors: foreign dignitaries, journalists, election observers. Reports from that day would be broadcast across the world. A careful decorum had to be maintained. The official observers were unanimous in their praise. The African Union and the Commonwealth lauded the government’s impeccable planning: how the booths had opened on time, how people had voluntarily lined up with their identity cards in the early morning, and how by 10am practically every citizen – the government claimed a 95% participation rate – had cast their ballot. By noon already the booths were empty.

“The world has important lessons to learn from Rwanda,” gushed a European Union official. Embassy observers hailed it as the most orderly vote they had witnessed in their careers.

The immense order of the ritual inspired awe. A young Spanish woman, caressing her long hair, introduced herself to me as a propagandist. Her job was to write up positive stories, in supplements to British newspapers, about governments seeking to improve their image on the world stage or seeking to attract foreign investment. But she had found no business in Rwanda because the foreign press was already so positive. “Journalists come to our country all the time,” a senior minister had told her. “And are stunned by how well we run it.”

The minister had shown her examples of such stories in eminent foreign publications. These were stories about the roads, the economic growth statistics, and how survivors of the genocide supported the president, with no mention of his forces’ massacres or his repression. Even the professional propagandist, who had worked in a dozen dictatorships before, was astonished.

At the counting of the votes that evening, I stood in a booth and watched the officials read: “Kagame Paul,” which later became “Kagame” and finally “Paul, Paul, Paul,” which was shorter, easier to say. Some of the girls marking tallies on the blackboard began to laugh. They seemed themselves astonished at the extent of the control.

I said to one of these girls: “The people are obedient.”

She nodded. “Yes, very obedient.” She was still smiling. “The president is strong today. Very strong.”

“What if someone disobeys him?”

“He will ask for forgiveness.”

A Rwandan soldier next to a poster of Paul Kagame at a campaign rally in 2003.

A Rwandan soldier stands guard next to a poster of Paul Kagame during a campaign rally in 2003. Photograph: Karel Prinsloo/AP

A few of the ballots were improperly marked, and as though I was some guarantor of fairness the officials held a ballot up to me and asked: “Paul?” I nodded, and did not resist. I felt it was futile to resist against such force.

But later I would hear that in the provinces some had dared to dissent, that in parts of the country – known for having resisted orders to kill during the genocide – only 10% of the people had voted for the president. The mayors in those areas had panicked, worried they would lose their positions, and ensured that the ballots were altered. Now the question was whether they could make sure no one would pass on the truth to the president. The source of this information was someone in the election commission.

The results were exactly as Moses [a colleague and a survivor of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, who helped organise journalism classes] had predicted a month before. He had told me that it had been decided: the president would receive 93%, the next candidates 5%, and the remainder split between the others. The Intore dancers were summoned and put on a gigantic celebration in the stadium. Thousands attended. More Intore made the rounds in each neighbourhood. In the dark valley below my house I heard the screams – raw, brutal – until almost dawn.

If some websites and stories even slightly criticised the election, the Intore immediately logged comments ridiculing and denouncing the authors, and saying that their lives in Rwanda were happy. They wrote vehement letters to newspapers defending the president and his victory – and always gave their full names, so they could be seen for this loyalty. They knew the president’s office was watching.

The oppression was obvious to those with experience. A Russian UN worker I met three days after he arrived, when I asked what he thought of the country, said at once that it reminded him of the Soviet Union. He had noticed the tone of the newspapers. Another woman I met had grown up in Yugoslavia, under the dictator Tito, and just moved here. She had not known about the nature of the government – the international press was so positive. But after meeting some government officials she came home, sat down her British husband and said to him: “You have to be very careful what you say in this country.” Her husband had been oblivious. She told me it had been the way people spoke, their mannerisms, something about it all; she could sense the repression.

And having grown up in a dictatorship myself, in Dubai, I knew all too well what signs she was referring to; it was sometimes intangible; one felt it, but it caused a kind of terror; one felt weak.

By the end of the election the old guard of news journalists had been done away with: killed, imprisoned, exiled or, by fear, converted into Intore. There was a surge of youngsters who took their positions; we also started to get them in our class. A number of them were the children of reporters once immensely respected in the country – for having dared to speak out during the genocide or having survived imprisonment and torture by the previous government. Some of their parents had been killed for confronting the repression.

I recognised some of these young journalists from the president’s polling station. They were the new superstars. Rising to prominence easily, many had been offered jobs at popular radio stations. They were sent by their editors to gain skills at our programme. But they were difficult to teach: they did not want to listen, talked incessantly about themselves and their families, and they demanded respect from their interviewees. The talent and intellect were not there, but without even the spirit of the journalist there was little that could be done.

I felt we were wasting our time in the programme. But Moses said that he would try to find more deserving students. I felt sad for him and thought he was unable to or did not want to see the truth of our situation – that we were sinking. There was also the growing problem of money. With the dates approaching for the termination of our grants, we started to slow down the programme and think of ways to scale back. It seemed senseless to waste precious funds on undeserving students. I preferred to be dormant for a while. Moses said it would be a travesty if we ran out of money and had to close.

And then Moses was sent for by the president’s office. It happened while he was at the hospital, receiving treatment. His leg had started to hurt again – the leg the security services had tortured for hours by beating the sole of his foot with a wooden baton; it had permanently weakened his bones and he had started to take repeated absences from the programme because of it. The bureaucrats working for the president told him to report the next day and gave him no reason.

[In the] morning at the office we waited impatiently for news. The presidency was the central node of power in the country, the seat of almost every command that was sent out to the people. Like a fortress, hidden by trees, only the most powerful people entered its compound. It wasn’t without reason that they called in someone, particularly an elderly man. We feared the worst. But Moses returned. He was shaken. It wasn’t what we had imagined – he had not been threatened or beaten. An aide to the president had asked him to fill out a lengthy form with his family history. They were going to recruit Moses as a spy.

Reporters covering a political rally for the re-election of president Paul Kagame in 2010.

Reporters covering a political rally for the re-election of Paul Kagame in 2010. Photograph: Christophe Calais / Corbis

He was to be deployed against his family, some of whom had fled the country and were intellectuals in the Rwandan communities in Europe and America. His task would be to befriend these aunts, uncles, cousins and nephews and report on them to the government services.

It was possible that the authorities had caught on to his activities at our programme. Sending dissidents for work abroad was a way to neutralise them. The same had happened to General Kayumba, who had been made ambassador to India. But here they were inflicting a double punishment on Moses by asking him to turn on those who trusted him.

I had never seen the man in such a state. The leg still pained [him] intensely – the nerves were almost burning, he said – and he would make his way from one chair to another, clutching his calf, and the armrests. “I’m not sure,” he told me in a moment of respite. “If you take these jobs you are damned. They use you and then dispose of you. But if you don’t take the job you are damned. They see you as disloyal to the president.”

I sent Moses home in a taxi – Claude, the driver who sometimes offered us a free lift, was not far and came at once – so he could rest. He was moaning in the car. He would have to find some way out of his predicament.

I met Roger [a Rwandan journalist who had approached me for help], on the office premises. But we were in the garden, away from the main building. The white flowers on the guava tree were beginning to turn into fruit – tiny green bud-like structures, many dozens of them on a single stalk, covering it like pimples. The tree reminded me of Gibson [one of our students].

Roger said that the ministry officials were trying to talk him out of his reporting. But he had challenged them to take him to court. “They tell me the law is only for use on their enemies,” he said. “They want us to reach an amicable settlement. How can I do that? I have to insist on the law, so that any favour they grant me becomes a right for all our citizens. But they want to separate and isolate us, so we depend on them for favours, for our lives and for our freedom.”

The grenade attacks had continued. There was still no proof of who was responsible for the blasts. Roger said that the army had recently taken Kayumba’s brother, immobilised him, and placed him at one of the likely sites of a bombing. They had told him: “Tonight you will die because of your brother.”

I wanted to check on Gibson . He had returned to Rwanda and was living with his family, who did not want him at home, for fear that the government might come after them all. Gibson had stopped writing entirely. It was too dangerous; he felt it was better that he keep a low profile and stay at home as much as he could. We agreed that it was dangerous for us to meet. I felt artificially separated from him, that he was close by but painfully distant. He said he was going to turn to the family fields and work as a farmer. After this, he started a strange kind of communication with me. My phone would ring once but he would cut the line so it sounded like a beep. On the first occasion I immediately returned his call, but he did not answer. I grew worried.

The following evening he beeped me again. And these squeals of the telephone every couple of evenings, before I went to bed, became somehow reassuring. I would recognise his number and feel pleased. They became little signals of affection, a way for Gibson to communicate that he was surviving. I began to wait expectantly for these beeps from the young journalist who had renounced his work.

Roger called in a panic. The government had finally made good on its threats. His room had been broken into – he said the security services had come at night. All his information had been stolen. Fortunately, he had been away.

I went to his hotel at once. He was standing at the scene, breathing heavily, and alert. His figure and his muscles were taut, and his eyes darted between the hotel staff, me and his belongings. Unlike Gibson, this man seemed to want revenge; the government’s attack seemed to arouse his anger. The door to his room had a hole in it, punched through the wood next to the handle. The bed had been raised against a table and the mattress lifted. His laptop had not been taken, but he said that it had been hacked into – the hard-drive password had been reset – and all its contents copied. The hotel was asking him to pay for a new door.

Just days earlier he had published a story about the president firing a senior official. The official had posed with the president for a photo on a foreign state visit, and this photo was then printed the next day in several newspapers. The president was furious. He was sensitive about subordinates acting important. Roger had found a source in a high-ranking military meeting at which the president had vented his anger, and warned his staff never to become so pretentious as to be photographed with him, as this woman had. “In our families no one should think they are heroes.” He was the sole hero.

The story also revealed something more important but subtle. The genocide had been triggered in 1994 by the assassination of the previous president, whose plane had been shot down. Kagame had always denied attacking his enemy’s plane – he was responsible for ending the genocide, not for sparking it. Yet when the woman in the photograph had recently been arrested in Europe for being involved in the [attack] (she was released after intense diplomatic pressure), she had not expressed frustration with the Europeans for wrongly accusing her. She had started to behave as if the president owed her a favour. “Did I shoot the plane to be jailed?” she had asked the president months before the photo incident – and the president had narrated this at the private meeting. But he had not fired her then.

Roger said the security services had come after him for reporting this military meeting, which reached deep within the government to sources that had access to the president himself. I was impressed. But Roger was worried about something else. In the raid on his room he had lost sensitive information that he had been collecting.

Kagame waves to the crowd before speaking at a baby gorilla naming ceremony in Kinigi, northern Rwanda.

Kagame waves to the crowd before speaking at a baby gorilla naming ceremony in Kinigi, northern Rwanda. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP

Roger had discovered that the president had set off a campaign to transform the country [and] that [it] was not being reported in the press. There had been an order to remain silent about what was happening. The president had taken control of the narrative in public spaces. His power was now absolute. Roger wanted to reveal this programme.

It was necessary, he said, rapping on his broken door, that the people be able to discuss the actions of the government, and that the state not be able to act as it pleased, completely unchecked. Given the tragic history of this country this was doubly vital. Even if the state thought it was doing good, Roger insisted, that was perhaps the most dangerous kind of policy, and where the journalist was most necessary.

I felt it also made sense that Roger leave the capital, for his safety. He agreed, and suggested that he take me along so we could verify what was happening. Roger had various leads; there was apparently a place where officials had filled an entire school with people; it evoked scenes from the genocide. His only concern was whether we should travel together. A foreigner would attract attention. I told Roger I wanted to see the president’s programme.

He said we would go south. I hauled plastic covers over the computers the journalists had used in our classroom, to protect the machines from the dust. I pulled out the plugs from the wall sockets, as a precaution against sudden surges of current.

Moses was preoccupied, trying to dodge the security services and treating his leg. We were going to suspend the programme. I pulled curtains over all the windows and shut the office doors, leaving the rooms in darkness, pulling all the latches firmly and securing them with heavy brass locks. I felt the pain of a last haven for journalists in the country closing to them. This had at least been a place where they could come and talk. I looked in the classroom one last time, the long hall, the whiteboard, a few handouts that I had written up and printed stacked on the table, some scribbles of the students in the room’s corners, on the floor. I imagined their faces around the table. I drew the last curtain.

Extracted from Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship, by Anjan Sundaram, published by Bloomsbury, £16.99 . Click here to order a copy for £13.59


President Paul Kagame waits to address  the 65th session of the General Assembly at the United Nations on September 24, 2010 in New York City

Kagame plans to stand for a third term in 2017. Photograph: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

1962 Rwanda becomes independent from Belgium and Hutu Grégoire Kayibanda becomes president, while fighting continues and thousands of Tutsi leave the country.

1990 The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a military movement established by Tutsi refugees in Uganda, invades Rwanda, thereby starting the Rwandan civil war.

1993 A peace accord between the RPF and Hutu president Juvénal Habyarimana is signed after months of negotiation, yet there is continued unrest.

April 1994 Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira die when their plane is shot down near Kigali airport (it is never established who is responsible). Extremist Hutu militia and Rwanda's military begin the organised killing of Tutsi, marking the start of the Rwandan genocide. An estimated 800,000 people are killed in 100 days.

July 1994 The RPF captures Kigali and declares a ceasefire, marking the end of the genocide. More than 2 million Rwandans, mostly Hutu, flee to neighbouring Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

November 1994 The UN Security Council establishes the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to oversee prosecution of suspects involved in genocide, and announces its first indictments the following year.

1996 Repatriation from Zaire begins while the Rwandan government begins hearing cases for those involved in the genocide. By 2000 there would be over 100,000 suspects awaiting trial.

2000 Vice-president Paul Kagame is elected as Rwanda’s new president.

February 2007 8,000 prisoners accused of genocide are released from prison. Since 2003, an estimated 60,000 suspects have been freed to ease overcrowding.

2015 The ICTR holds its last trials, having convicted 93 people.

December 2015 More than 90% of Rwandan voters agree to modify the constitution by removing the presidential two-term limit, potentially allowing Kagame to rule until 2034.

1 January 2016 Kagame announces he will stand for a third term in 2017.