Genocide, Memory, Denial and Quebec Media: The Case of Léon Mugesera

Dominique Payette Abstract Genocide memory in Rwanda needs to overcome two specific difficulties that give a stronghold to denial. Prejudices and stereotypes in media representations of Africa strongly influenced the Canadian population on these subjects; the second specific difficulty is that the genocide in Rwanda is supposed to be so complicated that it would be impossible to choose one narrative over another. Keywords Mugesera extradition, Africa media representations, genocide denial rhetoric Introduction

Links between Quebec and Rwanda have been very important since the 1960s. As a French speaking society, since the country’s independence, Quebec has contributed to its development as Rwanda sought to distance itself from Belgium, its colonizing country. Quebec was perceived by Rwanda to be an ideal ally during the first years of autonomy, and numerous cooperative programs were developed at this time. Despite these links, or because of them, the genocide in Rwanda is not clearly interpreted in Quebec. This article will examine two major obstacles to an accurate portrayal of the genocide in Rwanda in the Quebec media: the first obstacle consists of ingrained prejudice against Africa, and the second, the idea of the complexity of the topic. To support this comment and to verify this hypothesis, we shall refer to the extradition from Canada of Léon Mugesera to his country, Rwanda, in January 2012, and the coverage of this event by three major daily newspapers in Quebec. 1 The International Journal of Conflict & Reconciliation Fall 2013, Volume 1 Number 2

First, we need to understand how the Québec media portrays sub-Saharan Africa. The media does shape much of audience conceptions of reality because they are, in this society, the main source by which individuals construct their worldview. Theoretically, the media enable the audience to acquire an accurate view of the reality they are describing, which the audience probably has not experienced directly. Unfortunately, the Quebec media usually represent subSaharan Africa negatively. The process of selecting, framing and producing the informative narrative, and the way events pertaining to what is happening in Africa are presented, create a media-driven depiction that often significantly differs from Africa's social and political reality. Africa is widely ignored by the media; when they do become interested in it, they portray it in a very negative light, perpetuating a "cancerous image," to quote Daniele Mezzana. (Mezzana, African societies, N°4, Mars 2003).

The interpretations of this phenomenon can be broken down into three categories: 1) that the legacy of colonization and racial prejudice shapes Western media's view of Africa, a view held by, among others, Bruno Gouteux; 2) that the close links between humanitarian aid and Western journalism are primarily responsible for these negative portrayals, as Brauman and Backmann (1998), Lavoine (2002), and Roy (2004) believe; and, 3) although a minority view, that portrayals of Africa are negative because the situation there is basically hopeless (Smith, 2004), supporting and reinforcing European "Afro-pessimism." The journalistic narrative highlights a reality based on material reality, but one that sometimes is quite dissimilar. In fact, media reality is formed through a process of selecting and reframing information. To be able to describe reality, the media must reduce subjects or events into small bites likely to be understood. This is not a value judgment: neither journalists nor sociologists are able to account for all their 2 The International Journal of Conflict & Reconciliation Fall 2013, Volume 1 Number 2

observations in the development of the subject under study. In every case, choices must be made, because not everything can be taken into account. The aim of social science methods is to give these representations—which are indispensable for grasping what is real—a form that resembles, as much as possible, scientific fact. Media representations should translate reality as best they can (Cramer and McDevitt, 2004) so that their audience can get a realistic idea of what is being described, as they generally have no direct experience of it. All the more so, given that the media are unique in defining themselves as independent of the dominant ideologies within society. The media even claim to demystify these ideologies by producing and disseminating presumably objective and transparent information, within which the realities of society or the world are presented authentically, in their entirety. Thus, in information media, contrary to fiction, we implicitly understand the following: "Here are today's important facts;" "Here is all the reality of the world;" "Here is the entire truth about this event;" "Here is everything that you need to know about the reality of a phenomenon." Or, as The New York Times motto on the front page of every edition says, "All The News That's Fit To Print."

The analysis of African news in the Québec media points to a few quantitative and qualitative global constants and ultimately, the recurring themes related to this news. It should be noted that topics dealing with Africa in the various media are generally in the form of news agency dispatches from Agence France-Press, Associated Press and Reuters. What's more, sometimes the various dailies publish the same information from the same sources. This, of course, raises the issue of the international flow of news and shortage (and poor quality), in other words, the quantitative imbalance, of news reporting from Africa. According to Mezzana "the 3 The International Journal of Conflict & Reconciliation Fall 2013, Volume 1 Number 2

vast imbalances are even more apparent bearing in mind that the four leading international press agencies (Reuters, Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Associated Press) belong to only three countries and that these four agencies release most of the news to the press rooms worldwide" (2003:12).

This dependence of the Québec media on agencies also indicates the little attention paid to the continent. Media outlets rarely send reporters or correspondents, preferring instead to use agency dispatches. Over and above the commercial pressures inherent in the context of the current media crisis, it also appears that business criteria contribute to creating conformity. In fact, one needs to ask: is it in order not to shake up its public that the media prefers simplistic stories, confining itself to event-driven news, appearing content with the already known and conforming to readers' desires and expectations and simultaneously reinforcing them? Having collected newspaper articles over a four-week period, I noted that the media had little interest in or space for current events in Africa. Sometimes there was a complete absence of news about Africa for several consecutive days. In general, subjects in the Québec media could be classified under two headings that revealed recurring themes: Political developments, especially the crises in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and Côte d'Ivoire. With the exception of the pervasiveness of the news from these countries, even when other countries appeared in the media discourse, information was presented in a ghoulish, despairing tone, accentuated by the concentration of stories on violence. In addition to political crises, humanitarian crises, such as the famine in Somalia and its collateral effects, was another recurring theme. As Rothmyer wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review : “Most Africans will have to starve in order to make it onto the evening news” (2011). In his satirical article on “How to write about Africa” Wainaina, a 4 The International Journal of Conflict & Reconciliation Fall 2013, Volume 1 Number 2

Kenyan, has also identified perfectly the stereotypes generally used to describe Africa as seen through Western eyes. The impact that this perspective has on African societies is also important, as pointed out by the famous Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie when talking about her own life in “The Danger of a Single Story” (2009). She talks about one-sided literature. We can imagine how strong the impact of stereotypical news can be.

The overriding tone of media content is a mixture of cynicism, despair and compassion. The Africa described by the Québec media is dramatically sombre. We know that a focus on stereotypes creates a simplistic image against a backdrop of trivialization and indifference. This kind of approach to current events in Africa is seen through a prism of inevitability, contributing to obscuring the political causes of these situations and preventing any consideration of political solutions. In addition, we see that one event can quickly overshadow another, as happened during the time of this study, with Côte d'Ivoire and the violence in Nigeria. The analysis of how information related to Africa is handled in the Québec media points to an Afro-pessimism coupled with "follow-the-leader" reporting in the media. This negative viewpoint can be seen from the titles of three articles published in the Montréal daily, La Presse, on April 7, 2011: "Côte d'Ivoire in chaos;" "Abidjan plunged into terror;" "Deadly shipwreck in the Mediterranean." There was no mention of Rwanda on that date. Only rarely, exceedingly rarely, can we find articles or reports that present sub-Saharan Africa less negatively. To conclude, representations of Africa in Québec display an image of immense chaos, and practically never deal with civil society in these countries and even less with the democratic processes that may be unfolding, as if neither civil society nor governments exist in Africa. It is

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not surprising that with this as the backdrop, the extradition of Léon Mugesera to his country of origin was seen in the media as a risk to his life.

Some Facts About the Case

Before moving to Canada, Léon Mugesera taught in the Faculty of Literature at the National University of Rwanda (UNR). He was also a political adviser to the Mouvement républicain national pour la démocratie et le développement (MRND) [national republican movement for democracy and development]. He was the vice-president of the prefectural committee of the MRND of Gisenyi (which was the prefecture of President Juvénal Habyarimana), and he was frequently described as one of the leaders of the Hutu Power movement of the MRND.

Although he left Rwanda for Canada in 1993 (one year before the genocide), Léon Mugesera is considered by the judicial authorities in Rwanda to be one of the political executives responsible for planning the 1994 genocide. He is therefore on the list of suspects in the first category. Rwanda adopted a law to deal with the genocide on August 30, 1996, commonly known as the Organic Law. The law categorizes crimes into four classes. Category 1 includes the leaders of the genocide, those who planned, organized, or supervised the killings from the national to the local level and those who raped or killed with particular cruelty. According to the Organic Law, all suspects except those found guilty of Category 1 crimes may receive a reduced sentence in exchange for a confession and the implication of others. Léon Mugesera is now being prosecuted in Kigali and is defending himself against the charges of planning and inciting, as 6 The International Journal of Conflict & Reconciliation Fall 2013, Volume 1 Number 2

well as arms trafficking. Mugesera is mainly accused of giving an infamous speech in Kabaya, a small village in the northwest, in the prefecture of Gisenyi. Mugesera gave that speech in 1992 as the vice-president of the prefectural committee of the MRND in Gisenyi, in which he very clearly threatened the Tutsi with rapid and violent "return" to Ethiopia, supposedly their country of origin. This statement is in line with the racist propaganda of the Hutu Power movement inspired by biblical mythology and racialist theories from the nineteenth century. Léon Mugesera had been living in Quebec City with his family since 1993. He quickly obtained permanent residency. But the disclosure of the Kabaya speech—thanks to investigative journalism—led Canadian authorities to take a closer look at their new permanent resident, which led to accusations of his "having hidden information” from governmental employees concerning his request for permanent residence. A legal sag, no doubt fascinating for jurists but not important here, followed in which Mugesera, attempted by all the legal means available to him, to avoid extradition to Rwanda. Finally, in December 2011 the Federal Government decided that “[Mugesera] would not face significant risks if he were returned to his country of origin,” since Rwanda abolished the death penalty in 2007. Canada doesn’t extradite people who risk receiving the death penalty in their own country. The Canadian government put Léon Mugesera on a plane to Kigali at the end of January 2012, where he is now under trial.

The Coverage

What is really interesting in this case is the acute media interest in the story and the unusual coverage it got in contrast to the minimal coverage Africa generally gets. In that context, the Mugesera story really “made it,” surprisingly, into the evening news. The articles analyzed in 7 The International Journal of Conflict & Reconciliation Fall 2013, Volume 1 Number 2

this study come from three major francophone daily papers in Quebec. The study covers a period of five weeks, from the confirmation of Mugesera's extradition from Canada, to his arrival in Kigali and the beginning of his legal proceedings there (from January 5th, 2011 to February 8th, 2012). I found and analyzed 60 articles in three daily papers, Le Soleil, Le Devoir and La Presse, which dealt with the story. A textual/qualitative analysis of the media coverage reveals three basic themes: First there is a thriller; then a very confused story which attempted to contextualize the situation, and finally, a family drama…

A Thriller

First, the press covered the story like a thriller with daily updates of the many steps taken by Mugesera’s lawyers to appeal the decision before various Canadian legal authorities. Mugesera’s aim was clear: to delay extradition. The press fell over itself, breathlessly asking, “Can he win? Will he stay?” Underlying this story were other questions, such as “What kind of justice will apply?” As of January 6, 2012, under the headline "Deportation order: Léon Mugesera requests another delay," La Presse reported the long list of appeals and stays of proceedings submitted by his lawyers. The first request for a stay followed a 15-year tug-of-war with the Canadian government. In 1996, the Canadian Refugee Board first ordered Mugesera’s deportation, followed by years of appeals and stays. His case finally reached the Supreme Court, which declared him inadmissible to Canada in 2005, ruling that nothing stood in the way of his deportation. Also on January 6, 2012, Le Soleil and Le Devoir mentioned the stay of proceedings in the Mugesera case, "Léon Mugesera requests a stay", while Le Soleil had the headline "Deportation of Mugesera: seeking another stay." 8 The International Journal of Conflict & Reconciliation Fall 2013, Volume 1 Number 2

I would like to draw the reader’s attention to the wording used by the media. In French, the word “déportation” or "déporter" (to deport) has a more sinister connotation than in English, meaning “to send somebody to a concentration camp or to displace by force”; “expulsion” or to expel is “to send somebody somewhere else” and “extradition” means to extradite or to return somebody to his or her country’s justice system. In French, as in English, these words are not synonymous. In Mugesera's case, the right term in French would be “extradition.” But, most of the time, the media used the word “déportation,” which is highly symbolic and evokes the Holocaust or, in Canadian history, the deportation of the Acadians by the British Government between 1755 and 1762.

I suggest that the choice of words was not due to ignorance, but was deliberate. The media used the most dramatic word to set the story’s tone. The headlines were also very meaningful. In La Presse, on January 25th, the headline was “I will be killed between the airport and the prison, maintains Mugesera”. “The Mugesera trial in Rwanda would be a mere mockery,” trumpeted Le Soleil on January 6th, quoting the US lawyer, Peter Erlinder. Again, “Léon Mugesera runs the risk of being tortured if he’s expelled, proclaimed his lawyer,” in Le Devoir of January 10th. It took a long time before the press coverage provided a balance between the alleged risk to Mugesera and the seriousness of the charges against him. In fact, for La Presse and Le Soleil, that balance was only seen after Mugesera’s extradition. Just two editorials in the media analyzed the Mugesera case, and those were published only after Mugesera's deportation, one in the January 24th, 2012 issue of La Presse, entitled "It is about time," and the other in the January 27th issue of Le Soleil, entitled "A Rwandan affair."

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A Very Confused Story

After the extradition, the story became very confusing. The media focused on the debate that was sparked by this case among the Canadian public and gathered the opinions and positions of Rwandans living in Canada, as well as academics, or defenders of human rights. While Le Soleil analyzed the January 6, 2012 announcement of the imminent deportation -- with the headline "Rwandans in Québec relieved" -- it wrote an article the next day entitled "The Mugesera case: unease in the community." This focus on "unease," also applied to the reaction of former dignitaries from Rwanda, artists or intellectuals who were living in Canada. Most of them were clearly against his deportation to Rwanda for multiple reasons, according to the reporter. On January 7th, Le Soleil announced: "Léon Mugesera will die tortured." These comments were made by the Chair of the Rwandan Congress of Canada, Emmanuel Hakizimana. He did not believe, for an instance, that Léon Mugesera would have a fair trial if he were to be deported. A few days later, the former Rwandan Prime Minister, Faustin Twagiramungu, made essentially the same comments. An independent candidate in the 2007 presidential elections, he added his voice to those who denounced the imminent deportation of Léon Mugesera (Le Soleil January 10th, 2012, "Mugesera case: the former Rwandan Prime Minister takes the stand").

Paul Rusesabagina, the man recognized for saving the lives of 1260 people in the Milles Collines hotel in Kigali during the 1994 genocide and who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda, sent a letter to the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, to request that Léon Mugesera be tried on Canadian soil. Rusesabagina claims to be a human rights defender. In accordance with this position, he opposed the extradition of Léon Mugesera. Finally, "the Mugesera case" was 10 The International Journal of Conflict & Reconciliation Fall 2013, Volume 1 Number 2

presented to the public for their reaction via a website entitled: "A website to save Mugesera". The website asked the public to make donations through PayPal. Le Soleil reported this on January the 16th, 2012.

In the end, the conclusion was “What a complicated story… Can I really understand it?” We teach in journalism schools that when a reporter says: “This is a complicated story”, there is a PR person out there somewhere who is very happy…”. In doing so, it is understood that the journalist has capitulated and has weakened his or her own report, inducing the public to question its own judgement: “How can I be sure if the reporter believes it to be so complicated?” What we see here is uncertain journalistic coverage. In such circumstances, when journalists are not convinced or are unsure of the facts, they rely on what is referred to as: "balanced coverage", which means presenting all sides of the story, including divergent or conflicting information, which ends up creating great confusion among the public. However, you cannot have it both ways. Cunningham could have used the example of Mugesera’s extradition to illustrate what he meant in 2003 when he invited journalists to “re-think objectivity”. At that time he wrote: “… our pursuit of objectivity can trip us up on the way to “truth.” Objectivity excuses lazy reporting. ”

I want to make it clear that, in this discussion of the supposed complexity of the genocide in Rwanda, what is being expressed here is precisely the rhetoric of denial. On this subject, I would like to take a closer look at the nature of comments made by the Canadian writer Robin Philpot. He consciously constructed a mystery around the genocide: we don't know everything, if we really knew we would see it in another way, and so forth. Even the French title of his book:

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“Ça ne s’est pas passé comme ça à Kigali" (It didn't happen that way in Kigali1), suggests this mystery. More recently in Le Devoir, one of his opinion columns was entitled "The Mugesera case, the mystery continues." I believe that this ambiguous treatment by the Québec press represents an important victory for deniers. In The Guardian newspaper, at the beginning April 2012, Afua Hirsch condemned what she called “the West’s lazy reporting of Africa.” I believe that the coverage of the genocide in Rwanda was not only lazy. It was manipulated.

A Family Drama

Finally, it was a story of family drama. The last aspect concerned the Mugesera family and friends’ reactions to his extradition and of course this aspect was very emotional. Le Soleil ran the headline, “The departure of Léon Mugesera is tearing the family apart.” The public was asking itself: “Does it deserve to be treated as a family drama?” We learned a lot about Mugesera's family situation. He is the father of five children, adults today, living in Quebec City. We were informed about the feelings of the family, which ran the whole gamut “from shock, to consternation and resignation”. Mugesera’s wife said: “I am not ashamed to be his wife” in the headline of an article in Le Soleil after the extradition. When Mugesera’s oldest son, Irénée, talked with a reporter, the headline was: “Mugesera’s son confides in our reporter”. Curiously, no reference was made to the genocide victims in Rwanda and their own families.

1

Interestingly, the title of the English translation of his book is " Rwanda 1994: Colonialism dies hard" and not “It didn’t happen this way in Kigali”

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Conclusion

What should we understand and remember about this coverage? Is there something that helps us answer the central question on denial in the Western media? First of all, let me reveal that it was a big surprise to finally see Mugesera put on a plane. It is an important decision for Rwandan history. So far the Rwandan society has not been allowed to put the ideology of genocide on trial in its own territory. To do that, it needs to confront the alleged criminals of the first category. And Mugesera is a category 1 offender. Having him tried in his own country is a major step toward a peaceful future. This will allow the public to develop confidence in the national system of justice and to understand and deconstruct the racist genocide ideology. As Hannah Arendt said, "men are unable to forgive what they cannot punish and are unable to punish what turns out to be unforgivable" (1958). But the lesson is also that it will not be an easy road. Deniers are confusing and manipulating the press. Rwanda is a nation that remains unfamiliar to Canadian journalists, who rely on intermediaries to understand the genocide. Genocide survivors must be more visible and their voices must be stronger to take on a greater role in the media fight. And as an African country, Rwanda is also dependent on the chaotic representation of their continent in the Western press. This is a problem that should be addressed by the media itself.

Bibliography Quebec daily newspapers: Montreal. La Presse: http://www.lapresse.ca/ January 5th, 2011 to February 8th, 2012 13 The International Journal of Conflict & Reconciliation Fall 2013, Volume 1 Number 2

Quebec city. Le Soleil: http://www.lapresse.ca/le-soleil/ January 5th, 2011 to February 8th, 2012 Montreal. Le Devoir: http://www.ledevoir.com/ January 5th, 2011 to February 8th, 2012

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WAINAINA, Binyavanga. How to Write about Africa. http://www.granta.com/Archive/92/Howto-Write-about-Africa/Page-1

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