Ghosts of Hate Radio


Rwandan genocide museum (David Kattenburg)

Genocidal Airwaves

By David Kattenburg

(Revised December 31, 2015)

This coming spring will mark the twenty-second anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. An estimated eight hundred thousand ethnic Tutsis and a lesser number of Hutu moderates were brutally killed by Hutu extremists armed with knives, hoes and machetes.

Listening to peaceful radio

The author, listening to peaceful radio in Butare, Rwanda

Over the radio, venom flowed.

From the moment blood began to flow on April 7, 1994, the morning after the shooting down of a plane carrying Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, radio announcers in the darkened studios of Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines had been whispering into their microphones to “kill the cockroaches,” or to “cut the long grass” — a code phrase for supposedly lanky ethnic Tutsis.

RTLM was set up by a group of Hutu extremists prior to the outbreak of the genocide “to create harmonious development in Rwandese society.” With wicked ingenuity, they handed out cheap pocket radios to people on the street, the better to stoke the furnace of ethnic hatred.

When it was all over in mid-July, an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and tens of thousands of Hutus had been butchered by machete and hoe-wielding mobs; by their own neighbors.

Click on the play button on the image above to hear the short version of this story. The first voice you’ll hear is that of Willy Rukundo, station manager of today’s state-run Radio Rwanda. You’ll also hear a chap named Clement, station manager (at the time) of a community broadcaster called Radio Izuba, in the eastern Rwandan town of Kibungo.

Radio Izuba, Kibungo, Rwanda

Radio Izuba, Kibungo, Rwanda

Radio has come a long way in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide.

Here’s a slightly longer version of the same audio piece.


You’ll hear the voice of Alan Thompson, who organized and coordinated the Rwanda Initiative, a collaborative project of the National University of Rwanda and Carleton University, in Ottawa, Canada.

A whole new generation of Rwandan radio journalists will never allow this to happen again — we hope.



Radio Izuba Workshop


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