February 21, 2013 by soniauwimana
Here we go again.
A few years ago, Jeffrey Gettleman — a New York Times journalist who apparently nominated himself for the Pulitzer Prize — managed to secure a front page by hoodwinking the newspaper’s editors that the Iwawa youth rehabilitation facility run by Rwanda’s Ministry of Youth (now MYICT) was some kind of secret island prison: Africa’s Alcatraz.
Rwandans were stunned by the Times’ Iwawa story because, far from being hidden away, it is actually a flagship government initiative that people believe provides a useful gateway for troubled youth and street kids back into society. In fact, many families refer their own relatives to Iwawa when they veer off the tracks into drug abuse or crime. Iwawa offers life skills workshops, vocational training, counselling — all designed at helping these young people get back on their feet, for their benefit, and ours. Gettleman was actually taken to Iwawa by government officials who were happily introducing the facility to him, only to discover that he later turned it into something sinister and secretive when neither is even close to the truth. Even by the standards of Western coverage of Rwanda, and Africa generally, Gettleman’s dishonest Iwawa scam is in a category all on its own.
Today, on a smaller but no less offensive scale, BBC has repeated the Iwawa fallacy, by reporting the fact Rwandan Army deserters are sent there as if it were a shocking revelation of human rights abuses.
The article is replete with strangeness, such as reporting the fact that many Rwandan Army brass are former RPF fighters as if that is (a) surprising or (b) wrong. BBC then breathlessly reports that:
Correspondents say the RPF always expected loyalty and discipline from its fighters.
Well, strike me down with a feather. Fancy an army that expects loyalty and discipline from its troops?! Will wonders never cease?!
Allow me to pause for context. The maximum penalty for desertion in the US military justice system is death by firing squad. In the UK, the government introduced a law in 2006 to increase the penalty from a maximum of two years to life imprisonment.
Desertion, much like “loyalty and discipline”, is taken very seriously by every functioning army in the world (obviously not including the FARDC).
In that context, how can sending deserters to Iwawa not be considered an extremely light punishment indeed? It is a rehabilitation centre aimed at getting them back into society — in the US, they kill them; in the UK, they want them locked up for life.
Oh, and Iwawa is such a state secret that MYICT proudly display the facilities on its Flickr feed.
What a joke.