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Rwanda: Tales of Regret

Bartholomäus Grill reflects on the genocide inflicted on the Tutsis 20 years ago, and the various failings of the UN, Kofi Annan, the French government and his own failure to appreciate the reality in Rwanda.

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.

Twenty years on from now, others may feel similarly about contemporary non-interventionist postures.