RTLM as tool of propaganda: How genocidal government used media to incite hatred since 1959

Hatred and ethnic discrimination that led to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi had been spread among Rwandans for long where citizens were convinced that their neighbours deserved no rights in the country.

The media was used as a tool by bad leadership that prepared for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, with many media houses affiliated with political parties or founded by businesspeople with close links to the then-leadership.

The involvement of media houses, particularly RTLM, during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda is depicted in the theatre play "Hate Radio," which was first played in Rwanda at Kigali Convention Centre on April 8th, 2023, and attended by First Lady Jeannette Kagame and other leaders.

The Minister of National Unity and Civic Engagement, Dr. Bizimana Jean Damascène said that RTLM played a big role in fueling killings of Tutsis.

“Using the media to spread incite hatred did not begin with RTLM. It had been planned for long. Political parties founded in Rwanda in 1959 initiated media houses spreading hatred. RTLM has traceable roots, other media houses where it drew inspiration.”

He pointed out an example of APOROSOMA, a political party that established a media house dubbed "Ijwi rya Rubanda Rugufi" translated as ‘The Voice for Ordinary Citizens’ in 1959. At the time, Parmehutu party also founded a media house called ‘Jyambere’.

“These media houses worked together to teach people that the country is for Hutus, running publications that Tutsis would be killed. It was put that way since 1959.”

The third edition of Jyambere newspaper published on 27th November 1959, featured a statement that read: “Tutsis will be exterminated if they continue to live in the neighbourhood of Hutus.”

Dr. Bizimana said that "Jyambere" made the publication two weeks after killings of Tutsis from 1st November 1959.

Another edition of "Ijwi rya Rubanda Rugufi" that belonged to APROSOMA was issued on 27th September 1959 where the Chief Editor, Gitera Joseph published what he termed as ‘Ten commandments of Hutus’.

At the time, APROSOMA urged citizens to stand united, vote for Hutu leaders instead of Tutsis or Hutus with friendship with Tutsis as they would be enemies.

Minister Bizimana said that Jyambere newspaper was re-launched in 1991 by MDR political party after approving the pluralism of political parties.

Jyambere continued its manipulation agenda along with other newspapers including “Kangura" founded in July 1991 and Power founded by Karamira in November 1993 among others.

Minister Bizimana said that all these newspapers had a shared agenda to mobilize the killings of Tutsis.

On 9th February 1991, Kangura run a publication that read: ‘Let us know Inkotanyi and supporters of RPF and exterminate them’.

The 54th edition of Kangura issued in February 1994, also run an article stating that ‘spies for the enemy are well known’.

Other newspapers including Kinyamateka and Isibo said to be against the regime of Habyarimana later changed their editorial line and run content fueling hatred and ethnic discrimination.

The sixth edition of Isibo newspaper issued on 10th January 1991, also featured an article with a title ‘A Tutsi in this era of Inkotanyi’. It published what was termed as guidelines to be respected every day.

Of the five commandments of Hutus, one encouraged Hutus to ‘Inspect a Tutsi that refuse to change attitudes lest she/he taints others’.

“It is clear that Isibo was mobilizing for killings of Tutsis as requested by the then government,” noted Minister Bizimana.

The fifth commandment for Tutsis read that ‘A patriotic Tutsi has to help the leadership to detect stubborn relatives, who conceal cruelty and cunning’.

As Dr. Bizimana said, Isibo concluded saying that ‘the machette of 1959 awakened many Tutsis where anyone against the advice wants the country to be stuck in a war’.

“The statement written in 1991 mobilized for more killings of Tutsis as it had happened in 1959,” he noted.

Kinyamateka newspaper also offered space for publication inciting hatred even though it was not among hate media.

The 1338th edition in 1991, indicated that the country was blessed ‘because the war brought the unity of Hutus’.

Kinyamateka also referred to Tutsis and Inkotanyi as enemies of Rwanda.

The intervention of Habyarimana and Kabuga in establishment of RTLM

Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) was established on 8th July 1993 but was mainly involved in the mobilization of killings of Tutsis between April and July 1994.

It was initially nicknamed ‘Radiyo Rutwitsi’ and had studios at the current Kigali CarFree Zone. The radio used its popularity to incite hatred.

It was founded by a group led by Dr. Ferdinand Nahimana, one of experts in the country at the time.

Nahimana drafted the first piece determining the establishment of RTLM.

The committee that initiated the idea was led by businessman, Kabuga Félicien.

Other members of the committee included Serugendo Joseph, Ephrem Ntezabera, Jean Bosco Barayagwiza while Juvénal Habyarimana was the first honorary shareholder of RTLM.

Minister Bizimana disclosed that Habyarimana booked shares worth Rwf1 million at the time.

Other shareholders include Kabuga, Basabose Philippe and other top government officials.

“This proves that RTLM was state-owned,” said Minister Bizimana.

It is said that RTLM worked closely with The Rwanda Information Office (ORINFOR) where many journalists were recruited from ORINFOR.

These include Habimana Kantano, Noheli Hitimana, Joël Hakizimana and Gaspard Gahigi among others.

“It shows us that Genocide was possible because it was supported by the government. The media was one of used tools,” noted Minister Bizimana.

Calling Tutsis cockroaches that would be killed was among words inciting hatred and fueling ethnic divisionism that were aired on RTLM.

Such words triggered mixed reactions during Arusha peace accords where politicians against the regime of Habyarimana demanded the shutdown of the radio.

At the time, Dr. Nahimana who headed the radio explained that it was established to be on the defensive of Radiyo Muhabura of RPF –Inkotanyi, but was a contradiction of the radio’s editorial line.

Following the shooting down of Habyarimana’s airplane on 6th April 1994, RTLM encouraged Hutus to kill Tutsis accusing them of being behind the incident.

Other journalists popular at RTLM include Valérie Bemeriki. She was handed life sentence for her role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.