Twenty years after the genocide, the NYT has some compelling portraits of Rwandan Tutsi survivors and the Hutu individuals who perpetrated ‘the unthinkable’ on them and their families. The images by Pieter Hugo are direct and powerful. The story they tell is hopeful.

Image © Pieter Hugo
Image © Pieter Hugo


But requests for forgiveness come from other places too. Journalist Bartholomäus Grill writing in Spiegel Online reflects on his role in ‘A reporter revisits his ‘Shameful’ coverage of Rwanda’ and concludes:

“Where was God in those days of murder? “He was here, or else we wouldn’t have survived,” says Nyirabazungu. And then she asks, in return: “Where were you? Why didn’t you help us?”

These kinds of questions still shame me today. It wasn’t just the UN, the West and other African nations that failed; it was also journalists, like me. We ran after the big story in South Africa, paying little attention to Rwanda or merely spreading clichés about the country.

On April 15, when the massacre in Ntarama was in full swing, my quickly written remote analysis was published in Die Zeit. I told tales of the “gruesome tribal war” in the heart of Africa, where everyone was fighting against everyone else. Bellum omnium contra omnes — the Latin phrase always fits when you know little about what is actually happening.

At the end, I wrote that foreign intervention was probably pointless. That report contains the most unforgivable mistakes I have ever made in my professional life.”


  • After all the insanity and violence that was committed in Rwanda and publicized internationally, it would be great if this program was every bit as publicized (and taught) throughout the four corners of the world. This is but one of several very useful, pragmatic and therapeutic programs that have been developed to bring both perpetrator and survivor together on a variety of levels in schools, prisons and areas of conflict. These innovative programs, when properly implemented, can have resounding effects for all concerned and need to be expanded universally- and just as importantly, be modified into programs that offer preventative measures and guidelines, rather than just waiting to be implemented after the fact.

    • Yes Stan, I agree.

      Also, I think language is powerful and words can wield enormous force, and it strikes me having seen this article/photos there’s perhaps a case for re-purposing the word (The) Interahamwe (Kinyarwanda, meaning “those who stand/work/fight/attack together) which of course has such terrible historic resonance and is still used by those who fled to neighbouring states after they committed their foul acts.

      This one word re-invested with ‘the alliance of the present’ working towards a shared future, as represented by Hugo’s photos, could both serve as a reminder from whence it all came but also disinvest it of its horror and instead be used to portray this spirit of reconciliation.

      I’m also optimistic enough to think that it might also disempower those who would seek to use it as part of the currency of tyranny.

      I don’t really know for sure, but I know enough about language and the ways certain words can influence people to think it might be worth a try.

John MacPherson was born and lives in the Scottish Highlands. He trained as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, before completing an apprenticeship as a carpenter, and then qualified as a Social Worker in Disability Services. Along the way he has cooked on canal barges, trained as an Alpine Ski Leader & worked as an Instructor for Skiers with disabilities, been a canoe instructor, and tutor of night classes in carpentry, stained glass design and manufacture, and archery. He has travelled extensively on various continents, undertaking solo trips by bicycle, or motorcycle. He has had narrow escapes from an ambush by terrorists, been hit by lightning, caught in an erupting volcano, trapped in a mobile home by a tornado, kidnapped by a dog's hairdresser, rammed by a basking shark and was once bitten by a wild otter. He has combined all this with professional photography, which he has practised for over 35 years. He teaches photography and acts as a photography guide & tutor in the UK and abroad. His biggest challenge is keeping his 27 year old Land Rover 110 on the road. He loves telling and hearing stories.

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