Review: “Srebrenica – Genocide in the heart of Europe”

Tarik Samarah’s photography exhibition at Galerija in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia Herzegovina, powerfully depicts the aftermath of genocide in Srebrenica, where Serb militias systematically slaughtered 8,000 Muslim men and boys in July 1994.

Samarah’s black and white images provide a stirring metaphor for the stark boundary that divides life and death. Victim’s bones and possessions litter eerie forest landscapes; their bodies now rest in a mass grave in Potocari, a small village North of Srebrenica. The hollow eye sockets of a man’s earth-ridden skull stare back at me, as if to ask, “Why was this allowed to happen?”

These photographs force us to bare witness to Europe’s worst – and possibly most mysterious – massacre since World War II. By leading us away from the false sense of security provided by naivety and blind indifference, Samarah compels us to remember.

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Images show excerpts from the everyday existence of survivors: children playing; widows weeping; a refugee camp in Tuzla. The most poignant image, though, is of a single spade at the front of a pile of tools used to bury victims; like the lives of the Muslims of Srebrenica, it’s broken – snapped in two.

Elsewhere I can see that survivors, although traumatised, remain stoic and courageous, as they were during the three-year siege of Srebrenica. Buses are shown transporting widows to the commemoration ceremony in Potocari; despite having been ethnically cleansed from Srebrenica, Muslims return every year to mark the anniversary of the massacre. Another photograph depicts a mother at a peaceful protest, demanding more be done to find the remains of her missing son.

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There are images of body bags stacked in neat rows at the Tula Commemorative Centre, which is slowly and meticulously using DNA analysis to identify victim’s remains. Although painful, this process can provide survivors with the closure they need – allowing them to move forward with their lives, and never forget the fate of their menfolk.

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Srebrenica is a symbol – not only of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina – but also of the suffering of innocent people across the world. By denying victims of mass atrocity crimes the social and historical meanings of their demise, we kill them twice: once in life and once in death. And although we will never fully understand the horrors experienced in this small Bosnian town in July 1995, these pictures have brought me a little closer to the truth, and for that I am grateful.




Beautiful Burundi: A Country Less Travelled

F A U S T I N  T H E  B U S  D R I V E R  whoops with excitement as we swing past a truck careering along the opposite side of the road. It is dragging two men straddling bicycles up the steep hill leading away from Bujumbura towards the Rwandan border. “Those guys are so crazy!” Faustin shouts above the snarl of the engine. “Someone dies every week playing those games.” We continue the decent into Bujumbura, through the smoke and the sunset, past tribes of goats, broods of chickens, men burdened by enormous bags of charcoal, women draped in colourful kangas. And every time we reach a village, Faustin slams his hand to the horn, scattering the street loiterers to their safety.

After what seems like an eternity of hillocks and bends, our destination comes into view: the steaming sprawling mass of Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, nestled next to the vastness of Lake Tanganyika. The scene is enticing beyond belief: the lake appears almost heavenly in the gorgeous evening haze; and on its far shore, under the gaze of an immense African sky, mountains in the Democratic Republic of Congo stand proudly shrouded in mist. In the words of the 19th Century explorer Sir Richard Burton, “Truly it was a revel for soul and sight.”


By the time we entered the outskirts of Bujumbura, or “Buja”, as the locals affectionately call it, the ink of night had enveloped the city. Through the window I could just about make out the “Obama Shop”, its exterior painted with the president’s beaming face. I have since been told that here you may purchase everything from an Obama pencil case, to an Obama mobile phone, to an Obama T-shirt.

Unlike other capitals in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, Bujumbura has seen very little development since the 1980s. Recurrent episodes of civil war and flooding have kept the city locked in a time warp. In contrast to the ex-Belgian Congo (DRC), where the old colonial edifices have all but vanished, Bujumbura’s spacious boulevards and grandiose art-deco buildings remain largely intact. For this reason, Burundi’s capital remains a place of unique appeal to historians of architecture. (The city is also the most Francophone in the region – so be warned, urbanites take their siestas with upmost seriousness.)

We pulled into our final stop, a driveway sandwiched between a selection of sassy hair salons and clattering mechanics yards. Despite it being a Thursday, the streets were filled with people enjoying the night air: sipping beers, smoking, flirting, joshing and laughing. Burundi’s capital is well-renowned in Central Africa for its free-wheelin’ booze infested late night party scene, and after a bone-shaking seven hour bus ride, I was more than ready for a beer…

The following morning, nursing a paint stripping hangover, I organised an outing with the only tour operator listed in my guidebook: Augustine Tours ( My driver, Pierre, suggested that we start the day by visiting the spot where Dr David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley famously first met. (I have since discovered the actual spot is in Ujiji, Tanzania; the Burundian encounter took place fifteen days later.) Grey and large, the cumbersome boulder was fairly unexceptional. Nevertheless, the journey to the rock, through one of Bujumbura’s many slum districts, was fascinating.

Whilst dodging motorbikes and unruly pedestrians, Pierre pointed out the demarcation lines that separated Hutu and Tutsi during the civil war. “If I went into that neighbourhood, just ten years ago, as a Tutsi, I would not have come back alive,” he explained in the laid back manner typical of Burundians.

Contrary to popular belief, the first genocide in Central Africa took place in Burundi in 1972, when a Tutsi-led military dictatorship oversaw the massacre of between 100,000 and 300,000 Hutu intellectuals. Nearly twenty years later, Melchior Ndadaye was democratically elected as the country’s first Hutu president. Alas, his reign would also be the nation’s briefest: assassinated by Tutsi supremacists on October 21st 1993, he lasted just four months in office. The Hutu population immediately began retaliatory attacks against Tutsi civilians. The predominantly Tutsi army responded with characteristic brutality, killing many thousands of Hutu in the process. An ethnically charged civil war ensued in which 300,000 Burundians – Hutu, Tutsi and Twa – would eventually lose their lives.

At the peak of la crise (the crisis), Bujumbura became ethnically cleansed. Roadblocks manned by intoxicated militia groups forced members of different ethnic groups into separate neighbourhoods. Venturing from one district to another was tantamount to suicide. People were regularly dragged off busses, asked to show their identity cards, and then, if they were from the “wrong” ethnic group, beaten, raped, shot, stabbed or necklaced with a burning tire on the side of the road.

Pierre and other Burundians with whom I spoke stressed that all of this was now a matter of history: “Today we are moving forward. Hutu, Tutsi, it doesn’t matter. We all live together peacefully. Tomorrow we go to rural Burundi. You will see what I mean then.”

The Hinterland

By the time we set off, the steep stretch of road that curves out of Bujumbura towards the Southern hinterland was already vibrating with the rhythms of life: old gentlemen busy on outdoor sewing machines; women hoeing the fields, babies wrapped tightly to their backs; children giggling their way to school; kilns fired up, making bricks. Although the poverty is much greater than in neighbouring Rwanda, rural Burundi maintains a sense of hustle, bustle and joie de vivre that I have often struggled to locate in its better known twin.

Our first stop was the village of Gasumo, approximately 115km from Bujumbura; a place Burundians claim to host the southernmost source of the Nile. The spring – cool and delicious – is marked by a small brick structure adorned with blue ceramic tiles.

There is a pyramid about fifty meters above the source. Built in 1938 by the German explorer Burkhart Waldecker, it symbolises the significance of this long sought after discovery. From this point you can survey the swathes of gloriously green banana plantations that furnish the planes of Batutsi and Muhweza.

Several collines (hills) later, we reached our second stop: a stunning set of waterfalls in southernmost Burundi, known as the Chutes de la Karera. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has only recently opened up for tourism – the national park was previously under travel restrictions due to the precarious security situation in Southern Burundi. As a consequence, the area is wonderfully unspoilt.

As we drove along the bosky track that leads to the falls, a herd of long horned Tutsi cattle sauntered out into the road. Pierre hit the brakes, narrowly avoiding the tail end of a particularly muscular bull. The Burundian peoples have a long history of cattle herding and it is not uncommon to find oneself queuing behind droves of the beasts whilst navigating Burundi’s interior.

The falls, comprised of six branches divided over three landings, are undoubtedly one of Burundi’s most spectacular natural features. The water cascading down their rocky slopes eventually reaches the Malagarazi River, which then snakes all the way to the Tanzanian side of Lake Tanganyika. After a long day bouncing around the front of the suspension-less vehicle, I couldn’t resist positioning myself under the largest waterfall, allowing the shimmering stream of water to soak refreshingly through my clothes.

Although the Burundian hinterland is generally safe during the daylight hours, the roads are still prone to banditry at night. In addition, access to and from Bujumbura is strictly controlled after sunset. It was therefore important that we got back before nightfall. There was, however, just one more stop I simply could not afford to miss.

The quiet village of Kibimba was the scene of one of the most notorious massacres to occur during the recent civil war. Located just 15km down the road from Burundi’s second largest city, Gitega, it is not hard to find. On the 21st October 1993, following the assassination of Hutu president Melchior Ndadaye, seventy five Tutsi children were taken from Kibimba secondary school and herded into a nearby petrol station. They were then doused in gasoline and burned to death. The school’s principal was subsequently found guilty of organising the killings and executed. Just days after the massacre, upon seeing the infants’ charred cadavers, a group of Tutsi soldiers killed an unknown number of Hutu civilians in retaliation. The blackened remains of the filling station now stand as Burundi’s only genocide memorial.

When we arrived at the monument, Pierre could not bring himself to leave the car: being a Tutsi, his memories of the Kibimba massacre were still too fresh to handle. Although the memorial is not old, inaugurated by President Buyoya in 1998, its walls have turned a sickly shade of white after years of neglect. Above a circular monument that contains the students’ bodies, a legend reads “Plus Jamais Ca!”(Never Again!). Flowers, sorrowful and wilted, adorn a stone slab in the centre. The gas station itself is eerie as hell. I can still summon the sense of trepidation that consumed me as I entered its dilapidated walls. As we departed, I asked Pierre how he thinks the people of Kibimba manage to live together peacefully today. He replied simply: “Because they have no alternative.”

Land of Permanent Contradictions

That evening Pierre invited me out to watch the world cup at L’Archipel, one of Bujumbura’s legendary cabaret (open air) bars. It was a special day for Francophone Africa: the best French speaking team on the continent, Côte d’ivoire, were playing Columbia. The place was packed, full of happy punters. I ordered a round of the Bujumbura staple: Primus beers, fish brochettes and French fries. We found a seat somewhere near the back of the venue. Within five minutes several of Pierre’s friends came to join us. Within half an hour we were all drunk – slurring, shouting and swearing as Columbia brought Africa’s best hope one step closer to being knocked out of the world’s biggest football tournament.

As I sat there – tired, inebriated and happy – I began to reflect on the time I had spent in Burundi. Over the past two days, I had seen the rock were Dr Livingstone met Henry Stanley (for the second time), the once ethnically divided slum districts of Bujumbura, the southernmost source of the Africa’s longest river, the glorious Chutes de la Karera and the site of one of Africa’s most appalling massacres. Burundi, I realised, is a land of permanent contradictions; a place characterised by both light and shade; a destination that serves wonder and woe in equal measure. In a single day you can be simultaneously overwhelmed by beauty and overcome by sadness; only to find yourself laughing hysterically before you go to sleep. And, although there are times when one feels like a stranger in a strange land (a fact somewhat magnified by the fact that I do not speak French), this small heart of Africa remains one of the most charming, colourful and intriguing countries I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.

Fergus Simpson

Guildford, 22nd September 2014

(A version of this article has been published at :

Seven Surprising Things from Ernst and Young’s 2014 Africa Attractiveness Survey

Earnst and Young’s (EY) annual Attractiveness Survey examines the appeal of Africa as an investment destination by analysing the reality and perception of foreign direct investment (FDI) across the continent. Many of the report’s findings are as one would have expected, such as the fact that FDI is mostly channelled to urban hubs. Others, however, are something of a revelation. Here are seven of the reports most surprising conclusions:

1) Although the total value and share of FDI has increased in Africa, the number of FDI projects and jobs has decreased.

In 2013, the quantity of FDI projects in Africa and the total number of jobs created by FDI dropped by 3.1% and 9.1% respectively. Conversely, capital investment and Africa’s share of global FDI increased by a healthy 12.9% and 5.7% respectively. Investors are essentially targeting fewer but larger projects.

2) FDI in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has continued to increase, whilst flows to North Africa remain stunted.

The difference between FDI trends in North Africa and SSA is becoming more and more significant. In 2013, FDI projects in North Africa declined by a hefty 28.7%, which, according to EY, can be explained by the political turmoil North of the Sahara since the Arab Spring. SSA, in contrast, enjoyed a 4.7% increase in FDI projects in 2013, thus reversing the decline of 2012. In addition, SSA’s proportion of African FDI exceeded 80% for the first time in 2013.

3) New FDI hotspots are emerging.

Although South Africa has maintained its place as the number one FDI destination in Africa, new hotspots are emerging; the most prominent examples being Ghana and Kenya, which have both achieved compound average growth rates of more than 40% since 2007. The number of FDI projects in Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda has increased by 20% over the same period. Even from a low starting point, the growth rates in these countries have been extraordinary, indicating business opportunities will continue to improve in the future.

4) Intra-African investment momentum builds.

The proportion of intra-regional investment in Africa is steadily growing. In 2013, the share of FDI projects funded by other African countries reached an all time high of 28.8%. In contrast, in 2003, intra-regional investment comprised just 4.4% of FDI projects. In 2013, only Western Europe had a higher share of FDI projects in Africa. Contrary to popular belief, China’s share of FDI in Africa remains relatively low, with just 3.1% of FDI projects between 2012 and 2013. The share of FDI projects coming from the United Kingdom, over the same period, stands at 13.3%, making it the largest single source of FDI for Africa.

5) There has been shift away from extractive sectors towards consumer-facing industries.

As service and consumer related industries have increased in relative importance, the extractive sectors have become less prominent in Africa. The proportion of extractive industries in FDI projects reached a nadir in 2013, with mining and metals accounting for just 2.4% of projects, and coal, oil and natural gas accounting for just 3.5% of projects. Consumer-facing sectors – technology, media and telecommunications, retail and consumer products, and financial services – on the other hand, accounted for 47.7% of projects between 2007 and 2013, with financial services receiving the highest share at 17.5%.

6) Remarkable improvements in Africa’s perceived attractiveness as an investment destination.

When EY’s first attractiveness survey was carried out in 2011, Africa ranked 8 out of 10 world regions – only Central America and the ex-Soviet States were less appealing to investors. In 2013, however, Africa moved into joint second position, alongside Asia. In addition, almost three out of four respondents believed that Africa would become a more appealing investment option over the next three years. This outstanding improvement in such a short space of time demonstrates the extent to which investor’s perceptions of Africa are beginning to change.

7) The perception gap remains wide

There exists a stark perception gap between the opinions of those people already doing business in Africa and those who have yet to do so. Investors currently working on the continent are more positive than ever about its potential, identifying Africa as the most attractive investment destination in the world today. Those who have yet to do business in Africa are considerably less eager, ranking the region amongst the world’s least attractive investment destinations. As EY acknowledge: “The gap could hardly be wider.” They argue that this perception gap keeps African FDI flows down and helps to explain why the improvement in overall investment perceptions has been accompanied by only a modest increase in real FDI value.

Fergus Simpson

Guildford, August 25th 2014

A version of this article was published in Gateway for Africa (

Rwanda’s Artistic Renaissance

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I am sitting in the highly acclaimed Heaven Restaurant, Kiyovu district, Kigali. Night has fallen. Behind me lights sparkle across gentle hills and undulating canyons. In front of me a Rwandan jazz band is playing – urbane, tight and soulful. The food is delicious – an international menu prepared with traditional Rwandan ingredients. Tonight, however, I am not here to enjoy the delights of live music and fine dining: I have come to witness the opening of Rwanda’s first ever art gallery.

The gallery is located at the front of the restaurant. Its walls painted with colourful rectangles: you cannot miss it. According to Innocent Nkurunziza, cofounder of the gallery and Inema Arts Centre, “Today marks an incredible milestone not only for Inema, but for our country. The Inema Gallery at Heaven Restaurant will be Rwanda’s first gallery exclusively devoted to the sale of art.” – big news for a country that just twenty years ago experienced the most efficient episode of genocidal massacre the world has ever seen.

Since the 1994 apocalypse Rwanda has enjoyed a higher level of economic growth and development than just about any of its neighbours. The roads are now smooth, buildings are being constructed, business is thriving, the land is cultivated and (slowly but surely) people are lifting themselves out of poverty. And, even more surprisingly, the country has started to undergo something of an artistic renaissance.

Historically Rwanda has not been a country known for its artistic flamboyance: the main tourist attractions being gorilla tracking in the Volcanoes National Park and Kigali Genocide Memorial. In 2006, however, in an attempt to boost the country’s waning tourist industry, the Government of Rwanda decided to open a contemporary art museum in the king’s former palace in Nyanza, about 35km South West of Kigali, stimulating a flourish of creative activity across the country.

Kigali’s first art studio “Ivuka Arts” was established in Kacyiru district in 2007. There are now four major art studios in the capital city alone. A distinctive “Rwandese style” – a fusion of contemporary Western techniques and traditional Rwandan images – has also begun to emerge, the fruits of which resemble Central African versions of Picasso and Matisse. Nor do Rwanda’s artists go without critical acclaim: their works have been displayed in exhibitions across the world – from Boston, to London, to Johannesburg, to Kampala.

As you walk through Inema Gallery at Heaven Restaurant you are hit by a barrage of colours from every direction – deep reds, acid greens, banana yellows, an assortment of blues. I cannot help but be impressed by the audacity of the artworks on display here. Kalungi Godrey’s joyful depictions of Kigali’s bustling street life are surely the most exciting pieces on offer (Godfrey’s dramatic interpretation of Nyabugogo bus stop is a person favourite). The more modern art collector may be drawn to Innocent Nkurunziza’s “Source of Energy” – a psychedelic mass of colours, swirling towards a black whole at the centre.

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On the other side of town in the affluent suburb of Nyarutarama is Yego Arts Studio. Founded by Tony Cyizanye in 2012, it is home to twelve artists. The gates at the entrance are decorated with an enticing mixture of yellows and reds, alongside two black elephants and four large birds. Tony’s three most recent works – “Remember”, “Unite” and “Renew” – pay an affecting tribute to the people who died in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Antonio Nshimiyimana, another artist working at Yego, specialises in abstract portraits, capturing both the beauty and the mystique of Rwandese culture with an astonishing level of technical skill and creative flair.

Although Kigali’s art studios are profit-making businesses, they also operate as social enterprises, nurturing local talent and giving back to communities as much as they receive. The main four art studios in Kigali, for example, employ almost fifty artists between them: prior to finding employment at the studios, many of these artists were without jobs, living on the streets.

Inema and Ivuka Art studios run weekly workshops where children from a variety of social and economic backgrounds can come to hone their creative skills, and enjoy themselves in a safe and secure environment. The best of the children’s artwork is then sold to tourists and the revenue generated put aside for school fees. Traditional Rwandan dance troops also practice at the studios three times a week. Yego Arts Studio provides a space for women’s cooperatives to sell their homemade trinkets and crafts, thus providing them with an additional source of income.

The therapeutic potential of art cannot be dismissed in the context of Rwanda. Jean Bosco Bakunzi, founder of Uburanga Arts Studio, believes that, “art has the power to heal people, and the world, physically, mentally and emotionally.” And, being a survivor of the 1994 genocide, it is likely that Jean Bosco understands this better than most people.

Directly after the 1994 genocide, economic development and social security were an absolute priority in Rwanda; it is only now after a period of peace and relative prosperity that people are beginning to pursue activities non-essential to their survival, such as art, poetry, music and dance. It is only now, essentially, that the people of Rwanda are starting to regain the sense of culture and civilisation that they so tragically lost twenty years ago.

Fergus Simpson

Guildford, July 3rd 2014

A version of this article was published in Independent Magazine (




Say NO to Stop the War

Y E S T E R D A Y  M O R N I N G  I received an invitation to join the Stop the War Coalition(STWC) in a demonstration to demand no military action be taken in response to the chemical attacks carried out in Syria by the Assad regime last week. If you hadn’t heard, according to Medecins Sans Frontiers, these attacks have claimed the lives of over 350 people and have left at least 3600 wounded in Syria’s Capital, Damascus. Although these acts of aggression seem to have provoked a greater possibility of Western intervention than previous atrocities, last weeks attacks are just one example of a plethora of egregious acts of violence carried out by the Baathist dictatorship over the last two and a half years.

So far Britain and the United States has failed to take any meaningful action against Bashar al-Assad and his criminal gang for the carnage they have enacted against the Syrian people. However, since the chemical slaughter last week, William Hauge and David Cameron both seem to be taking the idea of military intervention significantly more seriously. My intention in writing this short essay is to persuade those of you who are undecided as to whether you will attend the STWC’s demonstration that, in the case of Syria, military intervention is—and has been for a long while —a worthwhile cause.

At present, a targeted aerial raid on specific buildings of critical military importance to the Assad regime seems the most likely form of intervention; talk of a boots-on-the-ground intervention in similar fashion to the 2003 invasion of Iraq remains distinctly subdued. In agreement with what seems to be the majority of The House of Commons, I believe that the former of these options is morally justifiable while the later would most likely prove to be too bold a move.

There is now a whole body of evidence strongly suggesting that, prior to the most recent incident in Damascus, the regime of Bashar al-Assad has launched at least 14 chemical attacks. Contrary to what the Russians, Iranians and the Chinese would have you believe, there is no evidence that these attacks were carried out by Syrian rebel forces. I quote the British Joint Intelligence Committee:

It is not possible for the opposition to have carried out a CW attack on this scale. The regime has used CW on a smaller scale on at least 14 occasions in the past. There is some intelligence to suggest regime culpability in this attack. These factors make it highly likely that the Syrian regime was responsible.

Damning evidence, I know. Although surely it does not take a statement from the British Joint Intelligence Committee to determine that an underfunded and divided rebel force doesn’t have the capacity to carry out a massive chemical attack on the scale of last Wednesday’s? Well, not if you place yourself in the same camp as those who seem to think the whole of the Syrian revolution is a master plan thought up by US and Israeli neo-cons to secure global domination. And, trust me, I have seen numerous comments of this nature across the internet. One “commentator” went as far as to suggest that president Assad is a “rational actor” and would not have been so “irrational” as to use chemical weapons in the first place.

To discard such intellectual rubbish into the dustbin of history I urge you to consider the dark and sadistic record of the Assad regime since the Syrian Revolution began in 2011. At its genesis the revolution was characterised by peaceful protest in favour of democracy and a genuine desire to obtain a better life for all Syrians. Based on this “threat”, the Baathist regime of Mr Assad decided the appropriate response was to gun down scores of innocent civilians. Since then, according to Human Rights Watch, SCUD missiles have been used indiscriminately by the regime to target civilian areas. Importantly, the areas targeted were not in the vicinity of any military installations controlled by the rebel forces. Human rights watch investigated nine such attacks between February and July killing at least 215 people, including over 100 children, and concluded that the attacks constituted a war crime. To suggest that the man is incapable or unwilling to use chemical weapons against the people of Syria is either mendacious or to ignore the mountains of evidence that suggest otherwise.

There are those who will argue the case against Western military intervention whatsoever, usually in an attempt to avoid an imperialistic foreign policy. I assume that most of the STWC would willingly place themselves in this camp. However, history has proven that those who tread the ideological path of the anti-war movement do not always reach the moral high ground. George Orwell was particularly instructive on this point in his 1945 essay “Notes on Nationalism”:

The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to taking life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there is a minority of intellectual pacifists, whose real though unacknowledged motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration for totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writing of the younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States.

On Saturday, when I see anti-war protesters brandishing the flag of Bashar al-Assad and loudly denouncing Western military intervention in Syria, I cannot help but think that the majority of the STWC will resemble the younger intellectual pacifists Orwell mentions. These supposed “human rights activists” are most likely beyond persuasion. To those pacifists who object to taking life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point, I urge you to consider the following: What happened in Rwanda in 1994 in the absence of military intervention? Nearly one million Tutsi’s were slaughtered by Hutu extremists in the most horrific incident of genocide since the holocaust. What happened when the international community averted its gaze from Darfur in 2003? Up to 400,000 inhabitants of the Western Sudanese state were massacred and starved to death by the Government of Sudan and notorious Arab militia known as the Janjaweed. In Bosnia it took the planned extirpation of 5000 adult males in the small town of Srebrenica by Serbian ethnic cleansers to prompt international military action. At the time of the genocide in Srebrenica over 200,000 Bosnians had already died as a result of the expansionist and racist policies of Slobodan Milosevic. Fortunately NATO missiles put an end to Milosevic’s killing spree in 1999.

When the evidence of massacres in Syria is so strong, at least as strong as in the incidence of mass murder I mention above, I ask you to ask yourselves: is pacifism still a reasonable option? At what point is it time to say that enough is enough in Syria? I hope, dear reader, you will agree with me when I say that that time is now. The use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime cannot and should not go unpunished. Britain must send a message to Assad and the rest of the world that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated. This message will inevitably involve some form of military intervention. Obviously a UN mandate for intervention would be desirable; however, if this is not obtained, there is little alternative but for the UK, USA and France to go in alone.


Fergus Simpson

Guildford, August 8th, 2013

Reinventing Growth

O U T  O F  T H E  S W A M P of destruction left by World War II came the concept of gross domestic product, or GDP. Its pursuit has defined global economic strategy for over sixty years. But what has this achieved?

Literally millions of people have been freed from the shackles of poverty, with enormous benefits for humanity: healthcare has improved, literacy rates have increased and infant mortality has plummeted. We have even managed – on several occasions – to send men and women to the moon! There are, however, a huge number of people dissatisfied with the reigning model of progress. How could this be?

Inequality is greater today than at any point in human history. A study by the United Nations found that the richest 1% of people own more wealth than the poorest 95% combined. In addition, the huge material throughput required to maintain growth-based economies is starting to have consequences of its own: natural resources are becoming scarce and environmental sinks overloaded (indeed, anthropogenic climate change may well prove to be the greatest challenge our species ever face).

We are essentially confronted with a paradox: on the one hand we must stimulate growth in order to reduce poverty and maintain economic stability, whilst on the other hand we must constrain growth in order to avoid crossing dangerous ecological limits. Could this be the ultimate Catch-22? Or, is it possible, as I believe, to reinvent growth in a way that is both environmentally sustainable and socially equitable?

To reinvent growth in order for it to respect the principle of environmental sustainability, we would need to reduce the ecological burden of growth to within acceptable limits. This could be achieved through two measures: firstly, more environmentally sustainable technologies, such as low (or even zero) carbon energy sources, should be adopted on a global scale; secondly, natural resources, such as fisheries and forests, must be harvested in a way that maintains long-term ecosystem viability.

To reinvent growth in order for it to be socially equitable, the wealth gap between rich and poor countries must be dramatically reduced. This does not necessarily mean the incomes of people living in Europe or North America must decline; it only requires the incomes of those people living in Sub-Saharan Africa and South-America to increase at a faster rate. Large-scale investments in agriculture, healthcare, education, infrastructure and sustainable technologies across the developing world (alongside a more equitable system of global trade) are essential if this is to be achieved.

Since World War II, the pursuit of GDP growth has achieved huge gains in human welfare: we must now reinvent the way in which we grow to tackle the most pressing economic, environmental and social issues of the 21st Century. Although significant, the investments required to achieve this ambitious goal are manageable. The real challenge lies in achieving the necessary degree of cooperation between governments, businesses, civil society and academics to bring about change. This would not be the first time that such large-scale collaboration has been required: it was only sixty years ago, remember, that Europe was on to the brink of total destruction; today, reassuringly, the continent is home to the most peaceful, democratic and prosperous societies on earth.

Fergus Simpson

 Guildford, July 15th 2014

House of the Dead

J U S T  A S  E V E R Y  A M E R I C A N  knows where they were the day two aeroplanes demolished the twin towers, every Rwandan knows where they were the day their President’s personal Falcon 60 aircraft was shot down over Kigali. The plane crashed in Habyarimana’s own back yard on the evening of April 6th 1994, claiming the lives of Juvénal Habyarimana, the President of Rwanda, and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the President of Burundi, along with ten other unlucky passengers. Their deaths acted as a catalyst, instigating a one hundred day killing-spree that would claim the lives of over 800,000 members of Rwanda’s Tutsi and moderate Hutu communities. By the end of July 1994 Rwanda was an ashen moonscape. The clock had been unwound to Year Zero.

Rwandans have been commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the 1994 genocide since April 7th 2014. I have been in the country over this period to show my support for the Rwandan people and to try and better understand the history of this small but fascinating country. As the Kwibuka (meaning “remember” in Kinyarwanda) ceremonies approach an end, I decide to take a trip to the place it all began: Habyarimana’s mansion.

Located in Kanombe, on the Eastern edge of Kigali, the building is now one of Rwanda’s many national museums. Commissioned to be built in 1976, it was habitable just four years later. Externally the house is relatively unremarkable: large with white walls and a brown tiled roof. The mansion’s interior, however, provides an extraordinary insight into the mind of Rwanda’s former dictator.


As you enter, the rotund, jowly face of Habyarimana beams down contentedly from a photograph at the end of a hallway. Another wall is adorned with a rather odd-looking picture of a deer, perched at the centre of a range of mountains. Faustin, my smartly dressed tour guide, informs me that this was a gift from Kim Il Sung, the deceased and “Eternal President” of North Korea.

During Habyarimana’s rule Rwanda was governed as a totalitarian order. In a similar fashion to the Kim dynasty of North Korea, people were enjoined to take part in state-sponsored saturnalia, demonstrating their unending loyalty to the president and his regime. Habyarimana won three consecutive elections in 1978, 1983 and 1988, with 98.99%, 99.97% and 99.98% of the votes respectively. All citizens, even children and the elderly, were obliged to be a member of the president’s party – the Mouvement Révolutionnaire National Pour le Développement (MRND). All other political parties were outlawed until 1990, when a watered-down form of multi-party democracy was allowed to emerge.

A large open-plan dining and living area dominates the ground floor. At one end sits a large wooden table where the Habyarimanas would entertain guests at lavish banquets. One can only guess as to who sat at this table. Popes? Presidents? Ambassadors? Genocidal masterminds? The opposite end of the room was generally used as a lounge; however, during the Kwibuka 20 commemorations it has been home to a photography exhibition. The visual display guides visitors through an affecting tour of contemporary Rwandan history – from the period immediately before the genocide onwards.

The kitchen – although now showing signs of neglect and disrepair – would have been state of the art in the 1980s. With an abundance of storage compartments, two fridges and several ovens, it must have catered for some sizeable parties. In the basement there is a small dance floor and a DJ booth. Here, I am told, after-dinner celebrations would continue well into the early hours.

A wooden staircase – spiralling and grandiose – leads up to the first floor. Each stair is equipped with a different alarm, enabling the president to determine the precise step an intruder had reached. The first floor is a maze of interrogation rooms, secret annexes and compartments. Behind one door I find the president’s bedroom. It has been stripped bare as a result of looting. A small glass table made out of elephant’s feet is the only item of any value that remains.

In another room a gun rack is hidden behind a wooden panel to the side of a television cabinet. To the left hand side of the cabinet a secret staircase leads up to the second floor, at the top of which are several doors. Behind one of the doors is a chapel where Pope John Paul II once gave a private mass – evidence of the Vatican’s cosy relationship with the regime of Hutu-power. Another door leads to a room where Habyarimana received advice from his own personal witch doctor.

At the back of the building is a small seating area in a conservatory. Faustin informs me that this room was where le clan de Madame or Akazu (which translates to “little house” in Kinyarwanda) would meet to discuss politics and strategy. The Akazu were a group of Hutu fundamentalists instrumental in planning 1994’s anti-Tutsi pogroms. The group had close connections with President Habyarimana’s fanatical wife, Madame Agathe, and included Théoneste Bagosora, the “architect” of the Rwandan genocide now in jail in Bamako, Mali for crimes against humanity. To this day, despite calls for her arrest, Agathe continues to live a free and comfortable life in the South of France.

Outside the house there is a clay tennis court, an empty swimming pool, an outdoor bar and a disused fish tank. Faustin walks me across the garden towards what looks like a second swimming pool. “This was where our president kept his favourite pet … a two hundred and fifty Kilogram python given as a gift by President Mobutu of Zaire.” The snake’s function was not purely aesthetic: it was also used to intimidate political opponents. The serpent is rumoured to have escaped the night that Habyarimana died. And, according to Faustin, it has not been seen since…


Finally, twenty years after the air crash, I find myself staring at the decaying wreckage of Habyarimana’s Falcon 60 aircraft. It is sprawled in a field behind the house where the dictator once lived. The engine is mangled. The fuselage is contorted. A wing remains balanced on an edge. I find it difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the events that followed the downing of this aircraft. How were so many people persuaded to kill their friends and neighbours? Why did the international community not act to protect civilians? How do the people of Rwanda live together peacefully today?

As I ponder these thoughts, I hear the distinctive rumble of a large aircraft overhead. I gaze upwards. An enormous American military jet has just taken off from Kigali airport and is heading north. I ask Faustin if he knows its destination? “That one is headed for the Central African Republic (CAR)”, he responds proudly. “The Americans are transporting peacekeepers from Rwanda to CAR to prevent another genocide from happening over there.”

 Fergus Simpson

Kigali, June 13th 2014

A version of this article was published in The New Times: (