By Alex Muhumuza
On Sunday, 14 June, the Kampala Daily Monitor’s so-called Rwanda specialist Asuman Bisiika wrote another thumb sucking piece, to demonstrate that he knows “why President Kagame might not be in favor of statues or monuments in his honor.”
One would borrow an example from certain Anglophone traditions in journalism to illustrate the methods of the Bisiikas of the profession; the ones that most like to engage in “thumb sucking journalism”. Hardworking, “shoe-leather” journalists – i.e. the honest reporters that put in long hours to gather the facts, cross checked their information, and pursued the important quotes – have little respect for the likes of Asuman Bisiika.
Thumb sucking is a lazy alternative to gathering the facts on any matter one sets out to write on. The journalist will prefer to make up most of his own “facts” along the way. That is Bisiika in a nutshell. When one has been examining his articles for the Daily Monitor, the only image one gets is of a not-so-serious journalist whose main talent is name dropping (“I talked with general so and so”, “I was with minister so and so the other time!”).
His last piece on Rwanda titled “Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Kagame may not need a statue”, is very much in that vein. In as far as one can discern a theme to this extensive thumb suck (following a tweet by Ugandan first son Muhoozi), it is that “President Kagame allows no monuments in Rwanda”. Or that he “erases the past.”
The Rwandan president “will be remembered for the iconic Kigali Convention Center, the sprawling Ministry of Defense, and many others,” we are informed. But if Kagame really hates monuments, a visitor to Kigali may ask, what about those at the parliament building in Kigali commemorating the liberation war? What about the museum at Kanombe, in the house where Habyarimana and Pasteur Bizimungu lived?
Bisiika just invents things, true to character. Also, think of his claims about the reasons Kigali authorities decided on a new way to name its streets some years ago. He writes: “Rwandan authorities may have had other reasons to change the street-naming system. But it is clear the names of people and places after whom these streets had hitherto been named have been relegated (in a subtle way) down the lower rung of the history of Rwanda.
This implies “Kagame is erasing their history.”
Now, such a claim can only deceive one that had never spent just a few days in Kigali before the year 2013 – when the city’s “letters-and-numbers” street identification system was unveiled. Other than three or four streets in Kiyovu, the entire city had no street names. That’s a simple fact. When the authorities set out to name the streets, it was simply a part of plans to organize, and modernize Rwanda’s capital.
If Bisiika – who according to reports spent time in Kigali in the late Nineties to early thousands before getting deported for outstaying his visa – was not so intent on deceiving, he would let his readers know these facts. Kigali, and other Rwandan towns had no street naming system. He should hold Habyarimana and Kayibanda responsible for that.
But he won’t let facts get in the way of a good story, which is that “Kagame renamed Kigali streets to relegate the names of some!”
Now, regarding the very few streets (in Kiyovu) that either Kayibanda or Habyarimana in their time decided to name, let’s think of just one: Rue y’Umuhoro. That is Kinyarwanda for “Avenue of the Machete”. Yes, there was a road in Kigali named after the machete. Obviously the agricultural tool, which also was an instrument of mass murder, played a central role in the ideology of Kayibanda, Mbonyumutwa, Habyarimana and others.
That was the ideology of genocide.
Does Bisiika have a quarrel with changing the name of a road from “Avenue of the Machete” to something else? Whatever he may think, Rwandans have other, more progressive ideas.
But the man is far from done inventing things. Next he claims: “it is illegal to refer to Pasteur Bizimungu as a former president”, and that, “a court of law has expunged from public record Mr. Bizimungu’s public life.” How such appalling falsehoods could get by “the fact checkers” at Daily Monitor is a whole question in itself. Most probably the paper is in on these games of misinformation.
Rwandans prefer not to talk much about Bizimungu who, during his presidency, proved to be a very divisive figure. But sometimes a Rwandan will refer to him, and call him “uwahoze ari perezida Bizimungu.” (Or maybe Bisiika with his Bourgeois pretentions prefers that it be spoken in English – “the former president Bizimungu”, then he will be satisfied?). As for “expunging” anyone’s record, Bisiika should just let that kind of fiction stay in the books of George Orwell.
Bisiika always gives it a real try to distort the affairs of Rwanda.
His problem is that his piece fails the smell test, at first go.