Journalists in DR Congo and Rwanda Grapple with Disinformation and Hate Speech. Here’s What They Should Do

By CIPESA Writer |

As disinformation and hate speech intensify during periods of armed conflict and political unrest, journalists can play a critical role in countering falsehoods by providing accurate, unbiased information to the public. Yet, journalists often lack the skills and resources to identify, fact-check, and call out disinformation.

Last month, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) convened a consultative meeting in Rwanda’s border town of Rubavu for Congolese and Rwandan journalists to discuss how they can play a more effective role in countering disinformation in the conflict between the two countries while providing accurate information in their reporting. The meeting discussed the nature of the disinformation and its key instigators and spreaders, media pluralism, and factual reporting.

The Conflict

In recent months, the governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) and Rwanda have traded accusations of supporting rebel forces destabilising each other’s country, with disinformation and hate speech taking centre stage in the conflict and fuelling hostilities between the neighbours.

The Congolese government is engaged in armed conflict against the M23 rebel group, which it says is supported by the Rwanda government. A recent United Nations (UN) report corroborated the allegations, indicating that Kigali supports the M23 rebels and other militia operating in the troubled North Kivu province. Rwanda denies the allegations and in turn accuses its neighbour of supporting the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) armed rebels that have bases inside eastern Congo from where they purportedly make occasional incursions into Rwanda.

This ongoing conflict has also sucked in the UN peacekeeping force in DR Congo, commonly known as the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). There are increased calls for its withdrawal from the central African nation amidst accusations that it has failed to stop the M23 rebel advances and killings by other militia. According to media reports, 36 people including four UN peacekeepers were killed in late July amid protests against MONUSCO.

Information Disorder

The Congolese online space is fraught with calls for a boycott of Rwandan goods and businesses, as well as calls for expulsion of Rwandan nationals. In late May, Congo suspended Rwanda’s national carrier Rwandair’s flights from its territory. The hashtag #RwandaIsKilling trended online in July 2022 as some Congolese citizens and their government accused Rwanda of supporting the resurgence of attacks by the M23 rebels that claim to protect ethnic Rwandans that are native to eastern Congo, especially the Tutsi ethnic group.

The disinformation is particularly pronounced on social networking and sharing platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp. However, some mainstream media, including private radio and television stations, have played an active role in manipulating information and entrenching hate speech against some members of the Congolese Kinyarwanda-speaking communities and Rwandan nationals.

Yet it is not media actors on one side of the border that are actively promoting disinformation. Journalists and media houses on the Rwandan side were also accused of propagating anti-Congo disinformation, notably that related to the Congolese government’s alleged support for anti-Rwanda armed groups. Often, those who promote the pro-Rwanda narrative are engaged in exchanges with the pro-Congo influencers on social media, with both sides utilising disinformation.

Participants at the Rubavu meeting noted that politicians have been at the forefront of using disinformation to push nationalistic and populist agendas against the Rwandan community living in Congo’s North Kivu and the South-Kivu provinces. As one Congolese journalist explained, “The disinformation and hate speech narratives have been mostly pushed by politicians and this has been done for petty political and personal interests.”

Yet another journalist, who operates from the Congolese city of Goma, noted that some prominent members of the community, “such as religious leaders, influential civil society leaders, and grassroots leaders have also played a major role in peddling and spreading false narratives and fake news.”

Participants also identified political analysts, social media influencers, bloggers, local civic leaders and ordinary citizens, as some of the actors behind the current spate of hate speech and disinformation within the digital space of the two countries.

It was noted that many journalists, both in DR Congo and Rwanda, lacked the capacity to verify the information and had become complicit, knowingly and unknowingly, in spreading disinformation. Furthermore, because most citizens could not easily identify disinformation and tended to believe most information they received through mainstream and social media platforms, fake news was thriving and spreading rapidly.

Nadine Kampire from the Goma-based media network Afia Amani Grands Lacs, said the Rubavu meeting was timely, as fake news and hate speech were rampant on various Congolese and Rwandan social media. It was therefore necessary for journalists to appreciate the extent of the problem, to develop skills in fact-checking, and to build networks for sharing credible information with counterparts across borders.

The Effects

For the residents of Goma and Rubavu, the effects of disinformation and hate speech on regional peace and stability are all clear. The disinformation, escalation of conflict and whipping up of hate speech, have led to a substantial decline in the movement of people and goods and continue to undermine cross-border trade. As a result, this has negatively affected the livelihoods of hundreds of small-scale traders and community members.

Further, the standoff between the two countries has prevented many learners from attending school as they fear crossing the border. Notably, many Rwandans in Rubavu attend schools in the much larger city of Goma across the border.

Fidèle Kitsa, a Congolese journalist working with Star Radio in Goma, noted that hate speech and disinformation have caused negative social, economic and educational consequences within communities in the border towns. He said the price of food and commodities increased, the population has been radicalised, pessimism towards certain information on social media increased, and the peaceful coexistence of the populations in two cities has been harmed. These effects are evident beyond the border towns, all the way to the Congolese capital Kinshasa.

The tension is palpable, even here in the capital [Kinshasa] where we really see acts of xenophobia between the Congolese and Rwandans all day long. All it takes is one click, one video, one publication and it can quickly go viral, because in our minds, our subconscious, the information is there. We are just waiting for something to trigger it. – Dandjes Luyila, Journalick, CongoCeck

A Rwandan editor summed up the effects: “The rampant spread of fake news, political propaganda, and hate speech across social media and through the mainstream media has breached trust and the social relationship between the communities living on both sides of the border.”


At the end of the meeting, a number of recommendations were made that can help to stem the spread of disinformation in DR Congo and Rwanda.



  • Abide by ethical standards that promote accuracy, fairness, and objectivity in the coverage of news.
  • Fact-check every piece of information before disseminating it.
  • Provide news and information in an unbiased way.
  • Actively promote peace and security.

Media development agencies:

  • Hold regular training on fact-checking for journalists.
  • Provide small grants to support journalists to pursue in-depth stories on the ongoing conflict in the region as a way of providing accurate information to the public.
  • Enhance collaboration between journalists within the East and Central African region. This includes the creation of a regional association of journalists and media professionals.
  • Support media initiatives that are working towards identifying and fighting disinformation and fake news.
  • Support fact-checking initiatives for journalists.

The Africa Digital Rights Fund Awards USD 152,000 to Advance Digital Rights in 18 African Countries

By Ashnah Kalemera |

The second round of the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) has awarded a total of USD 152,000 to 14 initiatives that will work to advance digital rights in 18 African countries. Among the focus areas of the initiatives are access to information, data protection and privacy, digital economy, Digital Identity (ID), digital security, diversity and inclusion, freedom of expression, hate speech, misinformation, and innovation for democratic participation, transparency and accountability (civic and social tech).

ADRF Round Two focus countries: Algeria, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somalia, Somaliland, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe

Launched in April 2019, the ADRF responds to rising digital rights violations such as arrests and intimidation of internet users, network shutdowns, and a proliferation of laws and regulations that hamper internet access and affordability. It offers flexible and rapid response grants to initiatives in Africa to implement activities that advance digital rights and the potential of technology to uphold human rights, advance democratic governance, and drive innovation. In the inaugural round of ADRF, initiatives with activities spanning 16 African countries received a total of USD 65,000.

The second call for applications attracted 164 applications from 33 countries. The applicants were assessed on the following attributes:

  • The applicant’s experience in advancing digital rights/track record on similar work;
  • Demonstrated need for the project, including relevance to described context and priorities of the Fund;
  • Eligibility in terms of geographic coverage, proposed activities, duration, and evidence of the applicant’s formal registration or operations;
  • Demonstration of innovation with regards to approach, feasibility of deliverables and timelines, and potential impact of the intervention;
  • Potential for data-driven advocacy;
  • Budget feasibility; and
  • Diversity considerations.

The assessment was conducted by CIPESA programme staff and five external experts with extensive experience in the digital rights field.

Together with the inaugural grantees, grantees from  the second round will be eligible for technical and institutional capacity building, including on data literacy and advocacy skills through the Data4Change initiative, as well as impact communication.

The grantees of the ADRF’s second call are:

Action et Humanisme – Ivory Coast: Action et Humanism will work to promote internet use among persons with disabilities in Cote d’Ivoire by conducting quality of service/user experience surveys, assessments of ICT accessibility compliance among government entities and telecommunications companies, and knowledge and skills building exercises on inclusive internet access for 100 representatives from media, disability rights organisations, academia and technology companies.

ADISI – Cameroon: ADISI will promote social accountability and citizen-duty bearer interactions beyond Cameroon’s economic capital Douala through its civic engagement and data journalism initiatives, and capacity building of youth leaders in digital advocacy, public policy participation, and  access to information.

African Feminism – Pan African: Through its network of writers, contributors and editors, African Feminism will document legal and policy developments as well as survivor experiences of revenge pornography in Malawi, Nigeria, and Uganda towards pushing for accountability (prevention, protection and redress) of governments and platform operators. The documentation will be via in-depth articles, visual stories and social media campaigns.

Centre for International Trade, Economics and Environment (CUTS) – Kenya: While acknowledging the potential gains of digital innovation in Kenya’s financial services sector, concerns about threats and vulnerabilities to privacy and data protection, as well as to consumer rights, prevail. Accordingly, through research, policy analysis and online campaigns, CUTS will examine the technological, institutional, and legal environment relating to digital financial consumer protection in Kenya and identify opportunities for strengthening the sector.

Digital Shelter – Somalia: In response to arrests and intimidation of several journalists and social media activists by the Somali federal government and federal states, digital attacks, and threats from terrorist groups, Digital Shelter will organise a series of events under the theme “Protect Our Online Space”. Targeting 120 human rights defenders, activists, journalists and bloggers, the project will work on digital safety and security, the shrinking civic space, freedom of expression and hate speech.

Forum de Organizacoes de Pessoas com Deficiencia (Disabled Persons Organisations Forum) – Mozambique: The Forum will conduct ICT accessibility and compliance assessments of Mozambique’s state obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and work to build the capacity of disability rights organisations to advocate for accessible ICT for persons with disabilities including through the G3ict Digital Accessibility Evaluation Index. The findings and recommendations will form the basis of a stakeholder submission as part of Mozambique’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

Global Voices – Sub-Saharan AfricaMiddle East and North Africa: Building on “Writing Toward Freedom: Politics and digital rights in Africa”, Global Voices will investigate identity-driven hate speech, disinformation and harassment in online spaces in Algeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, Tunisia and Uganda. Through collaborative workshops, multilingual in-depth feature stories, and curated social media dialogue, the initiative will explore how language, culture, gender, religion and ethnicity affect digital spaces in the seven focus countries during politically charged periods, and how technology platforms regulate and moderate harmful content.

iWatch Africa – Ghana: This project will focus on tracking, documenting, and analysing online abuse and harassment against journalists and rights activists covering political and societal issues in Ghana. Based on the various cases, iWatch Africa will engage the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) and policy makers to develop protocols for legal support for victims to seek redress.

Jamii Forums – Tanzania: In the run up to the general elections in Tanzania, Jamii Forums will work to enhance the digital security of 100 activists, journalists, lawyers, bloggers and human rights defenders, including raising awareness on digital vulnerabilities, the link to between digital vulnerabilities and physical/offline environments and effects on their work. A reporting and rapid response system will provide onward support in the elections period. The project will also feature stakeholder engagements on data protection and privacy, targeting law enforcement authorities and the communications regulator.

JP Media and Sobanukirwa – Rwanda: Based on Rwanda’s seven-year-old Access to Information Law and the five-year-old Sobanukirwa initiative, this project will research challenges to implementation of the law and uptake of the platform respectively, so as to promote increased citizens’ information requests, duty bearer responsiveness, and proactive disclosure.

Mzalendo Trust – Kenya: Building on its track record in promoting transparency and accountability, as well as citizen participation in legislative processes, Mzalendo will conduct research on the impact and perceptions of the Huduma Namba initiative in Kenya, run a public awareness campaign on data rights in Kenya and enhance the interactive functionality of its Dokeza platform.

Rudi International – Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo): Goma-based Rudi International will work to build a coalition of digital rights lawyers to support digital rights advocacy and strategic litigation efforts in the DR Congo’s fast-evolving but challenging telecommunications landscape. The lawyers, to be drawn from the four cities of Bukavu, Goma, Kisangani, and Lubumbashi, will benefit from ICT policy training, webinars, and connections to relevant regional and international fora.

Somaliland Journalists Association (SOLJA) – Somaliland: Through a knowledge, attitude and perceptions (KAPs) survey, design thinking workshop, digital literacy training, and roundtable engagements on digital media in the context of conflict regions, SOLJA will work with media practitioners and law enforcement authorities to strengthen media freedom and combat hate speech and misinformation in Somaliland.

Zimbabwe Centre for Media and Information Literacy (ZCMIL) and the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) – Zimbabwe: This collaborative project will work to empower 120 grassroots-based citizen journalists in media and information literacy. Covering a range of topics, including ethical standards, information and news verification and fact-checking, as well as digital security, the project beneficiaries will be drawn from six localities (Bulawayo, Plumtree, Kwekew, Lupane, Gweru and Hwange) and are expected to support citizen voice and agency in rule of law, constitutionalism, improved service delivery and good governance.


The ADRF is an initiative of the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) with support from the Ford Foundation, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the German Society for International Cooperation Agency (GIZ) and the Omidyar Network.