Remembering Rwanda – twenty years on: kwibuka20

A gerbera bloomed in the convent garden, next to a simple cross. A fly, buzzing, crawled up the cross. Images like this one, or the grove of eucalyptus trees outside the town, where the twenty children who had taken shelter in the convent had been taken, been murdered and buried. Or the doorway through which I saw the nun still sitting, after our interview, perfectly outlined, head bowed, as she remembered those dead.

I’m one of the many journalists who was privileged to visit Rwanda and chronicle some of the aftermath of the genocide. I was there twice, once in 1997, three years after the genocide, with Panorama, as a young assistant producer, with Fergal Keane, Tony Wende, Mike Spooner and Mike Robinson. We travelled back to Nyarubuye, the scene of one of the many horrifying massacres, where men, women and children were murdered after taking sanctuary in a church. Fergal had been there shortly after the massacre and we went back to find one of the child survivors, Valentina. The story we had almost told – a general story about the genocide, all over Rwanda – was ditched. It became Valentina’s Story (the title of the documentary). Valentina became our Everywoman. After it was screened, we got letters and emails from all over the world – some with cheques in them. I ended up being Valentina’s banker for a while and eventually handed over the money to the Survivor’s Charity to administer for her. It put Valentina through nursing college. A very small consolation for the genocide, but a lovely and heartfelt gesture, that people all over the world sent that money. We also gave a more general donation to the village from other donors who wanted a less specific donation.

I went back with Fergal with Newsnight, in 1999, this time as his producer. Again, images remain from the visit. At some point on one of these trips we interviewed a journalist from Rwandan TV, who pulled me into an edit suite with the cameraman (the wonderful Ian Pritchard) and asked us to look at some footage. It was the stuff of nightmares. A woman, lying by a roadside, throat cut, filmed as she lay dying. There were other such images, but she has remained with me. The journalist told us that this was done to encourage the killing. The plan was to transmit the images – but the TV station was captured before it could be done.

So, in the year when we remember the 20th genocide, I hope my attempt to honour the dead – and I should stress that I am intending to give much of the sales to Rwandan charities – in the short story I have written about the aftermath of such horror, is useful, respectful.