On the surface, the recent media onslaught against Rwanda is about Rusesabagina. Whereas the debate should have been whether or not he committed the crimes he is being accused of, the media has accused Rwanda of abducting a hero. On the one hand is the argument that the ‘naivety’ and uninformed posturing of the western media would not allow it to objectively examine the happenings in a ‘small and insignificant’ country far away in the middle of what remains for many a dark continent. On the other, it is the insignificant people in those countries of the ‘dark continent’ that aren’t worthy of dignified coverage. After all, how can people who still lead a savage life be victims of a sophisticated crime like terrorism?
But if savages are incapable of sophisticated crimes, how did one of them become a hero? This is why I suspect the media hostility isn’t even about Rusesabagina or Rwanda per se. It is about which countries are allowed to exercise their sovereign rights and those that aren’t. The media is simply an enforcer. The same way global order and control can be enforced militarily through invasion or economically through sanctions, what is deployed depends on the perception of the threat. Sometimes–if not most times—the media is the weapon of choice. It could suffice or it could act as an advance party for the other alternatives.
What crime has Rwanda committed that warrants this media onslaught? The West seems to have perceived it as stubborn of Rwanda to think that it could exercise the sovereign right to pursue its interests, such as the unflinching pursuit of a terrorist who threatens the lives of its people, and the Rwandan “way of life.” By imitating those countries that pursue their interests, Rwanda is out of line and must be beaten up before any other countries think they can do the same and things get out of control – the disruption of the natural order of things. If Rwanda had oil and had some more economic power, the tool of enforcement would be different. But why activate those tools when the media can suffice; and if that doesn’t work, perhaps a proxy could be created and armed to do the dirty work. There’s always the subtext that a “humanitarian” could easily be found for such a project should the stubbornness persist.
Because the media is deployed for war, truth is the first casualty. The media has refused to cover the crimes for which Rusesabagina was arrested, choosing to concentrate on how he was arrested, the audacity to invoke the right to sovereign decision-making in pursuit of a terror suspect as other countries do. The videos in which Rusesabagina himself takes responsibility for the terror acts that claimed innocent lives are dismissed or glossed over. Meanwhile, a video of Bin Laden, the AI-Qaeda boss, was sufficient for his execution and there was no debate regarding whether he had really meant what he said in those videos. In fact, the whole world celebrated with them because it identifies with the pain of the innocent lives lost in the Twin Towers. However, the same empathy for the lives of innocent Rwandans is lost in debates of how the terror suspect was arrested and whether his videos are authentic or doctored.
They can’t confirm that they congratulated Rwanda’s intelligence chief for the “flawless” operation to capture the terror suspect, which is the least they could do.
American and Belgian officials denied the general’s assertion. In an email, a spokesman for Belgium’s SGRS intelligence service said that its head, as The New York Times reported, “Claude Van de Voorde had “NEVER congratulated the Rwandan authorities” on the arrest.”
In a just world, Rwandan special forces would have, captured, and summarily executed Rusesabagina, his body dumped unmarked undersea to deny hero-worship, and Americans and Belgians would stand accused of harbouring a terrorist, including threatening them with sanctions under the African Union alliance.
“They were only surprised how we could conduct such an operation, and very successfully,” Major Gen Joseph Nzabamwita is harangued in The New York Times with questions when it should be the Belgian and American officials explaining why a terrorist had found sanctuary in their countries. Rwanda, not America or Belgium, is being arrogant! Ironical!
“Rwanda is different; we are a sovereign state and we defend our interests,” an official told me when I asked him what lesson Africa ought to learn from this episode. “Let’s do our part!”
This media hostility is likely to continue as long as the West believes it is the only one entitled to the pursuit of national interests and that anyone else who aspires to the same threatens the ‘natural’ order of things.
The media war is effectively about which lives are worthy of protection. If Africans think this battle is about Rwanda, then they need to wake up and smell Rwanda’s coffee!