Rwanda is in the process of reforming the media law. Should the law become enacted, print media will self-regulate. Rwanda is regularly criticised by organisations such as Reporters without Borders and the Committee to Protect journalists for a lack of press freedom. However, some Rwandan journalists, emboldened by the proposed new law, believe the time is now right to enter the newspaper market.
The latest player is The Chronicles, a weekly English language newspaper, launched this week by MGC Consult. The first edition is available for free in Kigali in Nakumatt supermarket and other locations. I spoke with Christopher Kayumba, Consulting Editor to The Chronicles who is also a lecturer, and spokesperson, at the National University of Rwanda, about the launch.
Why launch a new newspaper in Rwanda now?
The new newspaper is called The Chronicles. It’s a weekly. It has been a long time in coming. Me and my colleagues have been in the media sector since 1996. We have been wanting to start a professional Rwandan newspaper, a newspaper that would report all points of view, a newspaper that would do investigative and interpretive journalism and a newspaper that would not be interested in promoting this political ideology or the other.
Why did you decide to publish in English, have you got a Kinyarwanda edition?
Yes, we will be starting a Kinyarwanda edition. It will be called Umuturage. We could not start both of them at the same time. We are in the process of that and probably in two or three months, we should have that one up and running.
The first edition is free, but what price will it retail at?
800 Rwanda Francs for retail and then 600 Francs for subscription.
What about the competition in Rwanda. How do you expect to fare?
In terms of competition, we don’t think there is that much competition – if by competition we mean in terms of content and news produced. Maybe in terms of getting the adverts, that might be the challenge. I don’t think adverts are given depending on the quality of the paper or not.
I noticed in your first edition the only adverts are for your own newspaper. Isn’t it difficult to get advertising in Rwanda?
From my colleagues who have been publishing they tell me that it is difficult, but for us we have a different marketing strategy. Ours is based on the idea that good journalism brings good business. We think that if we are able to operate between three months and one year, with good journalism, we will be able to attract business.
What are your projected sales?
We think we should be able to sell anything between five thousand and twenty thousand because that is the number of “elites”, according to our survey, who are able to buy English newspapers.
Will you be selling it all over Rwanda or only in Kigali?
All over Rwanda. Absolutely. We are also targeting the Burundi market and the Ugandan market. We have sent four hundred copies to Burundi and one thousand copies in Uganda of the first edition. The newspaper’s market is not just Rwanda, we are looking at the East African market, even in terms of advertising.
Your competition is really newspapers like The East African then?
Nation Media are supposed to be opening in Rwanda quite soon, do you see them as competition as well?
Nation Media is a big media company. It’s the biggest in this region. I think they have certain advantages, especially to do with expertise and finance, in terms of capital. But, we also have our own advantages because we understand this market, we have the context better than Nation Media. We know, because of their financial muscle, they are a serious company.
What about the draft new media law which is supposed to go through, I believe, in November. Will that affect how you work?
Actually, one of the reasons we started the newspaper at this time is because we believe that there is an increasing political will to open up the political space for newspapers properly. That also means that the media law, as we know it, is under review and it is before cabinet. Certain clauses that are not good for a free media are being removed, including clauses on the powers of the Media High Council to be able to close down newspapers. One of the reasons we are beginning at this time is because the changes, the reform that is taking place, is positive, is good for the private press to grow.
You had to register The Chronicles under the present system with the Media High Council, was that a fairly straightforward thing to do?
All the people involved, because we had all the requirements, it wasn’t a problem registering even under these laws. The people involved all have degrees in journalism. We had some back up capital. Normally, these two are the biggest challenges.
About the design of the newspaper. I’ve noticed another newspaper – Isonga – which started quite recently. Have you see that?
Yes, I have seen Isonga. It’s owned by the people write Rwanda Dispatch (a monthly news magazine). It was started by assistance by Rwanda governance advisory council.
It’s a government mouthpiece really?
Well, it’s privately owned, but I think it has that kind of editorial bent.
From an observer’s point of view, The Chronicles and Isonga both look like professional newspapers, just in the design. Is that something you’re trying to push because it’s not very common in Rwanda newspapers?
Exactly, both the structure, design and content. We are very interested in having a more professionally designed newspaper, but also in content.
How many journalists do you have working?
At the moment, we have about seven. But these have also been working with MGC Consult for quite some time. They work in both areas.
Are they all based in Kigali or around the country?
All of them are based here, but because we have other projects up country, we often go up country.
Rwanda has quite a difficult reputation around the world with Reporters sans frontiers, Committee to Protect Journalists about press freedom. What’s your view on that? Starting a new newspaper, it must be a worry, surely?
Like I told you, what Reporters without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists or Amnesty International have been writing about (Rwanda), is something that is in the past. As I told you, there is a media reform that is going on. And as someone who lectures in media, who is a consultant, I have been participating since the beginning, so I think there is a positive development that should be exploited now.
For a first edition, with the reputation Rwanda has, The Chronicles shows a lot of promise. There are in depth features and commentary on the new media law, Franco-Rwanda relations, political reshuffles, sports and lifestyle pieces and an editorial explaining the newspaper’s mission. Here’s a snippet,
The founding philosophy of The Chronicles is that human beings, including Rwandans, have an inalienable right to think and self-express freely. For this right to be meaningful, Rwandans, like any other human beings need a trusted forum to mediate the exchange of ideas, views and information. We believe that it is through this kind of interaction that Rwanda can pursue sustainable development, happiness and peaceful co-existence as well as entrench a democratic culture.
To entrench a democratic culture watered by a shared future and peaceful co-existence, Rwandans need not only to openly and freely express themselves, but also to hear the views of others; know the truth of what is going on in their society; read and hear about what is being done in their name by public officials, and how it is being done. It is through access to such news and information that Rwandans take and will continue to take informed decisions about their lives and their country. The Chronicles comes and promises to play this role, acting as a trusted platform for open, free and reasoned debate.
This does not mean that there are no newspapers in Rwanda contributing to this. Indeed, there are about 27 registered newspapers and magazines in the country today. However, even with the contribution of these media outlets, there are specific, identifiable and critical information gaps that The Chronicles comes to fill. link
If we are to take Christopher at his word, it will be a newspaper worth watching, if only to see what dirt the investigative desk manages to dig up.
One concern must be the business model. The Chronicles needs advertising and to get it in Rwanda has historically meant towing a certain editorial line. Success won’t just be measured in the occasional scoop, but in finding advertising francs that don’t mind being associated with a potentially “critical” newspaper.
As for sales, the target is the five to twenty thousand “elites” which may be enough to sustain it, but Rwanda is not really a newspaper buying country. People prefer to get their news from the radio. The Chronicles will have to crack that culture with quality, interesting content, in Kinyarwanda too, to get enough people to stump up 800 Francs a week – in a country where 800 Francs is still more than a day’s wages for most people.
Update: January 3, 2012 – Rwandan radio station Contact FM held a discussion in late 2011 about the state of the media. Christopher Kayumba took part. It’s quite long, a bit rambling and unfocussed, but it’s a good listen if you want to hear from Rwandans what they think about their own media.