Linda Polman

We Did Nothing

Why the truth doesn’t always come out when the UN goes in

A compelling account of the failure of UN operations in Somalia, Haiti and Rwanda

April 1995: Linda Polman is the only Western journalist present in the UN refugee camp Kibeho in Rwanda. She witnesses how eighty Zambian Blue Helmets are forced to watch helplessly as 150,000 Hutu refugees are driven together by Tutsi government troops. Many thousands are then murdered. After the bodies have been dragged away by the government soldiers, the Rwandan president visits the site and asks Captain Francis, commanding officer of the Zambian Blue Helmets, for his estimate of the number of victims. ‘The Zambian cautiously rounds it down to 4,000, a figure the president does not like at all. “I have the impression you are exaggerating,” he states coldly, preferring to stick to the 300 dead already reported by his soldiers.’

Linda Polman witnessed UN peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Haiti and Rwanda at first hand. In ’k Zag twee beren she describes the impotence of the UN Blue Helmets at preventing these missions from turning into disasters. The contrast between the noble objectives of the UN and the economic activity that flourishes in the wake of UN operations leads to harrowing but also hilarious situations.

With a sharp eye for political reality, Polman describes the ways the superpowers misuse the United Nations, and the harsh consequences this has both for the UN Blue Helmets and the local populations. Polman intersperses these accounts with short, dry newspaper reports about UN decision-making in the Security Council, public criticism of the UN in the West, and the General Secretary’s arduous lobbying all over the world in his efforts to recruit Blue Helmets. The book concludes with a short newspaper report from 2 May 1996: ‘The UN was today officially declared bankrupt. Only 55 of the 185 countries had paid all or part of their dues.’

Undiluted journalism (…) ‘classic’ stories: exciting, funny, evocative and always to-the-point (…) in strict accordance with the worthiest traditions of the trade.

de Volkskrant

A very good fast-paced book. Polman bridges the chasm between the UN Assembly Hall in New York and the Somali desert. She describes problems no politician has ever thought about.


Linda Polman’s book is a timely reminder of how the UN’s lofty, communal ideals so often founder on the rocks of national interest and big-power arrogance.

George Alagiah, BBC World News anchor and foreign correspondent.

In one of the most affecting pieces of writing about man’s inhumanity this side of Primo Levi, Polman described what it was like to be holed up in a school building in Kibeho, Rwanda, surrounded by desperate Hutus, some of whom were shot, others of whom w

Stuart Jeffries in The Guardian


Linda Polman

Linda Polman (b. 1960) is an investigative journalist based in Amsterdam. She has worked in various war zones and developing countries such as Somalia, Rwanda, Haïti, Sierra Leone, Congo and Afghanistan. She is the author of, among other titles, The Crisis Caravan, which was translated into nine…

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’k Zag twee beren. De achterkant van de VN-vredesmissies (2002). Non-fiction, 268 pages.
Copies sold: 2,000


Rozenberg Publishers

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