Monday, July 23, 2007

Rwandan Diary: Day 3

Another very early start to head back down south to the village of Marambi, the site of one of the worst episodes of the 1994 genocide. It's also the site of a National Genocide Memorial. We were going at the invitation of Mary Blewitt, who lost 60 family members in the genocide. Since then she has started an excellent charity called SURF - the Rwandan Genocide Survivors Fund. Andrew Mitchell is on its board and she had done brilliant work in raising the profile of Rwanda and its problems throughout the political spectrum in Britain. She's also raised more than £7 million to help survivors of the genocide.

The day did not start well, when after only an hour into the journey I started getting stomach cramps. Knowing that there were two more hours to go until we reached our destination I was facing the embarrassment of having to ask the coach to stop for, er, well, shall we call it a pit stop. Luckily the cramps gradually went away!

It took more than three hours to get to Marambi. None of us knew what to expect. What we experienced will affect every one of us for a very long time indeed.




As well as the mass grave, in which 50,000 Tutsis are buried, there are at least a dozen rooms with dead bodies laid out, all cased in lime. The smell was something which will stay with me for a very long time indeed. One room was full of bodies of children and babies. It was at that point I lost it. Alice, my cameralady, was extremely upset and tears were rolling down her face as she filmed. I did a piece to camera which was, shall we say, highly emotional. We were then shown a site where French soldiers built a basketball court on top of a mass grave. I cannot tell you how hated the French are in Rwanda. Their soldiers were sent to Marambi and actually protected the killers, who had hacked to death 50,000 Tutsis in 48 hours. I'll be writing more about France and its role in Rwanda tomorrow.

We then met one of only six surviors of the genocide at Marambi. Take a close look at the photo and you can see the bullethole in the man's head. Because he had a bullethole the Hutu militias left him for dead. He escaped by walking through the hills to the border with Congo.


I then interviewed Mary Blewitt. She is such an inspirational figure. Her brother was one of the first to be killed in the genocide. She recently received a letter from the government asking her to exhume his body as they wanted to build on his burial site. So yesterday, thirteen years after his death she had to rebury him. She agreed to talk about it in the interview, and as you can imagine it was fairly emotional.


Just to say, the reason I am in Rwanda is to make three documentaries for 18 Doughty Street - one on the Conservatives and Project Umubano, the second on the genocide and the third on life in Rwanda today. So far we must have filmed about five hours of footage in two days.


When we got back to Kigali Alice and I had no way of getting back to our hotel so we decided to take our lives in our hands and hail two cabs. Why two, you may ask. Well, Rwandan cabs are motorbikes, not cars. So we were whisked through the streets of Kigali on the back of a couple of bikes. I can't pretend it wasn't slightly exhilarating, because it was. Alistair Burt MP (pictured above with the genocide survivor) has also taken to them apparently.


Tonight I had the somewhat odd experience of doing a live interview on News 24, from our hotel balcony in Kigali, but not on Rwanda, on David Cameron's apparent popularity problems. I don't know what it looked like on the TV, but it did feel as if I should have signed off by saying "John Simpson, Baghdad" as the setting was very similar to that which the BBC use in Iraq!

Tomorrow, David Cameron arrives, so until then, hope you've enjoyed my accounts so far. More blogs from Rwanda from Vicky Ford and David Mundell MP.

25 comments:

Manfarang said...

The Killing Fields
Lets not forget the Khmer Rouge.

Chris Paul said...

Day 1 - Germans get it for being tight wads;
Day 2 - British Consevatives aren't;
Day 3 - Franch get it, being no better than killers;
Day 4 - ....

tapestry said...

The BBC only want to talk about David Cameron on every interview they do. Such broad-minded people.

They are desperate to make trouble for him and whip up some treachery. Unforgiveable in a supposed world-respected news organisation. They don't seem to care about genocide.

What kind of brains do BBC journalists have? Are they all robotic tory haters?

I am glad that David Cameron and the entourage are there to find out what happened and if there is anything that could have been done to stop it. No doubt the world will have other similar events like it in the future.

Ed said...

Sounds fascinating Iain. I sympathise with the stomach cramps, something very similar happened to me in Bolivia but when the bus did stop at a police check-point I asked to use their toilet as an emergency - a polite but firm "No" was issued. That was a difficult journey...

john_redman said...

Sorry but who on earth cares about Rwanda? Not me. Screw Rwanda.

Is this supposed to make Cameron look like a world statesman? It just makes him look like a bleeding-heart liberal drip. It's also a waste of political capital because we can be absolutely 100% sure that there will always be massacres in Africa like there'll always be wars and famines.

At home we have a burgeoning police state and our country is being stolen from us by Brussels. What are Dave's thoughts on this, or does he agree with it all?

You get the government you deserve, both here and in Rwanda.

Andrew Woodman said...

John Redman, that is possibly one of the most selfish self centred posts I've ever seen. You really sound like you don't have an ounce of humanity.

john_redman said...

LOL @ you Andrew. See, it's not just me that thinks "Screw Rwanda". It's most of the world and the UN too:-

In the wake of the Rwandan Genocide, the international community, and the United Nations in particular, drew severe criticism for its inaction. Despite international news media coverage of the violence as it unfolded, most countries, including France, Belgium, and the United States, declined to prevent or stop the massacres. Canada continued to lead the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda, United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). Despite specific warnings and requests from UNAMIR's commanding officers in Rwanda, before and during the genocide, the UN Security Council refused to send additional support, declined UNAMIR's request for authorization to intervene, and even scaled back UNAMIR's forces and authority.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rwanda_genocide)

Meanwhile poor old Iain thinks the French were the problem, when in fact it was the French intervention that finally put a stop to it all.

It's nice to know that the modern Camservative party is up with the facts and all over the issues that really matter to UK voters.

john_redman said...

Just for fun here are some challenges to the Camservative party re Rwanda. If we're all concerned about Rwanda these days, let's have some evidence that there's been any, yer know, thought around why we are all concerned all of a sudden.

1/ Does the Conservative Party agree that the UN totally failed in Rwanda, like it fails everywhere, and is an utterly corrupt, busted flush?

2/ 10 Belgian peacekeepers were savagely murdered in Rwanda. How many British soldiers should have died as well, saving Rwandans from each other? How many would Dave have been prepared to expend, for instance (a ballpark answer is fine - more than 10, more than 1,000, etc)? I'm with Bismarck and the Pomeranian grenadier BTW.

3/ How did the EU do in response to Rwanda? We're about to get an EU foreign minister. Does that still sound like a good idea, in the light of Rwanda? If not - well, golly, what should we do about this EU foreign minister?

4/ Exactly what was and is Britain's strategic interest in Rwanda?

5/ How many Rwandans would Dave have invited to immigrate into the UK?

6/ Is Dave going to embarrass al-BBC by mentioning that the biggest supplier of medical aid was Israel, or is Dave too scared of al-BBC to confront its leftism and anti-Israel bias in this way?

7/ Race hate is alive and well in Britain, too. Anti-semitic hate crimes are soaring and no, it isn't white skinheads behind it. It's another group entirely. I think we all know which one. Does Dave have any messages for us around this?

I'd be very interested in Dave's Rwanda jolly if he used it as a context in which to bring up these highly relevant points. If he doesn't, though, I'll just have to conclude that I was right all along, and that the whole junket is a meaningless bit of feelgood liberal posturing.

artwell said...

I have always had a soft spot for Rwanda, especially when a coffee plantation owner bankrolled the best football club in East London..LEYTON ORIENT.

Now that is a club worth supporting.

Ed said...

Does the UK need to have a "strategic interest" in a country before people should go and help build schools and try and learn something from the problems that the country faces?

What a sickening attitude.

Everything is not AOK in Britain but why shouldn't DC, Iain, et al go and do something useful in Rwanda?

Manfarang said...

john redman
What is Britain's strategic interest in Rwanda?
If you haven't noticed England is about to disappear under water.In fact we may soon have to evacuate the whole country.
This is what Dave is really up to,he looking for another place for us all to go to.A bit like Moses taking us to the promised land.
Of course we need to go somewhere tropical, we don't want people to keep on moaning about the weather or income tax so we must have hot weather,but not too hot, and plenty of bananas.

john_redman said...

What is Dave doing in Rwanda that's useful?

Ed said...

Helping to build schools etc.

Seeing "on the ground" what some of the problems in the less developed world are.

Presumably thinking about how "we" can help others and help ourselves - after all independent nations don't exist in a vacuum. Helping Rwanda and others to improve themselves is in our long-term interest.

Manfarang said...

Putting it on the map!
Have you ever heard of a place called Karenni? Of course you haven't!But when Dave heads for Mae Hong Son you soon will and find out how the British betrayed its people.

Adrian Yalland said...

john redman. I have to say, I only use the word 'twat' on very rare occassions, but you are certainly worthy of the title. If you were here with me in Rwanda and seeing some of things we are seeing, then I defy even you to be touched.

Yesterday I visited a house (well, two room mud shack) where a 17 year old child is the head of the house. His father died a few years back and his mother died three months ago - of tetnus!

He struggles to keep his younger brothers in school and they regularly go hungry. His house has no electricity, running water or cooking facilities. He washes his clothes in a sewage infested river, from which he also gathers water for him and his three siblings.

Just because we have a less than perfect government at home doesn;t mean we have no obligation to people like this kid I was honoured to meet yesterday.

Tony said...

Yes Iain, the French are far from popular in many parts of Rwanda. I touched on this on my blog a few months ago. It is all very messy.

Joe said...

Iain - while you're in Rwanda you might like to ask some questions about DFID's 'general budget support' policy. In a nutshell, this involves pumping funding directly into the recipient country's bank accounts rather than allocating it to specific projects.

There are lots of good theoretical reasons for using budget support as a means of providing aid. It 'empowers' the recipient country by enabling it to take responsibility for its own expenditure planning and policy making. It avoids the high overheads involved in funding specific projects. Budget support also helps to ensure that funds get spent in country rather than paid to expat consultants and overseas suppliers.

But there's a massive downside. Most developing countries - including Rwanda, despite what you've been told - are corrupt on an almost industrial scale. It's virtually impossible to track how and where funds are used and many suspect that massive amounts of budget support funding are being pumped straight into the Swiss bank accounts of senior politicians and officials.

Some suggest that DFID - and the many other donors they've persuaded to adopt budget support - invented to the idea to ensure that they could hit their targets for % of GDP allocated to aid. A deeply cynical view, but I think there's something in it.

Freeborn Englishman said...

Manfarang July 23, 2007 5:27 AM said...

The Killing Fields
Lets not forget the Khmer Rouge.


That will be as nothing compared with the slaughter of which you will be a victim when, and not if, the followers of the Religion of Peace (TM) have their way in Eurabia. It will make the Mongol Hordes look like pussycats in comparison.

Don't say you haven't been warned.

The Bournemouth Nationalist said...

Everything is not AOK in Britain but why shouldn't DC, Iain, et al go and do something useful in Rwanda?

Because they have sandbags to fill over here

Manfarang said...

Freeborn Englishman
or Freeborn Liar as you would be called in the Middle East.The place where the British helped bring the Wahabis to power.
Of course Bin Laden's Al Qaeda was CIA sponsored,strange how they were never able to capture him after he turned against them. And why did he turn against them,because American troops were being stationed on Saudi soil.

The Remittance Man said...

So DC's trip is "gesture politics". So bloody what? At least he's seeing a glimpse of the misery politicians can inflict and maybe he'll learn something.

Personally I think all aspirant politicians should spend a few weeks each year being taken around every war cemetary, preserved death camp and genocide monument possible.

Maybe then the buggers might realise that guns/machettes/hatchets don't kill people - mostly it's politicians and their stuffed up ideas that do it.

john_redman said...

Very moving Adrian. It's enough to bring a tear to the eye. Very rarely do I use the phrase "sanctimononious self-satisfied utterly ineffectual arse-wipe", but it could have been coined for you. So how about you answer the question I put above. Roughly how many British troops should die, at Adrian's behest, so that photogenic cow-eyed Rwandans can wash their shirts in a nice clean river? How many members of your own family, for example, would you be prepared to expend? I'd remind you that the French stopped the massacres, and are now hated, or so Iaiaiaiaian tells us. Any lessons in that?

You know what Rwanda is short of? One thing: capitalism. But Dave doesn't believe in capitalism, does he?

Manfarang said...

Freeborn Englishman
Regarding the Mongol Hordes, I've just come across this-
'He ordered that all religions were to be respected and that no preference was to be shown to any of them. All this he commanded in order that it might be agreeable to God.'
From the Yasak(law code) of Genghis Khan

David said...

Here's one thing Rwanda has to do with the UK:

ID cards.

"No other factor was more significant in facilitating the speed and magnitude of the 100 days of mass killing in Rwanda." - Preventgenocide.org

The Hitch said...

two hilarious photos
you in the helemet and even funnier that one of the corpse with its hand on its forehad as it was saying
"oh god not another group of grief tourists looking for votes back home"

cheers Iain