Thursday, April 8, 2010

Romeo Dallaire: Shake Hands With The Devil. The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda

Cover of Romeo Dallaire's Memoir

(Da Capo Press,, Praise and Reviews Section)

-Cover for Romeo Dallaire's Book

Genocide is an atrocity that redefines human capability. It can make us experience emotions that would not exist under any other circumstances. Further, it can even strip everyone involved, victims and perpetrators alike, of their humanity. “I sometimes let myself think about the evil that men wrought-how the Hutu extremists, the young men of the Interahamwe, even ordinary mothers with babies on their backs, had become so drunk with the sight and smell of blood and hysteria that they could murder their neighbours. What did they think as they were fleeing and stepping through blood-soaked killing fields and over corpses rotting into heaps of rags and bone? I rejected the picture of the genocidaires as ordinary human beings who had performed evil acts. To my mind, their crimes had made them inhuman, turned them into machines. And what of the witnesses? Had the scenes we’d waded through frayed our humanity, turned us into numbed-out machines too? Where did
we find our motivation to keep going on?” (Dallaire 457).

Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire

(Peter Raymont, Shake Hands With The Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire)

-Intro to Dallaire's Movie

The above memoirs are from the experiences of Romeo Dallaire, the United Nations commander in Rwanda during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Before his term in Rwanda, Dallaire had already achieved an image as one of the most decorated military leaders in Canadian history. He was the fastest promoted officer and had the highest troop morale levels out of all of the Canadian artillery brigades, and he was able to succeed despite the ethnic tensions of the sixties that strictly limited the capacity of French-Canadian citizens to rise through the ranks of any government-sponsored employment (Dallaire 39). However, the true test of Dallaire’s prowess as a leader was yet to come.

Dallaire at a Military Conference

(EVeritas,, Ex Cadets, Professors, and Staff in the News)

- Dallaire at military news conference

Dallaire initially responded to being offered the position of force commander in an UN peacekeeping mission to Rwanda with, “Rwanda, that’s somewhere in Africa, isn’t it?” (Dallaire 42). Almost fifteen years after his tour in Rwanda, Dallaire has become one of the most knowledgeable people alive when it comes to modern Rwandan affairs. He spent two years in the nation and headed the UN mission there, UNAMIR, operating during the course of the Rwandan genocide. After the genocide, over 800,000 people had been slaughtered and the mission had failed utterly. This catastrophe has stigmatized Dallaire since Rwanda fell into chaos. However, this public ethos of failure and incompetence, which has been spread by Western powers, has been misconceived because as his narrative in the book Shake Hands With The Devil establishes, Dallaire did everything he could to fulfill his obligations as a leader and as a humanitarian.

Ultimately, a UNPKO (United Nations Peacekeeping Operation) mandates a high level of leadership. Dallaire was thrown into a completely alien environment because he did not have the Canadian equipment he was used to and his troops were a motley bunch from a diverse group of nations such as Ghana, Belgium, and Bangladesh. UN peacekeeping troops generally have an unequal level of training and are ultimately loyal to commanders in their respective nations rather than the force commander of the UN mission. Moreover, troops can often only correspond in their native languages which creates a communications disaster when soldiers from different countries have to work in tandem. Therefore, only a leader of the highest caliber can overcome such logistical barriers.

Furthermore, a UNPKO requires humanitarianism. By the time UNAMIR had been set up, Rwanda had already been besieged by decades of brutal ethnic conflict and the human
rights violations occurring in the plagued African nation tore at the hearts of anyone who cared enough to pay attention. Romeo Dallaire couldn’t simply go into a mission designed to prevent human atrocity and “get the job done.” In order to truly bring peace to a desperate situation, Dallaire had to see and hear the plight of others: he had to push the cold, calculative military side of him into the background of his mind and act to save lives simply because it was the right thing to do. Peacekeeping requires a significant psychological investment that goes beyond the mission. If Dallaire had been just a leader who followed orders, many Rwandans would not be alive today because his UN mandate forbid him to intervene. However, Dallaire understood that humanitarianism is critical to true peace because it recognizes a common genealogical origin as humans. He recognized the inherent immorality of letting other humans suffer and pushed aside rational barriers like national interest and sovereign authority.

UN mass-grave excavation in Srebrenica

(Hasan Nuhanovic,, Under The UN Flag [Book Cover])

- UN symbolic image for Srebrenica

Nonetheless, being a good leader does entail being a humanitarian. In order to have high morale and a cohesive troop unit, one has to recognize the human aspects of the people under his/her command, and thus, being a leader is as much nurturing, as it is authoritative. In that, Dallaire managed to lead despite extreme circumstances. “Dallaire had the supreme bad luck to lead a mission to a land in which no Western country other than its former colonial master Belgium was interested. And to do it at a time when the United States and other Western governments wanted nothing to do with peacekeeping in Africa. It was also a moment when the UN was led by one of the most inept leaders in its history” (Bagnall 1). Despite these serious international restraints, Dallaire did save thousands of lives. He protected some 20,000 civilians in UN compounds who would’ve otherwise been fodder for the bloodthirsty Hutu-power gangs, the Interahamwe. He will admit to saving these lives only if directly asked, but soon returns to the regret that he did not do more (Allen 3).

What lives Dallaire did save, he credits to his troops in his memoir. “But I could not shake my fears of waking up in the morning to be told that everyone at the Mille Collines had been slaughtered during the night. I called Moigny, who had proven his worth several times already, fending off RGF soldiers, gendarmes and Interahamwe. The militias had only breached the building once, kicking down doors in search of Tutsis. But Moigny and his unarmed officers, supported by some very determined Tunisian soldiers, were able to persuade them to leave before any harm was done” (Dallaire 360). In this, we can see a tight cohesion and respect between Dallaire, his troops, and his sub-commanders.

One of the best catalysts for this cohesion is the knowledge that your commander is willing to put himself in the same danger as his troops. Dallaire did exactly that. On May 21st, 1994, during the peak of the genocide, radio RTLM, an extremist Hutu-power propaganda machine, openly exhorted its listeners to “Kill Dallaire” (Dallaire 380). Dallaire pronounced his true dedication to his troops in his reaction, immediately ordering his unarmed military observers in the field to stand down because it was clear that UN neutrality had been compromised. He understood that his troops’ association with him could be potentially dangerous for them and he acted in the interest of their security.

UN convoy at a roadblock

(Mvemba Phezo Dizolele,, Eye on Africa)

-UN convoy crossing a roadblock in Central Africa

Further, during the genocide, Dallaire could often be seen bashing his UN Landcruiser through roadblocks set up by murderous gangs. When he couldn’t make it through the tens of thousands of blockades that dotted the Maryland sized nation, he got out of his vehicle and walked the blood-soaked roads despite the omnipresence of sharpshooters and drunken hordes. Rather than issuing orders from behind a desk, Dallaire exposed himself to the same danger as his troops in order to maximize the mission’s limited effectiveness. Dallaire led to the best of his abilities and it’s a miracle he was able to save anyone given his operational restraints. The respect Dallaire gives his troops also allows us to glimpse the humanitarian side of him. Numerous times, Dallaire fell under fire and was almost killed and in that, he recognized that he is a human just like his soldiers. He treated his men, like the ones tasked with guarding the Hotel Des Mille Collins, with respect because he would expect the same of them.

However, the most striking evidence of Dallaire’s humanitarian character can be found in the way the genocide affected him long after it’s conclusion in June of 1994. “He has now done us the immeasurable service of setting out in print what price that burden exacted on his mind and his soul. In the years since Dallaire struggled desperately, first to head off, then to bear witness to the genocide in which 800,000 Rwandans were killed in 100 days, he has suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and battled suicidal depression” (Bagnall 1). If it was just about the mission, Dallaire would have just moved on, but he didn’t. Dallaire clearly cares about the people he couldn’t help and he rarely admits that he saved lives, only focusing on his failure to do more (Allen 3). He now speaks for the victims of Rwanda internationally. His addresses are filled with emotionally charged questions like, “Why didn't the world react to scenes where women were held as shields so nobody could shoot back while the militia shot into the crowd? Where... boys were drugged up and turned into child soldiers, slaughtering families?...Where girls and women were systematically raped before they were killed? Babies ripped out of their stomachs? ...Why didn't the world come?” (Allen 5). From these questions, it becomes painfully apparent that Dallaire legitimately cared about the Rwandans. When he acted to save lives, he acted out of a genuine emotional and humanitarian investment in his role as force commander.

Dallaire stands by the collected skulls of victims of a church massacre

(Andrew Chung,, 5/22/09)

- Dallaire stands next to one of Rwanda's many genocide memorials

However, a small minority of international figures cast doubt on Dallaire’s image of a leader who worked to his operational capacity in the face of insurmountable barriers. Seven days after the assassination of Rwanda’s president Habyarimana, the spark that ignited the genocide, ten of Belgium’s UN peacekeepers were killed. Although the Belgium peacekeepers were being targeted because of latent colonial hatred and the knowledge that the West tended to pull out of peacekeeping missions with a couple of casualties (This was about four months after the debacle in Somalia.), Dallaire has been targeted for blame. Reports went so far as to say that Dallaire actually witnessed the death of the peacekeepers and did nothing (Thompson 1).

Belgium specifically seems to target Dallaire, and not just for the death of its soldiers: “While many Rwandans have warm feelings for the 57-year-old general as a man who did the best he could in a terrible situation, others hold him responsible for the UN's failure to save the 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus slaughtered on the orders of the Hutu extremist government. He faced specific attacks from a Belgian academic who questioned why he did not disobey orders from UN headquarters and do more to protect civilians ‘Dallaire had broad authority to act. . . . Nobody would have blamed peacekeepers if they had opened fire to preserve lives’” (Nolen 1-2).

Clearly, Belgium’s attacks on Dallaire clouds his image as a leader and humanitarian because leaders minimize their casualties and humanitarians save as many lives as possible. Belgium makes indicts of Dallaire’s fulfillment of both mandates. These attacks have implications for his overall image because Dallaire spends a great deal of time claiming that he wishes he did more instead of combating these attacks. The truth is that the mission did fail, and when 800,000 people died, the world needed someone to blame. Dallaire was the easy target because of his personal guilt and his leadership role during the genocide. In his book, he demonstrates that he is perfectly willing to accept some of this blame. “As the commander of the UN forces on the ground, it was easy for the French to imply that I had failed. Add to the horrified reaction of the swarm of people involved with NGOs who appeared within hours of danger passing and who may have been unable to deal with the emotional trauma of what they saw without finding a scapegoat. I do not blame the NGO community, nor was their criticism entirely misplaced. We could have done more. But who are ‘we’ in this case? To ears made oversensitive by self-doubt, the whispers cut like hot knives” (Dallaire 492-493). In his book, Dallaire also draws attention to his specific failures, establishing that he was unable to persuade the world to care about Rwanda and that he had no experience in modern peacekeeping or international politics (Dallaire 515).

The remains of those killed in and around a church

(Chris Simpson,, Published 3/2/99)

-Rwandan church after a massacre

However, Dallaire raises a critical point, “Who are ‘we’ in this case?”. Yes, Dallaire failed to prevent the outbreak of the genocide. Yes, this failure led to the deaths of 800,000 civilians and a civil war. Dallaire’s public ethos as a failed UN force commander is not entirely reflective of his performance in the field because, although he did fail, responsibility for this failure does not lie entirely with him. His true character is brought to light in his memoir Shake Hands With The Devil. In the book, he describes his UN mandate which was effectively a laundry list of external constraints on his authority to act like the rule which said his soldiers could not fire unless fired upon, even if it meant letting the Interahamwe massacre civilians. One of the biggest criticisms of Dallaire asks why he didn’t disobey orders. This perspective asks a legitimate question, but at the time of the genocide the decision to violate orders, especially for a military man, was incredibly complicated. It is fairly easy to make the evaluation of whether orders should have been disobeyed after the fact, after 800,000 people died, but it is another thing to make that decision in the moment when the consequences are uncertain. Moreover, Dallaire actually did defy his orders because he was told to pull out of Rwanda entirely.

Another problem Dallaire faced was a notorious lack of resources. Taking antagonistic actions that would compromise UN neutrality would have gotten every UN operative in Rwanda killed, including the Belgians, because the UN denied Dallaire everything from ammunition and transportation to office paper and clean drinking water. UNAMIR was one of the worst equipped PKOs in history. They could barely defend themselves, let alone others. One of the great ironies of the mission is that many of the nations that currently criticize Dallaire did their share to undermine the mission. Belgium in particular pulled over a thousand troops out of Rwanda ten days into the genocide which left UNAMIR with 237 soldiers (Dallaire 492-501). Although the questions nations like Belgium, France, and the U.S. ask of Dallaire are important, they would be more credible if they were asked by nations that are not searching for a scapegoat.

(Security Sweet, Lt. Gen Romeo Dallaire, Youtube)

- Dallaire on the failure of the world in Rwanda

It is crucial to look at the aura Dallaire portrays of himself in his book rather than the image distributed by his criticizers because Dallaire’s memoir outlines a larger problematic international attitude. Countries are not willing to do what it takes to save lives in nations that have no foreign value and as long as this attitude persists, UN missions will continue to fail and UN force commanders will be put into Dallaire’s position. Dallaire outlines this attitude: “As to the value of the 800,000 lives in the balance books of Washington, we received a shocking call from an American staffer. He was engaged in some sort of planning exercise and wanted to know how many Rwandans had died, how many were refugees, and how many were internally displaced. He told me that his estimates indicated that it would take the deaths of 85,000 Rwandans to justify the risking of the life of one American soldier. It was macabre, to say the least” (Dallaire 499).

(Romeo Dallaire at EWB Cgy - Are all humans - Humans?, Google Videos)

- Dallaire on the notion of casualties

The international image of Dallaire’s failure is legitimate, but it remains unimportant because it is just finger pointing. Dallaire was not incompetent. He was just another victim of the world’s apathy towards Rwanda and he really did do the best he could with what little he was provided. It is unreasonable to expect that a military operation isn’t going to have casualties. A major part of humanitarianism is that you are willing to take risks to save other people and the death of the Belgian soldiers was unfortunate, but they did not die in vain. They died honorably in the service of humanity. Dallaire’s book, Shake Hands With The Devil, is dedicated to those soldiers and the Rwandans who died. He establishes that he is haunted by those losses every day and this makes it clear that Dallaire cared about his soldiers and the Rwandan population (Dallaire 3). He would not make that dedication or feel such a way if he was apathetic to their fate. If anything, this apparent emotional investment
represents insight into Dallaire’s humanitarian side and should be somewhat redemptive of Dallaire’s ethos.

Yes, Dallaire failed utterly. The question Dallaire would have us ask is not, if he failed, but why he failed. In a statement that truly portrays an appropriate image of Romeo Dallaire as a leader and humanitarian, he closes his book with the following: “Several times in this book I have asked the question, ‘Are we all human, or are some more human than others?’ Certainly we in the developed world act in a way that suggests we believe that our lives are worth more than the lives of other citizens of the planet. An American officer felt no shame as he informed me that the lives of 800,000 Rwandans were only worth risking the lives of ten American troops; the Belgians, after losing ten soldiers, insisted that the
lives of Rwandans were not worth risking another single Belgian soldier. The only conclusion I can reach is that we are in desperate need of a transfusion of humanity. If we believe that all humans are human, then how are we going to prove it? It can only be proven through our actions. Through the dollars we are prepared to expend to improve conditions in the Third World, through the time and energy we devote to solving devastating problems like AIDS, through the lives of our soldiers, which we are prepared to sacrifice for the sake of humanity. As soldiers we have been used to moving mountains to protect our own sovereignty or risks to our way of life. In the future we must be prepared to move beyond national self-interest to spend our resources and spill our blood for humanity. We have lived through centuries of enlightenment, reason, revolution, industrialization, and globalization. No matter how idealistic the aim sounds, this new century must become the Century of Humanity, when we as human beings rise above race, creed, colour, religion, and national self-defense and put the good of humanity above the good of our own tribe. For the sake of the children and our own future” (Dallaire 522).

In honor of the victims of the Rwandan Genocide, people Romeo Dallaire worked desperately to save, I present the only piece of footage every recorded of the genocide. For the full backstory behind this record of the killings go to:

(Nick Hughes, Rwanda's Forgotten: A Record of Genocide, The Toronto Star)

Works Cited

Allen, Terry. "General Romeo Dallaire - United Nations Canada Hero." Third World Traveler, Third World, United States Foreign Policy, Alternative Media, Travel. Amnesty International, Jan. 2002. Web. 03 Mar. 2010..

Bagnall, Janet. "Dallaire's Story Is a Heartbreaker: Dallaire Inhabited an Unspeakable World for Us, WitnessedHorrors beyond Imagination and Carried a Moral Burden That No One Person Should Ever Have to Shoulder." Lexis-Nexis. The Gazette, 14 Mar. 2003.Web. 3 Mar. 2010.

Chung, Andrew. Dallaire in Rwanda. Photograph. Kibuye. The Star. The Toronto Star, 22 May 2009. Web. 02Apr. 2010. .

Dizolele, Mvemba P. UN Convoy. 2006. Photograph. Kinshasa.Dizolele. 16 June 2006. Web. 02 Apr. 2010. .

Dallaire, Roméo. Shake Hands with the Devil: the Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. New York, NY: Carroll & Graf, 2005. Print.

Lt Gen Romeo Dallaire. Perf. Romeo Dallaire. Lt Gen Romeo Dallaire. Youtube, 07 Nov. 2007. Web. 02 Apr. 2010..

Nolen, Stephanie. "Angry Dallaire Defends Actions before Citizens of Rwanda." Lexis-Nexis. 7 Apr. 2004. Web. 3 Mar.2010.

Nuhanovic, Hasan. UN Flag. 1998. Photograph. Srebrenica Genocide Blog. 2007. Web. 02 Apr. 2010. international-community.html>.

Romeo Dallaire. 2009. Photograph. EVeritas. EVeritas. Web. 02 Apr. 2010. .

Romeo Dallaire at EWB Cgy - Are All Humans - Humans? Perf. Romeo Dallaire. Google Videos. Web. 02 Apr. 2010. 510845307225279316#>.

Rwanda's Forgotten: A Record of Genocide. Dir. Nick Hughes. The Star. The Toronto Star, 11 Apr. 1994. Web. 02 Apr.2010. .

Shake Hands With The Devil. 2004. Photograph. Da Capo Press. Web. 02 Apr. 2010..

Shake Hands With The Devil: The Journal of Romeo Dallaire. Dir. Peter Raymont. Perf. Romeo Dallaire. Jaman.2004. Web. 02 Apr. 2010. .

Simpson, Chris. Church Massacre. Photograph. Kigali. BBC NEWS. BBC News, 02 Mar. 1999. Web. 02 Apr. 2010..

Thompson, Allan. "Dallaire Set for Rwanda Tribunal But Testimony Will Be Restricted by U.N." Lexis-Nexis.Toronto Star, 20 Feb. 1998. Web. 3 Mar. 2010.

Thompson, Allan. "General Haunted by Rwanda Ordeal Takes Medical Leave Dallaire on Leave Nightmares of Piles ofBodies Plague Him Still." Lexis-Nexis. Toronto Star, 3 Nov. 1998. Web. 3 Mar. 2010.

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