Shake Hands with the Devil – The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda – Roméo Dallaire

This is the book that dragged me into reading about the truth, about discovering what is really going on in our world today, and about looking beyond the medias headlines and the Governments spin. Above all this book showed me how the people in power are so disconnected from reality, how much pain and suffering has happened in Rwanda and the force of will that those brave UN Soldiers showed in order to save the people they did.

The fact that it was written by Roméo Dallaire the Commander of the UN forces in Rwanada is what really drew me to this book. Combined with the compelling and heartfelt blurb there seemed to be no way I could ignore it. After all, I had ignored the genocide itself, didn’t I need to understand what I had been party to?

As I write these words I am listening to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which strikes me as the purest expression in music of the suffering, mutilation, rape and murder of 800,000 Rwandans, with the help of the member nations of the only supposedly impartial world body. Ultimately, led by the United States, France and the United Kingdom, this world body aided and abetted genocide in Rwanda. No amount of its cash and aid will ever wash its hands clean of Rwandan blood.
Roméo Dallaire

This book really does deserve the accolade that is banded around by journalists on every book they read that’s by the latest hot thriller writer – “…couldn’t put it down…”, but for entirely different reasons.

It’s a compelling story of how a nation begins to pull itself apart, how the onsite UN forces struggle to try and keep the peace and end the acts of Genocide, all the while trying to fight for ever piece of recognition and equipment from an organisation and group of Countries who couldn’t see further than their balance sheets.

Dallaire presents a heart rendering tale of how the country of Rwanda descended into madness and how he and his Soldiers fought far beyond their means and capabilities to save as many of them as they could.

I felt so many emotions reading this book from sympathy to anger, from embarrassment to pity. My sympathy fell to the victims in Rwanda, Dallaire and his troops included. My anger pointed to the ignorant and overly officious UN and self serving US. My pity fell to all involved while my embarrassment was saved for the Country I belong to, Britain.

Dallaire describes the shortcomings and continuing negativity of the UN and select World leaders, their blind ignorance to World events and to the acceptance of the Genocide in Rwanda.

As he takes us through his time there we begin to understand the challenges he and his men faced. Understaffed, underskilled and without such basics as in date food, fuel and even ammunition for their weapons.

You understand his growing despair and stress at fighting for the basics to keep his Troops alive, never mind do the job they were sent to do and save the people dying around them.

Then you see how he was ignored by the UN, the US, UK and France. It’s no small thing to say that they were abandoned and then blamed for the events that followed, even taking the Soldiers to court, but that’s what happened.

Dallaire describes how he created a plan that could end the Genocide (which the US were still arguing not to call it) and submitted it to the UN. It was refused, with continual comments to make do with what they had and continual denials of any Genocide occurring.

…I was finally able to sign or “Proposed Future Mandate and Force Structure of UNAMIR”…I could lay it all out here; experts have since studied the plan and agreed that if enacted, it would have stopped the killing and even allowed stability to reappear in central Africa…But I sent it on a Thursday, the next day was Friday and then it was the weekend. The fastest they would get to it would be Monday, and tens of thousands more Rwandans would be dead, and hundreds of thousands would be on the move…
Roméo Dallaire

Through this book I felt a growing anger at how the Countries and UN abandoned the people of Rwanda and those Soldiers already there. He makes some simple and startling associations with both Somalia and Bosnia, these associations could now be made with Iraq. It’s almost scary to think about how these events are being repeated again, and yet these leaders have learnt nothing. They apologise, but…

The story is harrowing but also strangely uplifting for amongst all these millions of people who don’t care, there was this small band of Soldiers who saw beyond orders and costs and saw the people and beauty of Rwanda. Through everything that these people faced, daily attempts on their lives, trying to protect people without being allowed to fire their weapons or having the ammunition or basic supplies to carry on. My God, they even had to eat rotten army rations, and yet they still remained.

It may be a damning account of the Countries who call themselves caring, World Police, and fighting for freedom, but it’s also an amazing tale of how those trained to fight can see people for what they are and without care for themselves try to save them.

Dallaire and his Troops come across as amazing people, people most of us could only dream of aspiring to. Through the darkest of tales they show us what we should be, and what our Nations should do. Surprisingly it also shows us the hypocrisy of our Politicians as they stand up and defend their actions in Iraq. However you stand with them now, you wonder why they failed to speak so strongly in Bosnia, in Somalia, and in Rwanda.

You owe it to these people to read this book.

If the entire population of this planet is represented by one hundred people, fifty-seven live in Asia, twenty-one in Europe, Fourteen in North and South America, and eight in Africa. The numbers of Asians and Africans are increasing every year while the number of Europeans and North Americans is decreasing. Fifty percent of the wealth of the world is in the hands of six people, all of whom are American. Seventy people are unable to read or write. Fifty suffer from malnutrition due to insufficient nutrition. Thirty-five do not have access to safe drinking water. Eight live in sub-standard housing. Only one has a university or college education…

…The global village is deteriorating at a rapid pace, and in the children of the world the result is rage. It is the rage I saw in the eyes of the teenage Interahamwe […attached to the ruling MRND party…largely responsible for the killings during the genocide] militiamen in Rwanda, it is the rage I sensed in the hearts of the children of Sierra Leone, it is the rage I felt in crowds of ordinary civilians in Rwanda, and it is the rage that resulted in September 11th. Human beings who have no rights, no security, no future, no hope and no means to survive are a desperate group who will do desperate things to take what they believe they need and deserve.

Roméo Dallaire

Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Romeo Dallaire from Amazon UK.

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