Filip Reyntjens analyses issues raised by BBC Rwanda Untold Story after the storm

The documentary Rwanda Untold Story was produced by BBC 2 on October 1st, 2014, 24 years exactly after the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) of president Paul Kagame invaded Rwanda from Uganda. During the entire period there has been only one dominant narrative about tragic events that engulfed the country and the whole Great Lakes region, Rwanda being their epicentre. If you haven’t watched the broadcast, Filip Reyntjens summarizes its core coverage for you:

“It offered a view very different from the RPF’s narrative, one that questioned its democratic credentials and human rights record. The programme claimed that the RPF had massacred Hutu civilians in both Rwanda and Zaïre/Democratic Republic of Congo, and that it had enjoyed impunity for these crimes; that it had been involved in large-scale plunder of Congolese natural resources; that death squads threatened and killed opponents abroad; that the RPF was responsible for the attack on President Habyarimana’s plane, an act that sparked the genocide; and that the number of Tutsi civilians killed during the genocide was much lower than commonly accepted (and claimed by the RPF). It even suggested that more Hutu than Tutsi could have died in 1994.”

As expected the documentary raised different and multiple reactions from a variety of stakeholders to the Rwandan “truth.” In his analysis of the diverse views highlighted in an article published by Africa Affairs of the Oxford Journals entitled Briefing the struggle over the truth: Rwanda and the BBC, Filip Reyntjens gives the reader the reactions of the debaters who vigorously made known their respective positions.

He discusses the work of two commissions of inquiry, set up by the Rwandan government and BBC respectively, to look into the controversy raised by the  documentary and make recommendations. The scholar provides also his own views on the film. He explains that for example the rebuttal of two of the three claims made by 38 personalities opposed to the content of the documentary, “they call ‘untenable’ is based on a biased and selective reading of available evidence. I, too, am concerned about the use that is being made and will be made of the film – but ‘that is not a legitimate reason to unfairly attack the BBC and the programme’s producers’.

He concludes his analytical account of the controversy raised by the documentary by pointing at a poignant question about who objectively hold the truth in today much globalized world. Do actors participating, sometime as victims or perpetrators of crimes, in events on a world stage, have the monopoly of interpretation of what is being performed or experienced under the look of everybody and everywhere? Such question does however lead to another one asking this: do the powerful global media have the right to deliberately manipulate the truth about events as they please according to different interests and in phased times?


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