A few weeks ago I had a pleasure of attending a workshop for journalists from East Africa organized by IREN – a Kenyan free market think tank. Such events are usually held in Kenya, but due to the violence in the country journalists from Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, and Kenya gathered in Tanzania this time around.
The workshop focused primarily on the role of journalists in spurring development in Africa – whether its democratic reforms, addressing poverty, or dealing with policy issues. Although nearly 30 participants did not always agree with each other (I did enjoy the debates) – they all had one thing on common: their commitment to highlighting Africa’s problems, figuring out domestic solutions, making democracy work, and staying true to their profession despite the inherent risks involved.
What are those risks?
Ask Robert Mukombozi. For his reporting on what’s going on in Rwanda, he has been declared a persona non grata and given just five minutes to leave the country.
In his email, Mukombozi said:
I have not been allowed to go back to my house to pick anything and as of now my house has been taken over by security personnel. Reason? Nothing has been given…
What did he do? Well, allegations are that his reports were not warmly accepted by Rwandan government. In fact, this incident may have been brewing for some time. Earlier this year, Mukombozi was denied access to the President’s office, allegedly for not having proper documentation and misquoting the President, but, in all likeliness, simply for falling out of favor with authorities.
Tensions between Mukombozi and the government run deeper than one allegedly misstated quote. For his reporting on peace building in Rwanda, as I was told while in Tanzania, Mukombozi has also been pursued by Rwandan security services in the past and has been in hiding in the U.S. embassy in Rwanda after threats to his life for an extended period of time.
To see what types of issues he writes about go to the Daily Monitor website and search content with his last name. You can read about the global oil prices affecting the country and the government’s mismanagement of fuel stocks, the plight of refugees, abuses of authority, misuse of public funds, and others.
Personally, I was quite impressed with Robert’s commitment to democracy and addressing poverty issues in Africa when I met him. At one point he seemed frustrated that politics in Africa are still so much about tribal rivalry and control over key leadership positions and resources, rather than genuine democracy, good governance, and policies that address the plight of the people. But, even if frustrated with many of the crises rocking Africa, he also seemed hopeful that things can and will work out for the better.
Its a shame that in the 21st century journalists still find their life threatened for doing what they ought to do – making sure that government doesn’t overstep its boundaries and people have access to information and make informed decisions. Yet, somehow I think that despite threats to his life and now deportation from Rwanda and confiscation of his property Mukombozi will continue doing all he can to make sure people in Rwanda have a better life. You can help by spreading the word of what’s happened…
For now, Robert Mukombozi remains with security personnel and UNHCR. If you are interested in helping out further, let me know.