The annual Carlos Cardoso Memorial Lecture at Wits University focusing on media freedom was delivered this week by Bob Rugurika (38), an investigative journalist and the director of the private and independent radio station Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) in Burundi. Until it was stopped from broadcasting by the government last year, the station frequently emitted information viewed as critical of the government, including detailed accounts of alleged human rights abuses and financial scandals.
We sat down with Rugurika for a quick Q&A.
Where do you live now?
For the moment I am living between Brussels and Kigali; In Belgium to spend time with my wife and two children, who live there, but also because I have some professional contacts there, and in Rwanda because it’s where so many Burundian journalists are, and members of civil society and Burundian refugees generally.
What made you leave Burundi?
I left because the situation had become too difficult for us to work. I was arrested and detained and they tried to kill me, members of the intelligence agency came to my house in Bujumbura, the Burundian capital, on March 29th 2015. They went to a neighbour’s house instead and she said she did not know me. Many journalists have been detained this way in Burundi and some have been killed.
When President Nkurunziza announced that he had decided to run for a third term on April 25 2015, he mentioned several times “journalists, journalists, journalists, who are fighting the government.” This message was clear, it meant that the government did not want the independent media in Burundi any longer.
When the demonstrations started in Burundi on the 26th April, they closed first my radio station and they cut the signal of three other independent media stations. These were all bad signals for us.
My radio was closed and I realised there was nothing I could do in Bujumbura. From outside, to show resistance to the repression of freedom of speech, this is where created several media initiatives.
How are you still able to work?
There are some journalists who are still inside who continue to help us but for security reasons cannot sign their work. Radio Publique Africaine continues to work on the web and also via short-wave radio. It continues to inform the public, the international community but also the local community. Burundians in exile – and there are 300,000 in neighbouring countries – can listen to the short-wave radio. The station is called “Humura”, meaning “Keep Quiet Burundi”. It’s to encourage people not to give up.
You are now considered an enemy of the Burundian state and face charges if you return to your country. Is this true?
I am Burundian, I’m proud to be Burundian and I’m attached to the Burundian patriotic values, I’m attached to our culture. If feel like if you give up, if we abandon, if we left this job, Burundi will deteriorate and we will be blamed by our children but also by history. This is why we have to fight for freedom, freedom of expression, for press freedom.
How has the African Investigative Journalism Conference helped your case?
This conference is very important to record our fights around Africa, and it’s a good occasion to meet other colleagues, to hear other experiences. Being involved gives me energy, it has shown me that across the international community, among African colleagues, people are worrying about what is happening in Burundi. It’s very encouraging, and it’s a golden opportunity to tell the world what’s happening in Burundi, what’s going on right now.
Article by Aislinn Laing