Fergal Keane


Johannesburg: I am woken by a powerful electric storm. Light flashes outside and the rain drums on the roof. I reach for my watch and see that it is three o’clock in the morning.

Sudden awakenings like this fill me with foreboding. I turn over and try to sleep again but the storm rages.

That line of F Scott Fitzgerald’s about the real dark night of the soul being at three o’clock in the morning, every morning, seems apposite. I eventually fall asleep and when I wake up it is morning and sunny and I am glad to be back in Africa.

I drive out to my old house in Morningside and find that it has been demolished and replaced by an ugly office block. Lonely for a time I can never recover, I stand outside and remember. Nights when former ANC guerrillas shared drinks with rightwing Afrikaners, and the moment when South Africa voted for the first time and how I didn’t sleep for three days, high on adrenaline and gratitude and hope.

Then a suspicious security guard from a private company – they are legion in the suburbs these days – comes up and asks what I am doing.

With the greatest of pleasure I tell him that it is none of his business. This is a free country.


One of the delights of being in the field is missing out on the dreadful tedium of office gossip. It is like office gossip in any organisation… utterly meaningless, a fit pastime for the dull, the ignorant and people like me.

But, happily, Television Centre is a long way from here. In South Africa there is important news to distract my attention. I read in the Johannesburg Star that a former stripper who goes by the improbable (I have seen her photograph) name of “Little Annie” is delighting a city jury with tales of raunchy goings on at two “gentlemen’s clubs”.

These are “The Ranch” and its imaginatively named sister “The Titty Twister”. On several occasions the judge has been forced to intervene and call the court to order. It does not appear to be going well for the police.

I am reminded of rural Irish courts and the red-faced embarrassment of policemen when they were being questioned by some of the younger lawyers. “And what did he call you exactly?” a solicitor might ask.

“It isn’t fit language for the court,” the Garda would reply.

“The court will be the judge of that.

Can you tell us what exactly he called you please?” The policeman, reddening visibly, replies: “He said I was a ‘big thick ignorant fucker from the bogs and I should fuck off home’.” Uproar in court.


To Rwanda where laughter died. I travel via Nairobi. In the old days I loathed this airport. It had a nasty, grasping feel.

Nowadays it is one of the most welcoming and pleasant in the world.

Democracy helped achieve that. On the flight into Rwanda I sit beside a young woman who is heading home after a long trip abroad. She drinks three glasses of wine in quick succession.

She tells me that when she travels abroad people ask her if she is a Hutu or Tutsi “I tell them I am Rwandese, Rwandese,” she says. I ask her where her family is and at this she turns away and stares out of the window. I feel like an idiot. In a country where a million died and millions more were displaced it is the dumbest question in the world. That night in Kigali at the Mille Collines Hotel I do not sleep. I can never sleep in this country. I cannot separate the past from the present and for me the past is cluttered with my memories of genocide.


In Kibungo, a small town in southeast Rwanda, I meet Darren and Lucy and Elizabeth and Fred and Laurent and Gabi and John and Jean Pierre.

They are the wonderful Panorama team of producers, cameraman, translators and drivers.

Darren is the “guvnor” and a cool operator. Like myself, he cut his teeth on local papers, in his case as a district reporter on the Eastern Daily Press.

Darren once smuggled a tape machine into the office of Lebanon’s most notorious warlord, Elie Hobeika. While I shook with nervousness, Darren smiled and stared straight into the cold eyes of the killer.

Fred “Gomez” Scott is a cameraman of genius. He captured the remarkable images of John Simpson’s convoy being attacked in a “friendly fire” incident during the war in Iraq. His nickname “Gomez” arises from a widespread, but probably unfounded belief, that one of his ancestors was a Mexican ukulele player.


All day is spent interviewing the survivors of genocide. If it is emotionally draining for us, I cannot imagine what it is like for them.

This Panorama project is the most important of my journalistic life. Ten years after I went to Rwanda during the genocide we are trying to piece together the truth of one of the most terrible massacres. The team have put in enormous effort over the past year.

Only Panorama would spend a year and such huge resources making a film about genocide in Africa.

Tonight I cook for everybody over an open fire in the grounds of Kibungo’s Hotel Umbrella. I cook every night. It is part therapy after listening to stories of genocide all day, and part insurance against food poisoning.

The following day I am sick. I blame the sauce supplied by Gomez.


I go to Congo for three days to film for the Ten O’Clock News. The Ten is a sharp programme these days and a great shop window for foreign stories.

The Congo is technically at peace but the hideous consequences of war scream at you constantly. Out in the bush we are greeted by survivors of untold horrors. Desperate to tell their stories, they believe that if the world knows it will do something to help.

I sadly doubt that it will.

Later I phone home. My seven-yearold son Daniel asks me to help with his maths. Down the crackly phone line I struggle with the mysteries of subtraction and the knowledge that it is high time I went home.

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