Who Failed Rwanda?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Who Failed Rwanda?

There is a bit of a debate going on the in Canadian Press regarding Romeo Dallaire and the genocide in Rwanda.

About a month ago, Dallaire was tapped to serve as a Senator by Prime Minister Paul Martin. Around the same time, Jacques Roger Booh-Booh, the man who served as the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Rwanda during the genocide, released a book called "Le Patron de Dallaire Parle" ("Dallaire's Boss Speaks") in which he took issue with Dallaire's portrayal of him as an ineffectual bureaucrat in his own book and called Dallaire's a megalomaniac who refused to take orders from an African.

Dallaire is considered a hero by many for his refusal to leave Rwanda after the Security Council attempted to pull out the entire UN mission following the massacre of 10 Belgian soldiers at the beginning of the genocide. But apparently not everyone agrees, judging by an op-ed in the National Post last week called "The Myth of St. Romeo" (the article requires a subscription, but I managed to track down a copy)
But an unsentimental examination of the facts suggests a radically different interpretation of the man's conduct. It is time to remove the halo from Romeo Dallaire's head.


The UN's culture seems to have rubbed off on the man, for when the hot breath of war swept over Rwanda in April, 1994, Dallaire proved not a fighting soldier but a bureaucrat in uniform. Amid growing signs of imminent bloodshed, he took to roaming Kigali, Rwanda's capital, unguarded and unarmed. Dallaire meant it as a reassuring, calming gesture. But just as he was sizing up the locals, so the locals were sizing up Dallaire. And to them, his meekness signalled: This general doesn't fight.


It appears Dallaire even helped trigger his personal nightmare: the mission's collapse. On the genocide's second night, he sent a lightly armed squad of Belgian blue-helmets into the chaos, even though radio stations were blaming the Belgians for the president's assassination. These men -- 10, as it turned out -- were seized and disarmed by Hutu army extremists.

Dallaire soon learned of their capture, driving right past the building where they were held while heading for one of his meetings. As Dallaire dallied with Bagosora, the 10 were massacred and mutilated (it's uncertain in which order). Dallaire made no serious attempt to help his men, several of whom reportedly remained alive for hours. The Belgians later insisted they could have mounted a commando-style rescue.
The authors of this piece, George Koch and John Weissenberger, then go on to claim that Dallaire's understanding of Rwanda is paralyzed by a "one-size-fits-all anti-Western narrative popularized by Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore."

I don't know anything about Koch and Weissenberger, nor do I know anything about the ideological bent of the National Post, but I have seen many things recently in which people attack Dallaire for his failures in Rwanda, especially his failure to attempt to rescue the Belgian soldiers who had been taken hostage and were eventually mutilated and killed. Dallaire did not do so because he felt that he did not have the capability and his troops were spread out all over Kigali, in many cases protecting civilians.

Should Dallaire have attempted such a rescue mission? Should he have ignored orders not to seize weapons caches in January? Should he have dealt with the likes of Theoneste Bagosora and the leaders of the Interahamwe as he attempted to institute a cease-fire? Many seem to think so, but I tend to think it is impossible to say. It is clear that the course of action that Dallaire chose failed, but that alone is not evidence that another course of action would have succeeded.

The failure in Rwanda was a failure of the United Nations as a whole, and as part of that whole, Dallaire failed as well. But it must be acknowledged that his lack of troops, supplies and a mandate doomed the mission from the beginning.

Perhaps Dallaire can be faulted for following the UN's inept orders and abiding by its restrictive mandate. And perhaps he could have done more had he refused to follow those orders. But during 1994, nobody in the international community wanted to get involved in Rwanda and thus it seems unfair to personally judge Dallaire after the fact against a standard that the entire world failed to meet at the time.

0 comments in Who Failed Rwanda?

Post a Comment

Who Failed Rwanda? | Demagogue Copyright © 2010