Joseph Bideri And Why He ‘Lived To Die Another Day’

By Eleneus Akanga

Joseph Bideri (bless him) was able to manage a grin last night as he headed home after a long bad day at the office but the former RPF chief propagandist knows things could have been a lot worse – but for some brilliant CYA moment.

Yes and before you begin scratching your head, CYA or (Cover Your Ass), is a common term used in overly litigious societies like the US to refer to the idea that whatever the situation, one MUST always remember not to leave themselves too exposed – refer to the law of torts.

The news yesterday morning that The New Times Editor-in-Chief had been detained following hours of interrogation at the hands of CID officers shocked even the finest of the TNT faithful but to many this was not surprising news. In a country where intolerance to corruption (again depending on how you define intolerance to graft) is somewhat an assumed mantra, reports of even the mightiest of all going behind bars are not that uncommon. So when it dawned on all that Bideri had been taken in, there was a sense of well, “not surprising”.

And like I wrote a few months ago, Mr. Bideri in yesteryear Rwanda was the cowboy with powers to succeed the laws of the land. While he will have been shocked by his questioning and subsequent detention at Kicukiro Police Station, he will have not been surprised. As someone who has been in the system for a while, he knows the terms of reference. Work for us and we will support you, challenge us or fall out with one of those who matter and you will be lynched.

There are a host of reasons as to why Mr. Bideri could have been summoned. Despite his unswerving service to the regime in Kigali, the man has had his own mishaps. Some versions (not official) claim he stole so much from the public coffers when he was the Managing Director at Rwanda Office of Information (ORINFOR). Late last year, there were reports that the reason he had fled to Canada was partly to do with allegations he had presided over a spell of tax evasion at The New Times. Again, I must emphasise that these were allegations and in most cases rumours which never got followed up by the relevant government agencies.

Part of this is the reason many will have been surprised to hear that Mr. Bideri was behind bars potentially staring at a possible fast route to the infamous Kigali 1930 prison.

So What Happened?

It is difficult to tell exactly what happened at Kicukiro Police Station. I tried contacting a few folks back in Rwanda and not even the insiders know what exactly happened. It seems Mr. Bideri’s arrest was never on the cards (as in imminent) until it happened so even insiders were surprised. What we do know though is that his interrogation began at the CID offices in Kacyiru before ending up in an arrest and detention at Kicukiro. From this we can deduce that whatever the case, Bideri’s arrest was engineered or conducted with the knowledge of someone within the National Security Service (NSS) who as we also now know, was working in cahoots with the Rwanda Police Inspector General Emmanuel Gasana.

After hours of waiting, a disheartened Bideri began to demand answers from his interlocutors. His demands fell to deaf ears probably because there was never a proper charge sheet and the powers that be for all that time were trying to find something to associate with the TNT boss. Given his experience working with the system in Kigali, he became aware of what was likely to happen and realised tha the only way out was jail.

It was then that Bideri being the smart boy he is, decided to text a reporter at the AfroAmerica publication to report he was being put under arrest. The former propagandist also realising that his tormentors had been so delusional to leave him with his phone contacted his work place to let them know what was goin on.

According to The New Times, “Bideri telephoned the Ag. Managing Editor, James Munyaneza, at around 7p.m, and told him he had been arrested over stories The New Times published recently about the ongoing controversy revolving around Rukarara hydro power project in Nyamagabe District, Southern Province.” The news of course came as shock to the young folks at the newspaper and while they normally would have let it go, the journalist in James Munyaneza (one of the few remaining real journalists in the country) saw an opening and wanted the matter reported. The other version has it that Bideri personally asked for the story to be published. And whatever happens now, when all this is done with, Bideri might look back and thank his stars that the story of his arrest and detention came out in the pro-government newspaper.

Story Pulled Down

Those holding Bideri were still smarting from the fact that they had scored one past their nemesis only to be overwhelmed by the amount of interest his arrest was generating on the web around the world. Rwanda remains a very tricky nation and one which given what happened in 1994, continues to attract attention, not least too because of the regime’s crackdown on free speech and freedom of expression. Thus any story about freedom of expression in Rwanda usually generates so much traffic and interest. As people took to on-line forums to debate and make sense of what they were reading and hearing, the police and NSS realised the story had moved faster than they thought. Bideri was already 3-0 up and the reaction was well in his favour.

Already, both CID and the police had struggled to find answers to the question :why is he being held. Their answer: “You will get to know all the details tomorrow” was not cutting it. The tomorrow they were talking about had arrived and they still didn’t have answers. The New Times, the newspaper which the regime has consistently used to push stories against those it wants to destroy and bring charges on had also been compromised by its boss. It was already leading with the story that Bideri had been detained.

This would have been fine but there was another problem. While the NSS and Rwanda police would have preferred a stronger and more compelling charge against the big man, The New Times and all the other publications which picked up the story had already projected the charge as being something to do “Rukarara stories.”

Rukarara Stories?

Probably until (yesterday) not so many people outside Rwanda had paid that much interest to the Rukarara project. Not any more. Rukarara Hydro Power Plant which was meant to help solve Rwanda’s power shortage problems has turned out to be a money spinner for spineless politicians and businessmen who are only intent on fleecing the country out of even the little we borrow. While the government has sunk over 23 million dollars into the project (originally projected to produce 9.5 MW) Rukarara is struggling to even produce a meagre 5 MW. Incredible given the amount which has been spent on the project.

And according to the powers that be, The New Times’ mistake it turns out, was commissioning reporters to tell stories in a way “which portrays the project as a total failure and the government as having not delivered.” So Bideri, was indeed being done for allowing stories about the project to be published in a way that made it look like the country whose regime prizes itself on efficiency and good service delivery was failing or had failed to deliver on a power plant – despite spending millions of dollars on the project.

What Next?

Bideri may have woken up from his dream but he just like those of us who are familiar with the dealings in Kigali, will be well aware that this is not the end of his nightmare. There are powerful dark horses towering over bodies of weak pawns on what many see as the unpredictable Rwandan game of chase. Along the way some will be crushed, others will survive. While I cannot wish jail for a man who for the sake of his daily bread has had to do all sorts of things including engaging in smear campaigns against perceived and real enemies to the Rwandan regime, I owe it to him to remind him (and those like him) that in Paul Kagame’s Rwanda, no one is indispensable. Bideri should count himself lucky that he was able to Cover His Ass in time. This time he was lucky, the next he may not be as much. From experience (JB Sanyu, Eddie Rwema, David Kabuye and Ignatius Kabagambe) the top job at Rwanda’s mouthpiece is not the easiest of them all. The good news for Monsieur Bideri is that he was always part of the people who sacked all his predecessors. Perhaps he is “unsacakble” but I am not sure he is “unjailable”. Now that he has survived, he should get to the very bottom of the Rukarara Project to unearth the real problem or the same Rukarara Project will be the last government project for which report he ever presides over as TNT boss. At least he has some sympathisers. Canada anyone?

Over to you my little monsters…

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Author: ellyakanga

I am Eleneus Akanga. Welcome to my blog about my experience as a Rwandan journalist and all that comes with the trade in East Africa. It's been a great journey so far but very challenging at times. Join me, let's get cracking! ellyakanga@usa.com

4 thoughts on “Joseph Bideri And Why He ‘Lived To Die Another Day’”

  1. Could his arrest be a sign to the faithful to keep them on their toes. The logic being, if it happened to Bideri, it could happen to anyone?

  2. Thanks Susan. What you do bring is a very plausible argument to what clearly is an interesting but complicated story. Like you say it is very possible that his was a case of “let us send the message”. Someone I spoke to earlier today says President Kagame himself was fuming at how the Bideri case was handled. The government thought it was indeed generating more negative coverage to Rwanda than implicating the man himself. Which would explain the rumour that it is likely to have been a squabble between two powerful groups within the intelligence service as to who was stronger and better connected. There is also that other claim that the police were working with the current NSS chief to save the skin of super minister James Musoni whose involvement in the Rukarara Hydro Power project was beginning to be laid bare.

    Time…only time will tell.

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