What drove me to write the original story of Shooting Dogs with my fellow writer, Richard Alwyn? Perhaps the best place to start is six years ago. It’s October 2000 and I am in a bar in Washington DC, drinking with Tom, my old friend and BBC reporter from my first trip into Rwanda. We haven’t seen each other much recently and there is plenty of news to catch up on. But Tom seems distracted, bored with my inconsequential chat. Then he leans over and looks at me. And asks a question.
The question feels as though it comes out of the side of his mouth, as though he was trying to throw it away into the smoky din of the bar, half hoping I might not pick it up. But I do. I hear it loud and clearly. Suddenly the bar doesn’t feel so companionable anymore. The laughter around us sounds shrill, fake. Tom asks, “Do you think we did a good job out there?” I look at him. Ever since I came back from the genocide in Rwanda six years before I have enjoyed the praise of my colleagues at work, my tour of duty out there worn like a medal on my chest. Now this. The ice twirls around my glass. I’m struggling for an answer - looking at Tom, trying to read in his face a motive behind the question. I almost feel defensive - what the hell kind of question is that anyway. He takes a deep breath, “Because, you see, I don’t think we did. We left and we should have stayed.”
As we talked, it felt as though a door had been flung wide open, that so much of what happened back then, that I had unwittingly – and thus expertly – buried, was now piling back through that door demanding re-examination. I felt scared – at having to delve about in dark places, and there was anguish too at having to revisit those scenes again. But mainly there was relief. Relief to admit something that I hadn’t had the guts to admit before. Tom was right. We should have stayed.
What had happened back then was that after our first trip into Rwanda – where we had witnessed some difficult sights and had been badly threatened by the genocide government as well as getting an exclusive report out that showed viewers how the Tutsi were being systematically killed – we had managed to get out of the country and head back to Nairobi. We filed that last report and then had headed back to the UK. At the time it seemed the right thing to do. Six years later, we knew we should have stayed out there and carried on reporting. I did manage to get back to Rwanda – as the genocide was coming to an end but I realised, as I sat in the bar with Tom, how terribly guilty I felt. I needed to get back into this story and write something that attempted to do justice to the terrible grievance I felt about how we, in the West, had betrayed Rwanda.
-David Belton (Producer)