photo of doyleGhosts of Rwanda
mark doyle

A correspondent for the BBC, he was for a while the only foreign journalist in Rwanda and he broadcast live what was happening. In this interview, he talks about what he witnessed and how individual U.N. soldiers made a difference, especially the Sengalese Capt. Mbaye Diagne who singlehandedly saved at least one hundred lives. In recounting the actions of Diagne and Philippe Gaillard and his Red Cross team, Doyle compares their response to that of the West's: "General Dallaire's plan to have soldiers at football stadiums to protect people -- I think it was a doable plan. He just didn't have enough soldiers. It didn't happen because they were Africans. … If hundreds of thousands of Europeans or Americans were being killed in the way that Rwandans were being killed -- Do you think the world would not have intervened? I think it's because they were Africans." This interview was conducted on Dec. 12, 2003.

How different [was the war in Rwanda] from other wars that you've covered?

The sheer scale of the killing was just unbelievable. Even at the time, I think it would be fair [to say] that we didn't realize the scale of it. It wasn't for several weeks that I realized that this wasn't just a tribal war, one lot of people killing another lot of people and the others fighting back. It was a pretty one-sided operation. It was a very efficient genocide. [But] I didn't use the word "genocide" for several weeks, because I didn't have enough information to be able to say that.

Why did the outside world allow this to happen in Rwanda when it knew damn well what was going on? You have to conclude that it's because they're African. I don't see any other conclusion that is possible.

Looking back at some of the things I wrote in the early days, they were pretty misinformed. I was talking about this chaos here, and the militia from one side are killing these people and the militia from the other side are killing other people. [I was] not realizing that it was a well-orchestrated plan of genocide to wipe out all the Tutsis and moderate Hutus, and that didn't become clear for several weeks. When that did become clear [was when] some of the people I was interviewing -- like the Red Cross and some of the U.N. soldiers who knew the scale of it -- started telling me, and I started reporting it.

It's believed in the first couple of weeks-- I remember reporting 100,000 people had been killed. Well, people don't get killed on that scale in an ordinary war, but there were two wars going on. There was a war between two pretty efficient armies, by African standards -- the RPF and the government forces were both serious armies, relatively small, but serious and disciplined in their way.

But there was another war going on at the same time, a parallel war, which was the genocide war involving the government army and the government militias, as we now know. But it wasn't clear for several weeks that there were these two parallel wars going on.

You started going to Rwanda to cover the peace process in late 1993 and into 1994. What was your sense then of what was happening?

… Basically I went there and said, "This is a peace process which is working." Now [that] I think about it, that seems completely absurd, but that was the impression that one had in late 1993. This is a small United Nations peacekeeping force which is helping to broker a deal between these two groups, and it seemed to be working.

But of course I didn't know until early 1994 that the machinations were taking place which would stop that peace process [from] working. The government forces and government politicians were manipulating the situation in such a way that the broad-based transitional government, a coalition government, would never come into power, and there were constant delays in the early part of 1994 about this.

But during the early weeks in late 1993, I went there to try and cover a good news story. I thought it was good news that the belligerents were being sorted out by the United Nations, and that everything was relatively hunky-dory, and there would be long-term peace. But of course, it was completely wrong.

How did your impression change?

In early 1994, when there were a couple of political murders [that] took place … [and] I had a couple of briefings [with those investigating the murders]. I remember very clearly one briefing with … a very well-informed African ambassador, who just wouldn't let me leave his room and kept on insisting, "I hope you understand that these militia are not going to allow a transitional government to come into force. I hope you understand that this group A and this group B are maneuvering to stop any sort of transitional government, and this is going to lead to a breakdown in the peace process, unless we're very, very careful." …

He gave me the very strong impression that everything was not quite what it seemed, and that there was a real danger of something very big happening.

Did you ever get that sense of danger from General Dallaire?

I don't think I did from General Dallaire, because I think that he was being incredibly loyal to the people that he saw as his bosses in New York. He wasn't a soldier anymore; he was a U.N. general. The chain of command, as he saw, it started in New York, and he did what they told him to do. The doubts and the knowledge that he had, he certainly wouldn't have shared with a journalist, because he would have seen that as being disloyal. …

When he spoke to journalists, he'd say things are not going well, once the war had started, and he'd make it clear. But before the war had started, he was saying, "I'm here to ensure that this peace process is on track." It was all very straightforward. … During the war, once or twice he let slip a few comments which were an indication of his frustration with what the Western world was doing, in particular; and he was disappointed by the U.N. as well.

Do you think if he had leaked something to you, [that] his concerns would have made any difference?

It would have made a lot of difference to the media coverage, I think. But as the media, we're outside that kind of charmed circle. Sometimes we think that we're involved, but we're not involved in the way that the U.N. and the politicians [and] the soldiers and the people who are doing the killing. We were on the edge. So if a U.N. general had got up and said, "This is outrageous," then we would have reported it.

Whether it would have changed the situation, I'm not sure, because we were already reporting that the situation was pretty damn bad. [But] I failed to get the enormity across until too late, in the same way that other journalists did. I don't think we could blame the U.N. for not cooperating with us, because they cooperated extremely well. To some extent, the U.N. people on the ground helped us and protected us -- gave us food and let us sleep in their corridors, and so on. [So I think] the media coverage of it probably couldn't change that much, [just like] a small U.N. force couldn't change that much.

So when the plane went down [with the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi], you were in Nairobi?

I remember very clearly, because it was late in the evening, and I was just finishing off for the evening. I was on my own in the office, and I got a call from one of my editors in London, [who] said, "A plane's gone down, and we think it was carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi." I immediately said, "This is going to be an enormous story. This is not just a couple of people being killed." … I didn't know that the genocide was about to start. But I knew that something huge was going to happen, because I knew that that everything was so tense, not only between the RPF and the government army … [but] between the different political parties, the various extremists parties and militias who'd been maneuvering in Kigali to stop any sort of serious peace process [from] going ahead.

So everybody was poised to do something, but I didn't know at the time what it was. All I knew was I had to get to Rwanda as soon as possible.

And you did?

Yes. Most of the foreign press in East Africa was based in Nairobi. One of [my] colleagues chartered a plan, and a dozen or so of us went to southern Uganda and then from there drove to northern Rwanda and linked up with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), because the Kigali airport was basically closed. The U.N. wasn't allowing anybody in, [because] there was shooting going on. We knew that the RPF were relatively media-friendly, and if we got there, at least we'd have something to report, although of course we wanted to be in the capital. We wanted to be where we thought the action would be and the political power play would be played out.

Some of the journalists stayed with the RPF, [but] I decided it'd be good to try and get to Kigali somehow. So I went back to Uganda and, by chance, found a plane with a friendly aid worker running it, who said he was going to Kigali. I couldn't really believe my luck. I don't think he was supposed to land his plane in Kigali, but he did. [The plane] had some high-protein biscuits on it, which were for distribution to [the] hundreds of thousands of people displaced in Rwanda from previous wars. …

… [The U.N.] people were [already being] evacuated [from Kigali]?

I can only describe it as the shameful spectacle of the West coming in to save its people. French transport planes, Italian transport planes, [and] Belgian transport planes were scooping up the their expatriates, not assisting the United Nations peacekeeping mission at all, not trying to save Rwandans at all; saving their citizens, which of course is justified, but in the process, messing things up for the U.N., really, and not helping the operation at all.

So we saw that happening, and of course reported on it. We used the French convoys into Kigali and back to the airport, where they were they were picking up French citizens in Kigali. I got on one or two of those as a way of getting around relatively safely, because by this time, there was shooting going on everywhere. I've never been in such an intense battle for so long and been so close to it. There were small arms fire all the time; it sounded like a rattle of a huge hellish popcorn machine just going on all the time, and then interspersed by the crump of mortars and artillery. This went on for weeks and weeks and weeks.

So it was very dangerous to go anywhere without friendly soldiers with you who knew a bit about military matters, A, and B, have guns to point at people if you were threatened. That's how we saw the French going to save some of their citizens. In the process, the French didn't intervene to help these Rwandans being killed. In retrospect, I guess they were probably Tutsis who were being killed, but we didn't stop to ask, because it was horrifically dangerous.

You saw people either being killed or about to be killed?

I saw people being attacked. Whether I saw the final moment of life in individuals, I can't say. I certainly saw people who had been recently killed and saw people attacking each other in large numbers.

How were they attacked?

With machetes and sticks and very mundane things. I saw someone being attacked with a screwdriver. It was when I was in a French military lorry that was going to evacuate some French citizens, and I saw someone being attacked with a screwdriver. The whole situation was so terrifying -- of course for the Rwandans, first and foremost, but for me as well, even though I was next to a French solider. I looked at the French soldiers and they looked back at me and I thought, "Well, you just saw that, You're a soldier; you've got a gun. Are you going to stop it?" [But they didn't.] I don't know what calculation-- Obviously soldiers are given orders, and their job was to scoop out white people, and that's what they were doing. …

At some point, you met a Senegalese captain, who was trying to save the very people who had been left behind.

Yes. There was a guy called Capt. Mbaye [Diagne], who was a Senegalese who I got to know a little bit. I wouldn't be presumptuous to say he was my friend. … I got to know him a little bit, because I'd lived in Senegal before. I can say a few words of Wolof, which is their language, so I used to say "Good morning" to him in Wolof, which he used to find amusing, since that's the extent of my Wolof. We'd then go into French or English.

I guess I didn't know at the time what he was doing. I had an inkling from one or two people that he was saving people's lives, and I learned about it several weeks later, after he'd been killed. … He was a very dynamic person, it was quite clear. He was always rushing around with maps under his arm. His official job, I think, was liaison with the government army, so he would go from General Dallaire, the U.N. commander, to see the government army to try and get a ceasefire. [He was there] to allow an aid convoy through, or allow the Red Cross to go and pick up some people -- all of these things you know needed military liaison, and Mbaye did that.

But when the genocide started, I saw him still rushing around, but I didn't know what he was doing. I subsequently learned that he'd rescued the family of the prime minister, the children, and he'd hidden them in his house. I understand that he saved quite a lot of other people as well by driving through the front line, hiding people in his car, driving back through the front line and so on. … You could see he was never hanging around the car park like some of the some of the U.N. officers. He was always going out and doing things.

I remember he distrusted the media. I mean, most soldiers basically distrust the media until they get to a very high level and they start thinking that they can use the media. I remember once he said to me, "Why do you keep saying that these militia people are killing the Tutsis?" I said, "Well, because they are." He said, "But if you keep on saying it, it's going to make our job more difficult." Well, I disagreed with him actually. I think that we should do our job as reporters, and I think that had to be done. But he was calculating somehow that perhaps it was better to have a soft[er] approach, so that he could negotiate, because he was facing these people [in the government army] every day.

You can imagine what it was like. He'd be talking to them, and then they'd say, "But the bloody BBC is saying this--" He would face their anger in a way that I didn't, because I didn't face them every day. [Mbaye] got quite angry with me one day, actually, but we carried on talking and remained friends.

How was he able to get through these checkpoints and rescue people?

Some African armies are very good. The Senegalese army is relatively quite good. They're nothing compared with First World armies in technical terms, but African soldiers are extremely good at talking to people. They're extremely good at getting through roadblocks, [and] they're extremely good at negotiating. …

I remember once I was very grateful I was in Mbaye's car. We were going to see an orphanage. We got stopped by the government militia. The militia man leaned through the window with one of these Chinese stick grenades which look a bit like sink plungers, but they're not sink plungers -- they explode, and kill you if they go off. He started waving it under my nose because he thought I was Belgian, because at the time the Belgians were perceived by the government to be pro-rebel. So this militia man thought because I'm white and driving around -- and most of the white people who lived in Kigali at the time, the majority were Belgian -- he thought I was Belgian. So he said to Mbaye, "Who's this guy? Is he Belgian?" and if Mbaye had said the wrong thing at that point, then I've no doubt that we'd have all been killed.

And what he did was, he just joked. He said, "No, no -- I'm the Belgian. I'm the Belgian here, look -- black Belgian." He broke the tension of the moment, and once the tension of the moment had been broken, he said, "No, no -- in fact, look, this guy is the BBC. Here's his badge. He's a BBC journalist, he's British, and he's got nothing to do with Belgian." This kind of put the military man off guard a bit, and he no longer wanted to kill us.

I just wonder[ed] if a Canadian soldier or a French soldier would have been able to do that, to joke with this guy and potentially save my life and the life of all the other people around who would have been killed by this stick grenade. …

The people who were there were able to have a small impact -- the U.N. people?

Oh, there were definitely instances in which single soldiers made a difference. …There were occasions when they were doing transfers. Tutsis would go from one side of the town and Hutus would go from the other side, and the U.N. was transporting them to areas where they felt relatively safe. The militia attacked the convoys, and I saw individual soldiers, including Captain Mbaye, actually kicking people off, because they didn't have guns. The U.N. soldiers didn't have gun[s]; they were actually kicking people off, and saying, "You can't come up here. These people, we're saving these people. You can't get on here. You're a militia man -- your bosses have said that we can do this. There's an agreement that we can do this."

That definitely happened, and I saw it happening with my own eyes -- that the U.N. saved people, but on a much larger scale. There's no doubt in my mind that several thousand well-armed soldiers could have saved hundreds of thousands of people. Dallaire had a plan, which was basically to secure football stadiums in every town around Rwanda, and to make football stadiums and maybe some churches [into areas where they could hide refugees]. …

During April, you were there when it began to dawn on you about what was really going on. How did you figure out how to report that?

Well, people weren't giving these huge numbers [of killings] for the first few weeks, and in the first few weeks I think that the U.N. was taken by surprise. They were preoccupied with these orders they were getting from New York to scale down their force with the various French and Belgians and so on who were flying in to save their white people. Everybody was preoccupied by this operation, this chaos, and meanwhile there was shooting going on all over the place, and roadblocks all over the place. The pattern hadn't emerged. …

Maybe other people knew what was happening, but I didn't know for several weeks. I was still talking about a war between two sides, a sort of conventional war, if you like, for control of the capital. That's what it appeared to be. It wasn't for until a few weeks in, I started seeing what was happening at these roadblocks clearly with my own eyes. …

Even that word "genocide," I didn't use for several more weeks until the pattern became clear. But it was seeing those dead bodies, at a place where I'd been two hours before, which confirmed it for me. Until you see these things with your own eyes, you can't really say anything. …

Do you remember when you started using the word "genocide?" And were your editors concerned about that word?

They weren't. I don't think it was an issue in the BBC. They almost couldn't believe that it was so one-sided. I remember having lots of conversations with editors when they'd say to me, "Yes, but Mark, you keep on reporting that these Tutsis are being killed. What-- I mean, these are just massacres all over the place." I said, "No, no, it's not. This is one-sided," and they found it difficult to swallow. I was accused of bias on a few occasions, privately by editors, but I said, "No, no, you've got to listen to what I'm saying. There's a genocide taking place in this country, and it's mostly the Tutsis that are getting killed, and some Hutus getting killed. That is what's happening." They said, "Yes, but you have-- Where's the balancing item?" I said, "There isn't a balancing item."

I remember very clearly when the RPF did do some killing. They killed some church people. I can't remember exactly where it was, but it became public that the RPF had killed some bishops, half a dozen of them. Undisciplined RPF elements had taken revenge, because the church had somehow been involved in a massacre of Tutsis. … I know that some RPF soldiers killed some bishops. The BBC seized on this immediately because they finally had what they thought was a balancing item -- to be fair.

To be fair to those editors in London, they were trying to do their job. This concept that a genocide was taking place hadn't taken grip on the world yet. It was just another African war to most people. … When the RPF killed those bishops, it became a huge story. Quite rightly, it was a big story, but it wasn't as huge as hundreds of thousands of people being killed. Somehow everyone grabbed onto it and wanted to tell that story again and again, because it somehow balanced the two sides. But the two sides weren't balanced; there were bad guys and there were relatively good guys.

[I was told] at some point Dallaire was saying to journalists, "Look, be careful what you report here."

… I think it was because they felt that New York was not sufficiently aware of what was happening, or New York at least could pretend that it wasn't sufficiently aware of what was happening; whereas if the BBC and other journalists are saying things outside of that charmed circle, then no one can deny that they knew what was happening; and anybody who had the slightest desire to find out what was happening could do so, either by listening to what I was reporting or listening to what the other news agencies and reporters were reporting. Even if the U.N. in New York wanted to keep it secret and wanted to have a soft[er] approach, it could never work.

So I think to some extent, maybe Dallaire was trying to shame New York into action by cooperating with us. There were occasions when they didn't cooperate with us. They tried to kick me out of Kigali once, because they wanted to rotate as many journalists as possible through Nairobi. The Canadians, who were in charge, tried to persuade me to leave and to go back to Nairobi on their plane. I said, "There's no way that the BBC can leave." I had to appeal to an African diplomat, in fact, who was working with them, was close to them, who told them no. This African knew how important the BBC was in Africa and he said, "No, you've got to allow Mark to stay." In the end, they were persuaded. So they weren't handing things on to me on a plate.

How did it come about you were the only journalist there?

There were two relatively safe ways of covering the story journalistically. One was to be with the RPF, because the RPF were relatively media-friendly. They were coming down from the north and gradually taking the country. The journalists were with them behind the RPF lines and getting the RPF story, [and] getting the massacres story and the genocide story, because [of] the dead bodies that they found in the churches as the RPF moved forward. That was one way of getting the story.

The other way was to be with the United Nations in Kigali. I happened to [already] be in Kigali when the airport was closed, when the U.N. was so preoccupied with protecting itself that it couldn't really get involved flying journalists in from Nairobi. It was partly because I insisted on getting on a plane and used every trick in the book to get on a U.N. plane. I got into Kigali, and was the only foreign journalist there for a while. …

How did you find out that [Mbaye] was killed?

I was in the car park of the U.N. headquarters. … I heard on someone's radio … that someone had been killed, and it sort of crackled over, and all the U.N. people in the car park started going slightly stiff. They knew more than I did. They understood what this message was, because it was in the military speak. There was an aid worker called Gromo there, and I was standing next to him and he said, "Oh, my God, I hope it's not Mbaye." But I think that he knew that it was [him] at that time. I think that he was saying that to himself as a way of coping, or it just came out that way.

Then, about half an hour later, [we] went to the airport. … There was a Canadian officer there, who jumped in his car, and said, "A military observer has been killed. I'm going to go. Do you want to come? " So I said, "Yes, sure," so I jumped in his car and we went to … a checkpoint there. [Mbaye's] body had been taken away, but his car was there. … I think a mortar had landed next to the car, and some of the shrapnel had gone through the door. Some of it had gone through the glass, and the glass was all shattered on one side. There was blood everywhere, and it was clear that the person had been killed instantly by the mortar. Then I learned that it was Captain Mbaye Diagne.

I wouldn't be so presumptuous as to say he was he was a friend, but I knew him as a human being. … We had a sort of relationship, and I knew him and he was killed. What can I say? Hundreds of thousands of Rwandans were being killed at the time, but I didn't know them. They weren't people that I was interacting with day by day, and if I'd known them and I got to know some of them subsequently, then of course it would have affected me. But yes, sure, this was one foreigner among hundreds of thousands of locals who were being killed. But he was one foreigner who I happened to know.

I remember going to the airport subsequently when his body was being taken out under a U.N. flag. … I remember bursting into tears with a colleague of his, a Senegalese captain, and the captain said to me, "You're a journalist; I'm a soldier. Now you've got to tell the world what Mbaye did. You've got to tell the people that he saved lots of lives. Even while the U.N. was shamefully pulling out its troops, he was saving people's lives. Please tell the world."

That gave me the final confirmation of what I suspected had been going on all the time anyway. But this guy's comrade-in-arms, a fellow Senegalese captain, which you know is not the sort of thing that soldiers say to journalists very often, for me finally confirmed that this is definitely a very brave man who has died in the service of other people. And it's a good story, so I told it.

How much did you know about what Philippe Gaillard was doing?

I'm not sure that I can contrast the two. I know that Philippe and his team of mostly Rwandan staff-- He had a small expatriate staff, and more Red Cross people were killed in Rwanda, I believe, than any other war. … So [he] and his team were running the only hospital that worked in Kigali. It was clearly a place where you got good stories, because if you went to the hospital, not only would you see the awfulness -- you know, blood and all that for the television pictures -- but you'd meet people who were coming in from military situations who would sometimes tell you what that military situation was. So it helped build up a picture of what was happening.

When I could go to the Red Cross, Philippe was rushing around, unarmed, as they are doing what [they] could for getting supplies in. I remember him laughing at me once, because I didn't understand the logistics of running a hospital. I saw that they were using rainwater because the water had all been cut off. The rainwater was coming off the roofs and going into the barrels, and I said, "Why are you using rainwater? That's filthy, isn't it?" He looked at me [and said], "It's not filthy rainwater; [it] is the cleanest water that you can get." … But that's just one example of the kind of logistical things that they were doing all the time to get around having enough food for their patients, having enough water to wash them, having a bit of electricity to run the lights for the operating theater, and so on. These were all secondary to not being shot at, because on several occasions, the Red Cross hospital took artillery rounds or mortar rounds.

I remember Philippe had to go and see Paul Kagame, the RPF commander, and asked Kagame and his people to stop shooting at the hospital. Kagame said, "If we've done that, it was by accident. We definitely wouldn't aim shots at the hospital." So Philippe said, "Well, please don't kill us by accident." [Philippe] had quite a pithy way with words.

At one point, I spoke to [Philippe], and asked him how many people had been killed. Philippe said something along the lines of, "I can't remember exactly." It was something along the lines of, "In the first few weeks, I said that 100,000 people had been killed. A few weeks later, I said loud and clear that I think half a million people have been killed. Now you're another journalist, and you're asking me again, and I'm telling you I can't count any more. Half a million people have been killed, and I've stopped counting."

It was extraordinary for me to get that on tape, because this was an authoritative person. This was the man who knew, because he was organizing the prisoners from the jails to go around collecting bodies and put them in the back of trucks in order to put them in mass graves, in order to stop, or to try and stop outbreaks of cholera and other appalling things that happen when you have a city full of dead bodies. So Philippe Gaillard knew. …

He says that he was much better informed than the U.N. You considered him to be authoritative?

… I think that if anybody was an authority on what was happening throughout the country, it had to be the Red Cross, because the Red Cross before the war had operations throughout the country … [and organized] displaced Rwandans inside the country [to live] in camps. The Red Cross was feeding them and the Red Cross had hundreds of Rwandans working [for them]. The boss was this Swiss guy, but most of the muscle work, the most dangerous things were being done by Rwandans on the front lines.

So he had sources of information all over the country. When the genocide started, there was effectively no social services left, no one collecting the rubbish. It sounds appalling to say, but most of the rubbish was dead bodies by that point. There were piles of dead bodies everywhere, and it fell to the Red Cross to organize their disposal, because there was no question of giving people dignified funerals. There was a war going on all around. So the only thing that the Red Cross could do was to bury people in mass graves.

I think they organized it themselves with a nod in the direction of the mayor, because the mayor was officially supposed to be in charge. The prisoners came out of the jails and were employed as mass undertakers and would drive lorries around. I used to see them; they had very distinctive pink prison outfit that they wore, so they could be seen from a long distance and couldn't escape, I guess. … They collected all the bodies up, and so if anybody knew how many people were killed, it would have been the head of the Red Cross, Philippe Gaillard at the time. …

He says now that he estimates that the Red Cross saved between 60,000 and 70,000 people.

It doesn't surprise me at all, and it confirms what I've always thought -- that with a few more U.N. soldiers [they could have saved many more lives]. I know that they certainly saved loads of people in the hospital, because I saw them there. The hospital was a hospital, plus a displaced persons camp. [There were] thousands of people in there, and through sheer moral argument, the Red Cross stopped the militia coming in to kill people. … So if they can do that without any guns, what could a few thousand U.N. soldiers have done? …

There was even a point … when African countries offered [more] soldiers, and all they needed was a few trucks and some airlift to get them in. The Americans even refused to do that. … The British government and the American government -- who send their politicians to Kigali and cry over the gravesites -- these are the same countries that refused to send soldiers to stop it happening, when they knew it was happening, not just because I was telling them that it was happening. … They deliberately tried to stop countries [from] sending troops to the U.N., and started manufacturing a plan, where the Americans in particular said the most important thing to do is to get some soldiers around the borders of Rwanda to save the refugees.

Well, hell, was that the most important thing? It was completely the opposite of what was required. What was required was to have soldiers in the middle in Kigali in each town, each football stadium. Broadly speaking, that was Dallaire's plan -- to have soldiers at football stadiums to protect people. I think it was a doable plan. He just didn't have enough soldiers. I'm sure a few thousand extra soldiers could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Why didn't it happen?

Because they were Africans, I think. How many peacekeepers were there in Bosnia, Kosovo, [the] former Yugoslavia? There were a lot. In Rwanda, there were a couple of hundred poorly equipped U.N. [soldiers] without armored personnel carriers, without a proper military field hospital, without proper logistics supply from Copenhagen and Nairobi and these places where the U.N. do their operations.

So I don't think there can be any doubt that if hundreds of thousands of Europeans or Americans were being killed in the way that Rwandans were being killed -- do you think the world would not have intervened? I think it's because they were Africans.

Troops came to Goma [in Congo, near the border with Rwanda] in the end.

Troops came to Goma, and the world's media went to Goma as well. I left at the point when the RPF took the last major town, and it was time for me to finish my assignment anyway. But I was quite tired, and I partly left out of disgust really at the way in which the story suddenly changed from the genocide, which is the story I'd been covering, and somehow became a story about hundreds of thousands of people who were living in a refugee camp, who needed assistance. … The overwhelming sense of the story was of a needy group of people, not the people who had committed the genocide.

Why did Goma get such attention?

Because it was available; because it could be done safely. Being in Kigali was terribly dangerous, and getting to Kigali was terribly difficult. I'm not blaming any individuals, of course. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. But lots of journalists were kind of waiting for these refugees, because they knew it was relatively safe to be in Goma, or they'd be in Tanzania.

I went to Tanzania a few times. … The Tanzanian refugee camp full of Rwandans was the largest refugee camp in the world, but then later on the one in Goma surpassed it. It was relatively safe, and also I think -- although I wouldn't accuse any individual of making this calculation -- I think that the media in general understood that story. They could understand a group of hundreds of thousands of starving Africans, because that's been seen so often before. …

Genocide is more difficult, because you're saying that there was a political calculation by one group of people to wipe out another group of people, and it doesn't have that sort of balance, if you like, which we're used to having. …

In your dealings with the government army and its officials, what was your sense? Did you ask them whether they were controlling these militias? …

… You have to remember that the RPF rebels already had a base inside Kigali when the war started … that was supposed to be part of the peacekeeping process, and the government army were there. So they were at each other almost from Day One with mortars and small arms and God knows what else. …

But the government said the killing was not being done by [the government], and that they did not control the militias. But I didn't believe that, because everybody was telling me that that wasn't the case. I actually saw it for myself when I made the mistake of asking a senior gendarmerie officer if I could come talk to them about what was going on, in their point of view. I say I made the mistake, because they said "Yes," and they took me to an extremely dangerous place in a valley that was overlooked by RPF mortar positions. The RPF were firing into this valley at the gendarmerie and other people who I was talking to.

As I was driving through the militia roadblocks, it was quite clear that this gendarme guy that I was with was in charge of them, because they'd stop the car, they'd look in, they'd see him, and then he'd have a few words with them. … But this guy was clearly in cahoots with the militias, no doubt about it. I saw other regular army people at the militia roadblocks; I saw them directing the militia, and sometimes I saw the senior militia people directing junior soldiers. So they were working together, no doubt about it.

Was there a moment-- You talked about when you decided it was genocide. But did you have the insight, then, that there was a plan that was being implemented?

Oh, yes. It took a few weeks for me to formulate this and then get enough direct eyewitness information, and things that I could trust and therefore report on and feel good that I was telling the truth. But there were roadblocks all over the place. People were checking identity cards and killing the Tutsis. The refugee camps would fill up with a particular people, depending upon which side they were on. It was clear who was being targeted, and it was also clear that the militia and the army were working together. …

The media can influence policy; why didn't it happen in Rwanda?

Well, the media can definitely influence policy. I know from another war that I covered in Africa, in Sierra Leone, I know that not just my reporting, but there were more reporters in Sierra Leone, and it did get out that appalling things were happening. The British army then did go and support the U.N. and help the peace process, and now there's peace. I've got no doubt that the media was partly influential in that.

But why did the outside world allow this to happen in Rwanda, when it knew damn well what was going on? You have to conclude that it's because they're African. I don't see any other conclusion that is possible, that if hundreds of thousands of people were being killed in a genocide in Europe -- can you imagine NATO not intervening? I cannot, if the world knew what was happening.

There was enormous amount of reporting in Somalia, the famine, that the people in the White House at the time will say that lead directly to the Somalia intervention. But I was wondering whether, during the key weeks, [the] first month or so of Rwanda, did it get the kind of reporting, the critical amounts, the CNN effect, that actually can kick policy? No, I don't think it did.

I think that there were some of us with the RPF trying to do what we could. … [But] we weren't there on any sort of a mission. We were being reporters, doing our job. I don't think that, when we were doing it, we were thinking, "We've got to say this and we've got to make this powerful, so the outside world intervenes." That's not the way we operate. If something that we say does have an influence and it saves people's lives, then fine. But our job is not to encourage intervention. …

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posted april 1, 2004

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