Serena, Kigali Hotel, July 9th August 2012
First of all, I am pleased to join you today, and to our visitors, let me welcome you all to Rwanda and, on behalf of all Rwandans, I say: Karibuni. Nyote mko nyumbani.
The fact that this summit has been jointly organised by the East African Community Secretariat and the East African Business Council, with the participation of the media, reaffirms our belief in a private sector-led and people-centred integration process.
This high level participation is testimony to the importance attached to the role of the media in advancing the visibility of the East African Community and a better understanding of regional integration issues.
We all know that the media plays a critical role in shaping national, regional and global politics, economics and diplomacy. Equally important is the continued political and economic integration of the East African Community member states in our increasingly globalised environment. It is therefore essential that we accelerate implementation of the Common Market and other protocols, and more importantly, ensure East African citizens understand and fully participate in the process.
In this endeavour, the media will be an invaluable partner in communicating our agenda, advancing our interests and being among the key narrators of our story. In addition, by holding both our governments and citizens to account, a responsible media will promote our core values, good governance and democracy on which a successful integration can best be built.
In order to do this effectively, we should develop a critical, competitive and profitable home-grown media that will foster debate of relevant issues and influence the way the rest of the world sees and understands us.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;
Let me make two points about the media in East Africa that, in my view, should facilitate the telling of our story and advance integration.
First, governments and the media need not be adversaries as is sometimes the case. Nor should it be the norm. They can be partners without either compromising the independence and effectiveness of the other.
Second, together, as we’ve seen with banking and education, the media, especially broadcast, has taken advantage of the integration process to spread into the region and report on matters East African.
However, it has not gone far or deep enough. More still needs to be done. For far too long the international media, with its own objectives and interests, has dominated the region and set the news agenda. This often means that they tell our story from their perspective at best and, at worst, distort it all together. As has become all too evident in our region, such misrepresentation derails our progress or even fuels conflict and other problems that destroy our gains.
This is made worse when our own media either remain silent or relay the same stories told from a biased standpoint, becoming complicit therefore in perpetuating these views imposed from outside.
There are interesting and relevant stories in our region that do not get the coverage they should. These include the steady progress the East African Community has made in various areas – from Customs Union to the Common Market, free movement of people and capital to ongoing talks about monetary union and movement towards a political federation. In fact, all these building on the existence of already integrated societies. People of the five Partner States of the East African Community have been historically integrated for many years and have been ahead of these processes we are talking about.
When we build stronger professional and business partnerships with the media, there should be an improvement in accurate and positive reporting about what East Africans are doing to make integration move even faster than it is doing.
Ladies and Gentlemen;
In order to nurture a pan East African media, all partners – be they government or the private sector – have the responsibility to invest in it and raise professional and ethical standards. For the media to tell our story well, it has to have access to the right information and the freedom to disseminate it. This in turn helps it articulate, guarantee and advance other freedoms.
In Rwanda, in spite of what outsiders might say, we regard the media as an important partner in our country’s development. That is why we have made reform of the media a priority. Among the key reforms are self-regulation and access to information, both of which should benefit the industry and also raise responsibility among practitioners.
We need common reforms across East Africa so as to establish norms and standards for the media to enable it carry out its responsibilities effectively. It is, therefore, gratifying to note that all our Partner States have continued to create a conducive environment for the media to operate, which should lead to an increase in the number of media outlets and better reporting in the region.
The era of fast-evolving social media that we live in presents us with immense opportunities for far-reaching instant communication and immediate feedback. Social media provides a new front that gives East African citizens a voice and challenges the influence of traditional media dominated by a few voices. It is an important tool for citizens to hold all of us, including conventional media, accountable.
Let me tell you that I have personally benefitted from this.
I don’t know how much time you will have to discuss this issue of the media and how it can serve us well. – because, while the media should benefit from unlimited freedoms, it should be responsible in a sense that it shouldn’t be limiting to other people’s freedoms as well.
Many times we have found ourselves in a situation where somebody will tell a story that this man is actually not Paul Kagame but Joseph Kagame. And I say: “Wait a minute, I am actually Paul Kagame. Can I provide evidence?” And when I say: “Can I have right of response?”, they say: ”No,no, we want you to be seen as Joseph Kagame”
(There is) no room for you to explain. They want you to be free to talk about me and impose their thinking and views on society but they also want to block all the avenues for me to give my viewpoint, explain and give evidence and facts.
In essence the media rightly claims and should have freedom to operate, but at the same time it increasingly becomes dictatorial. They want to dictate what people should believe. And in fact I also sympathise with the media because it has these different tiers, layers if you will. There is the part of the world which has superiority in terms of dictating what should be believed, to the point that it is even superior to another layer of media practitioners. What I mean is that the media in the West is also imposing its views on the media in East Africa or Africa. So the media in Rwanda, in East Africa or in Africa is inferior to the media in the rest of the world. And then we others, Rwandans, East Africans or Africans become victims of all these layers.
That’s our experience and we need probably to talk about this in a more fundamental way and see whether we can all keep making good progress.
In conclusion let me reiterate that the media has both the power and responsibility to get the region to embrace regional integration with passion, dedication and commitment for the benefit of the present and future generations of East Africans. And because no one else will do it for us, they have the duty to tell the true story of our societies, including our collective desire for peace, security, stability and development.
With these remarks, I thank you all for your attention and wish the Fifth East African Media Summit great success.