John Williams Ntwali, one of the last critical journalists in Rwanda, died in suspicious circumstances just before Suella Braverman, the British home secretary, flew in to Kigali to sell the country as a “safe” place to send asylum seekers and migrants
Why this story
When the Rwanda asylum deal was announced in 2022, it changed the face of British politics. Archbishop of Canterbury described the plan to send hundreds of refugees to the small east African nation as “ungodly”, while human rights activists said it tore up the very refugee conventions that Britain helped to forge after the Holocaust. On the other side, the deal’s proponents have slammed critics as “virtue-signallers” and “lefty lawyers” in the right-wing media.
But something which is almost completely absent from the debate in the UK: the voices of Rwandans themselves. The voices of those risking their freedom – and their lives – to report the abuses of the authoritarian regime in Kigali.
In this week’s Slow Newscast, we look at the death of John William Ntwali, one of the last critical journalists in Rwanda. John was killed mysteriously a few weeks before Home Secretary Suella Braverman flew to Rwanda to sell the country as a “safe” and “compassionate” place for asylum seekers. His death – and the lack of reaction to it – tells us everything we need to know about Britain’s relationship with its new “friends and allies” in Rwanda. What is the UK government now prepared to look away from to get this policy through?
How we got here
To tell the story of John Williams Ntwali and the Rwanda asylum deal, we spoke to an extraordinary man who has never told his story before.
Fred Muvunyi used to run the Rwanda Media Commission, a group campaigning for more independent media in the country. He worked with John for years and knew him well.
I met Fred four years ago while embedding with US troops in Burkina Faso. He was working as a journalist for Deutsche Welle News Agency then and lived in Germany.
At the time, he was guarded and did not say much about his life. He is not the sort of man to sing for sympathy. But slowly, I began to understand the hell Fred had been through and the threats he still faced.
In 2014 he stood up to the regime and was told he would soon be “eliminated”. He fled the country in the middle of the night and has never been allowed back.
John and Fred had parallel lives. Both were journalists trying to stand up to the Rwandan regime. Until one crucial moment: a decision to leave or stay.
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