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Rwanda is no US when it comes to press freedom – but it's also no Somalia

Rwanda got a bit of a raw deal to be ranked near the bottom of Reporters Without Borders' annual press freedom list this year, says guest blogger Jina Moore.

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RSF points out that the deputy editor of an independent paper was killed here before the elections. That’s true, and awful. But in Russia, it’s a public health hazard to be a journalist: The country has a long-proven pattern of killing journalists who dare to investigate things its elite doesn’t want anyone to know – 313 of them between 1993 and 2009, according to the International Federation of Journalists. (For more on the anti-perks of being a journalist in Russia, check out this piece.)

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Meanwhile, Rwanda’s neighbor to the south, Burundi, looks a lot nastier for journalists (though not exclusively for journalists). Jean Claude Kavumbagu was tossed in jail for treason in July after he dared to report that Bujumbura wasn’t to defend itself against an attack by Somalia’s music-hating, journalist-repelling Al Shabaab. He’s still there; his pre-trial detention has been extended indefinitely, and no date for a trial set. Chances are the authorities in Burundi, a country known for torture, are not being that nice to him, either.

It's not just Kavumbagu they don't like either. Two journalists at the popular independent radio station Radio Africa Publique receive death threats and others are held by the government's shady intelligence services.

Burundi is 108 on the Index – 61 places higher than Rwanda. (Is it me, or is this starting to feel like the days when Libya chaired the UN Human Rights Council?)

Yes, Rwanda banned two “opposition” (a word that has come here to mean not-run-by-Kagame’s-dudes) newspapers before this year’s presidential election. Yes, during a presidential election there was more media scrutiny and more pressure. Also, the pope is still Catholic.

I’m not saying it’s easy to be a journalist in Rwanda. I’m saying I don’t trust the RSF index, for all the reasons above – and for one more. It’s easy, and tempting, to make the media a main proxy character in the anti-Rwanda story that caught so much international attention this summer, leading up to the election. It’s hard to be a journalist here, sure. But it doesn’t do anyone any favors – and least of all the journalists living and working here – to blow the situation out of proportion. So let’s not confuse press freedom for political freedom, and let’s not try to lance the latter by invoking the former. After all, journalists have to work hard enough around the world not to be political tools as it is.

Jina Moore is a reporter who blogs at jinamoore.com.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Africa bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.
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