A journalist’s memoir of training reporters during a dangerous time in Rwanda.
Sundaram (Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo, 2014), who previously received a Reuters journalism award for his reporting from Congo, “had come to Rwanda to teach journalists how to identify, research and write news stories.” The program, funded by the United Kingdom and the European Union and approved by the Rwandan government, was mandated to report “mostly on government initiatives.” Under the leadership of President Paul Kagame, the country had been praised for its progress since the 1994 genocide, but Sundaram was learning from his students the perils of veering from the “official” good news. He heard stories of journalists who were harassed, beaten, or thrown into jail after criticizing the government or merely reporting existing problems such as poverty. The country’s popular independent newspaper, Umuseso, was shut down. Another editor/reporter was hounded and on the run after he started a magazine with a story about malnutrition. With unfettered power came absurdities. The government ordered villages to tear off their thatched roofs because they were primitive. A local pastor was arrested after telling villagers to “stop destroying their huts until the government built them replacements.” While people were getting sick from living outside, flowers became “obligatory in the workplace.” In spots, the book reads like a thriller, but the writing, more descriptive than crisp, doesn't sustain the tautness. Sundaram’s talents show in his creation of an atmosphere of paranoia and dread. In this setting, the author began to wonder whom he could trust. An appendix provides a listing of reporters who were fired from their jobs, forced to leave the country, beaten, jailed, or killed. In this climate, it became nearly impossible to find journalists for his program, which eventually shut down.
A chilling account of reporters in danger that heightens awareness of the importance of a free press.