My knowledge of the Rwandan genocide going into this book was limited to the very opinionated and biased novel A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemanche. Courtemanche painted a very ugly picture of Romeo Dallaire making him out to be someone who didn’t care about the dying people and was doing nothing about it. After reading the first few chapters in this book I realized how wrong Courtemanche was. Dallaire did everything in his power to try and stop the genocide and protect the people of Rwanda only to have the UN and other world powers consistently put road blocks in his way.
Shake Hands with the Devil is written in first person narrative and documents the entire stay of Romeo Dallaire the UN Force Commander in Rwanda. This book is highly detailed and really gives you a full picture of what Dallaire was thinking and feeling throughout his entire time. It also gives you an excellent insight into the way the UN reacted (or failed to react) to the events that were going on despite the continuous efforts of Dallaire.
This book really made me see the failures of the world and the UN in doing nothing to stop the genocide. All the writings were on the wall that a genocide was about to happen yet nobody wanted to risk the lives of their troops to help prevent it. Dallaire presents his proposal he gave to the UN before the genocide started of what he would need to ensure the peace and the protection of Rwandans before the genocide started, many expects have gone over this proposal and said that it would have worked. All Dallaire asked for was a minimum of 5500 well armed troops. What did he get? He got his troops cut back from the 2000 or so he started with. This book was real eye opener into the world of the UN who I used to hold in high regard.
What happened in Rwanda was an atrocity and could have been stopped. As world powers go around tooting their horns about spreading democracy, giving people freedom, protection, and peace, just remember these are the same people who said that 800,000 Rwandans are not worth saving.
Shake Hands with the Devil is a must read, and I suggest everyone read it for a very thorough and detailed account of what happened in Rwanda. The book is shocking and a bit disturbing at times, but it really puts things into perspective about our global community and the need for us to take action when such events happen.
I dog eared pages in this book whenever I came across a good quote, now having finished the book I realize IU have probably 30-40 odd pages dog eared. The following is a list of quotes I found exceptionally telling on second reading:
“What I have come to realize as the root of it all, however, is the fundamental indifference of the world community to the plight of seven to eight million black Africans in a tiny country that had no strategic or resource value to any world power. An overpopulated little country that turned in on itself and destroyed its own people, as the world watched and yet could not manage to find the political will to intervene. Engraved still in my brain is the judgment of a small group of bureaucrats who came to “asses” the situation in the first weeks of the genocide: “We will recommend to our governments not to intervene as the risks are high and all that is here are humans.””
“You know, soldiers are very unusual people. On the outside, they are the hardest, most demanding people, but underneath that, they are the most human, the most feeling, the most emotionally attached people who exist.” – Dallaires father
“In Canada, ‘French’ and ‘English’ are our first names. Our surname is ‘Canadian’. We must be true to our heritage, but we must also be true to our first name as it is our individuality, our soul, and we must not have any inferiority or superiority complex.” – Jean Lesage
“Nights in Kigali and in central Africa are usually extremely dark. The city usually shuts down at last light. I found African nights a startling contrast between peace and quiet, darkness and danger.”
“I remember that I settled back in my seat with some satisfaction as our plane left Africa. AI felt that I had worked very hard and had come up with a mission plan that could work. I had taken into account all the major political feedback from all the major players of the Arusha process. Real peace and contentment washed over me. I truly not realize that the devil was already afoot.”
“The future of UNAMIR’s participation in implementing the Arusha Peace Agreement was being decided by fifteen men sitting in a backroom beside the Security Council hall in New York, one of whom was a hardline Rwandan extremist. He found himself allied with the Americans, Russians and Chinese, who all wanted the mission to end. On the morning of April 6, we received the Security Council’s Resolution 909, which extended our mandate for six weeks… The report sent the wrong message, and the consequences were truly devastating. It confirmed for all Rwandans-the moderates attempting to hang on to hope and the extremists plotting extermination-that the world didn’t give a damn about Rwanda.”
“It was the end of the first day of a hundred-day civil war and a genocide that would engulf all of us in unimaginable carnage.”
“I passed by an assembly point where French soldiers were loading expatriates into vehicles. Hundreds of Rwandans had gathered to watch all these white entrepreneurs, NGO staff and their families making their fearful exits, and as I wended my way through the crowd, I saw how aggressively the French were pushing black Rwandans seeking asylum out of the way. A sense of shame overcame me. The whites, who had made their money in Rwanda and who had hired so many Rwandans to be their servants and labourers, were now abandoning them. Self-interest and self-preservation ruled.”
“In Gisenyi, a tourist town on Lake Kivu, an Austrian MILOB reported a festive spirit on the part of the killers, who seemed oblivious to the sheer horror and pandemonium as they cut down men, women and children in the streets. In Kobungo, government soldiers were running a scorched earth policy against Tutsis and Hutu moderates. In parts of Kigali, bulldozers had been broght in to dig deeper trenches at the roadblocks to reduce the piles of bodies. Prisoners in their pink jail uniforms were picking up corpses and throwing them into dump trucks to be hauled away. Think of that for a moment:there were so many dead that they had to be laded into dump trucks.”
“I can’t tell you how disgusting daily life could be; the corpse-eating dogs that we shot on sight now had no qualms about attacking the living.”
“After I got home from Rwanda, and the years slowly revealed to me the extent of the cynical maneuvering by France, Belgium, the United States, and the RPF and the RGF, among others, I couldn’t help but feel that we were a sort of diversion, even sacrificial lambs, that permitted statesmen to say that the world was doing something to stop the killing. In fact we were nothing more than camouflage.”
“To my mind, their crimes had made them inhuman, turned them into machines made of flesh that imitated the motions of being human.”
“The Interahamwe made a habit of killing young Tutsi children, in front of their parents, by first cutting off one arm, then the other. They would then gash the neck with a machete to bleed the child slowly to death but, while they were still alive, they would cut off the private parts and throw them at the faces of the terrified parents, who would then be murdered with slightly greater dispatch.” –Shaharyar Khan taken from The Shallow Graves of Rwanda
And so for the last weeks of my command the Americans, with all their resources, sat inside the perimeter of the Kigali airport, and though they helped us bring our troops in and out, they did little else.”
“…during those last weeks we received a shocking call from an American staffer…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 a macabre, to say the least.”
“Let there be no doubt: the Rwandan genocide was the ultimate responsibility of those Rwandans who planned, ordered, supervised and eventually conducted it. Their extremism was the seemingly indestructible and ugly harvest of years of power struggles and insecurity that had been deftly played upon by their former colonial rules.”
“Still, at its heart the Rwandan story is the story of the failure of humanity to heed a call for help from an endangered people.
The international community, of which the UN is only a symbol, failed to move beyond self-interest for the sake of Rwanda. While most nations agreed that something should be done they all had an excuses why they should not be the ones to do it. As a result, the UN was denied the political will and material mean to prevent the tragedy.”
“How do we pick and choose where to get involved? Canada and other peacekeeping nations have become accustomed to acting if, and only if, international public opinion will support them – a dangerous path that leads to a moral relativism in which a country risks losing sight of the difference between good and evil, a concept that some players on the international stage view as outmoded.”
“What is the reason for this marche seul by the developed nations? IN the last decades of the twentieth century, self-interest, sovereignty and taking care of number one became the primary criteria for any serious provision of support or resources to the globe’s trouble spots. If the country in question is of any possible strategic value to the world powers, then it seems that everything from covert operations to the outright use of overwhelming force is fair game. If it is not, indifference is the order of the day.”
“But many signs point to the fact that the youth of the Third World will no longer tolerate living in circumstances that give them no hope for the future. From the young boys I met in the demobilization camps in Sierra Leone to the suicide bombers of Palestine and Chechnya, to the young terrorists who fly planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we can no longer afford to ignore them. We have to take concrete steps to remove the causes of their rage, or we have to be prepared to suffer the consequences.”