He had his moments. This we have to agree. A one time government spokesman, Monsieur Joseph Bideri, became famous as the erstwhile chief propagandist capable of bringing down anyone inside or outside the country as long as his bosses demanded as such. A high flying bureaucrat, Mr. Bideri in yesteryear Rwanda was the cowboy with powers to succeed the laws of the land. In two words: Very Powerful.
Those who worked with him during his days as the government’s chief propagandist, remember him ever so well. Their memories fresh with the aura of authority that seemed to go with the incredible Joseph, some are surprised he has ended up fleeing the country back to where he —well—came from.
At the pinnacle of his limelight, Mr. Bideri is famously remembered for telling the world that “Rwanda was not an obstacle to peace”. He was of course referring to Rwanda’s decision not to withdraw troops from Congo following the Lusaka Peace Accord. How ironical that when his country is back in the news, perhaps not over the same issue but something related to the Congo, the man who nine years ago said his paymasters were not obstacles to peace, is running for dear life.
When news broke that Bideri had fled the country to Canada, I was among those who received it with scepticism. Surely? Bideri running for dear life? How?
If there is anyone who has so passionately defended the establishment in Kigali, it is Joseph Bideri. His defence of the ideals of the regime was so entrenched in his psyche that at one point, as head of Orinfor, he still felt he was so powerful to determine and decide what went on in all publications related to the government. I remember him mingling so easily and effortlessly in the affairs of The New Times, even when the latter had a functional and able bodied Editor in Chief at the time.
Dedication, some will say. It seemed to me that behind the hard working persona of the man or stooge that was Bideri, there was always a pushing desire to please. A desire which to some appeared pushed by the need to please and perhaps hide something or make up for something sinister. Otherwise, how would you explain Bideri’s insistence to poke his nose in whichever public institution with connection to the government, his continued desire to dislodge Editor in Chiefs at the pro-government daily, or his untiring efforts to speak ill of anyone falling out with the regime in Kigali?
Bideri will have now realised that serving the regime in Kigali with whatever amount of zeal does not make one indispensable. Question now is, has he learned any lessons? The notion that all men are born equal is one that Bideri to me never understood or if he did, always chose to ignore. I am yet to know why he was sent on leave just days before he fled. But if the story that he engineered the sacking of the whole New Times marketing team on grounds that they were Ugandans is true, then it makes me wonder what it is that he has against Ugandans.
In 2006, the same man, while at Orinfor and board member of The New Times, ordered the immediate sacking of all foreigners at The New Times. The paper as a result lost a host of talented editors, reporters, marketers and designers as Kenyans and Ugandans packed up. He replaced them with locals and due to the imbalance in expertise and quality what had started becoming a better newspaper went back to a hopeless tabloid, specialising in dog eat man stories.
And because he (Bideri) was indispensable, no one even queried his decision. Not even the Board chairman. The move besides being xenophobic, proved completely counter productive. If you want to develop and promote home grown talent, you do so from within, recruit locals, give them time to learn on the job from their superiors and then phase out, if you want, the old stock.
But the man sailed on. In 2008 Joseph Bideri was again in the news, this time accused of messing up the finances of Orinfor, involvement in an infighting battle for power and influence with one Kije Mugisha and failing to process the acquisition of a new and modern printing press. Given the dealings in present day Rwanda, any other person would have been sent to prison for this mess. Bideri survived and was instead shipped to Kacyiru to take over from another sad comrade Ignatius Kabagambe, as the Editor in Chief of the government mouthpiece.
At New Times, Bideri has overseen the transformation of an English daily that his predecessors created from a slightly readable tabloid to some sort of gutter thing where officials and men of little conscience trade accusations and settle scores with those they hate. The handling of the election period, the Kayumba saga, and lately the UN Mapping Report has not helped matters. TNT is still the same old boring TNT if not worse.
It is worthy to note that this is the same man who as boss engineered the sacking of the most successful Editor in Chief of the New Times in its 13 year history. It was Bideri who sacked Sanyu John Bosco, the Editor under whose tenure TNT saw a surge in both sales and readership. With Sanyu gone, the same Bideri orchestrated the installation of Eddie Rwema, the flamboyant young journalist whose days were cut shot by yet another of Bideri and State House import, Ignatius Kabagambe. The latter though keen on becoming the top dog at TNT had his tenure cut short when he was replaced by Bideri after working so hard to frustrate another arguably competent Editor in Chief, David Kabuye.
Inside sources at the New Times have said that Bideri would still be in charge had he not messed up the marketing system through his ill-advised interference and decision to tax evade. With staff going unpaid for three months and the company going as far as near bankruptcy, this was bound to backfire. And backfire it did.
With Rwanda Revenue Moving in to demand the payment of tax arrears and staff beginning to worry about their wages and reporters choosing instead to stay in the newsroom or at home due to the lack of vehicles to take them to the field, “the possibility of TNT falling flat on its belly” was imminent. And because TNT is ruled by someone even more powerful, he demanded answers and Bideri had none. His forced leave was a stern reminder that his time had come, being someone who has previously sent predecessors in forced leaves before moving up on them, he quit the country.
But as he tries to settle in Canada, I wonder if Joseph Bideri has any idea what being a puppet or being used to such extents that you lose your common sense means. What we can deduce is that no one is indispensable in Rwanda or anywhere in this world, if there is, then it is because their time has not come yet. So my friend, Prof Nshuti, when you let yourself be used to write stuff that would make Lucifer cringe, remember that there is going to be time, when you might want to use the same words to defend yourself. Do not say there were never any precedents!
Over you my little monsters…