BBC Afrique has fired Congolese Journalist Jacques Matand who interviewed Charles Onana, a Cameroonian author and Rwandan critic, accused by President Paul Kagame’s government of being a genocide denier.
Matand’s dismissal has outraged many and raised a heated debate on social media, with many including Kigali critics questioning the independence of BBC-Afrique editor Anne Look, who in her sacking letter said she took a decision following pressure of “Complaint” from government of Rwanda.
The sacking also sparked outrage in Congo where a petition by association of Congolese journalists has been launched to get Matand back to his job, amid talks of a BBC boycott.
On February 7, Matand, attached to Dakar BBC Afrique bureau received a letter from his editor notifying him of his “dismissal for serious misconduct” with immediate effect.
According to the letter, the Rwandan government threatened to sue BBC over an interview he had conducted with Cameroonian Researcher Charles Onana over his new book “Rwanda, the truth about the Turquoise operation” published on 20th November, 2019; two days after the book was published.
In June, 1994 towards the end of genocidal regime, the French government announced Turquoise Operation, an army operation aimed at organizing, establishing, and maintaining a “safe zone” in the south-west of Rwanda.
The French said the objectives of Opération Turquoise were to maintain a presence pending the arrival of the expanded UNAMIR, contributing to the security and protection of displaced, persons, refugees and civilians in danger in Rwanda, by means including the establishment and maintenance, where possible, a safe humanitarian area.
However, Rwanda under President Kagame has since maintained that the operation was meant to help genocide perpetrators escape and evade justice over genocide crimes. In his Book, Onana challenges this narrative.
“The Rwandan government accuses the BBC of being unfair, biased and inaccurate and has indicated that it reserves the right to take sanctions against the BBC,” reads part of the letter from BBC Afrique Editor Anne.
The book, which is part of Onana’s doctoral thesis defended at the University of Lyon 3, was prefaced by Colonel Luc Marchal, commander of the UN peacekeepers in Rwanda in 1994. The genocide killed more than 800,000 Tustis and the Hutus who tried to protect them.
Rwanda has since denied it had a hand in Matand’s sacking with government officials saying they didn’t even know about the interview.
“You’re the one who told me, I didn’t even know that Onana had been interviewed by their team,” an official told media
“In any case, since when does the BBC take into account the observations made by the Rwandan government? They have never apologized for the documentary Rwanda’s Untold Story and the BBC in Kinyarwanda is still banned from broadcasting in Rwanda because of this story.”
Rwandan Ambassador to the United Kingdom Yamina Karitanyi also reportedly denied she wrote to the BBC management about the interview with Charles Onana, saying that her recent exchanges with Solomon Mugera, the central editor of BBC Africa based in London, were about the biases of BBC reporting in general, not about this specific story.
Human Rights Watch has in past criticized Rwandan government for suppressing free speech and has harassed independent journalists and human rights groups who always question Kigali’s narrative especially on economic development and poverty eradication figures.
Last month, President Paul Kagame’s Press Secretary Yolande Makolo exchanged bitterly on tweeter with The East African Journalists for writing stories she deemed critical of the establishment.
One story was about Rwanda being at the centre of bad relations with neighboring countries like Uganda and Burundi while the other story carried by AFP believed to have been written by East African journalist and appeared critical of demolishing houses of poor people living in Kigali without compensation.
Yolanda, sources at the East African say appealed to the owners of the paper and editors to have journalists fired. Later, the Head offices in Nairobi sent a team to Kigali headed by Managing Editor Washington Gikunju and “interrogated” several journalists and also probed about their royalty to government.
Chimpreports understands that after the Nairobi team visited, some journalists have been suspended as probe into the motives and royalty to establishment of these journalists contin