Ticking time bomb: New wave of hate speech emerges online

Sunday April 23 2023
Guy Nestor

Guy Nestor Itoua, Ambassador of the Republic of Congo to Rwanda, lays a wreath in honour of victims of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Picture: Cyril Ndegeya

By Ange Iliza

Twenty-nine years after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, concerns have been raised over the proliferation of hate speech, which is being facilitated by internet-based media outlets and digital platforms.

There has been an emergence of You-Tube-based media channels, online radio stations, blogs and other digital platforms that help revisionists spread hate speech and promote genocide denial.

In addition, there are concerns over hate speech and threats to Rwandans and Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where insecurity remains high.

The UN has warned against hate speech in eastern DRC as a sign of imminent genocide. In a statement last November, the United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Wairimu Nderitu said, "The current violence is a warning sign of societal fragility and proof of the enduring presence of the conditions that allowed large-scale hatred and violence to erupt into a genocide in the past."

During the week of the 29th commemoration of the 1994 genocide Against the Tutsi, several diplomats expressed concerns that hate speech, which partly led to the killings, is becoming more prevalent, and the public should be aware.

Guy Nestor Itoua, ambassador of the Republic of Congo-Brazzaville in Kigali and Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Rwanda, warned that the youth should be made aware the role of media, specifically the Radio Television Libre de Milles Colline, during the genocide.


"The youth are the ones who should learn from what we just saw. On social media sites today, information spreads more quickly. I beseech the youth to stand around the symbolic light that was lit by President Kagame - the flame that was kindled in honor of unity and rejuvenation to declare never again,” he said during the screening "Hate Radio" in Kigali, a play that attempts to portray how the radio fueled hate and discrimination against Tutsi in 1994.

The play "Hate Radio," which has been played in 28 countries across Europe and the Americas, was screened in Rwanda for the first time on April 6. The production portrays some of the radio's popular journalists, including Valerie Bemeriki, who is currently serving a life sentence for her involvement in the genocide.

Another journalist featured in the play is George Ruggiu, a German national who is the only non-Rwandan convicted of involvement in the genocide. He served 12 years in prison until his release in 2009. The third journalist in the play, Kantano Habimana, one of the most popular presenters of the RTLM during the genocide, passed away in the DRC in 2002.

The producer of the play says it serves to educate young people about how hate speech and propaganda work and how to unmask and counter them.

Antoine Anfre, ambassador of France to Rwanda, believes that the hate speech continues to grow, and not enough is being done to address the issue. He says, "I think we have been relaxed regarding the issue of genocide ideology and hate speech that seems to be repeating itself via social media or in neighboring countries."

In 2020, the Rwanda Media Commission, the media self-regulatory body, sought to strip local online bloggers and YouTubers of the journalist tag and bar them from interviewing the population without success.

The commission issued a statement warning journalists, especially those running internet-based outlets, to desist from anything tantamount to propagating division, and genocide ideology, and not to provide a platform to individuals who may do so.

The government has been firm on cases of genocide denial and hate speech, leading to prosecution of some politicians who were accused of inciting the public.

According to reports in some online sites, the leading proponents of the ongoing campaigns are children of some leaders who were either accused or convicted for aiding the 1994 Genocide Against Tutsi, but currently living in European countries.