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19 Mar 2004 00:00
General Romeo Dallaire is a haunted man. After 100 days in hell, including a meeting with the devil, he has been reduced to a suicidal, pill-popping civilian.
The last time he appeared before the court in this small safari town he was in uniform and tears.
The three-star general’s appearance before the United Nations criminal Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, has been in the way of a consummation a long time in the making. It was 10 years ago that Dallaire last met the most senior of the four senior officers appearing — the short, stocky man in the dock wearing dark glasses. On that occasion, by Dallaire’s account, Theoneste Bagosora — allegedly the chief architect of the Rwandan genocide — promised to kill the UN commander the next time he saw him.
It was Bagosora who had previously been responsible for setting up an unexpectedly convivial meeting between the general and the devil, in the form of Robert Kajuga, president of the national interahamwe — widely held to be the main killers in the Rwandan genocide. On that occasion Kajuga’s open-collared white shirt had been spattered with dried blood. “There were small flecks on his right arm as we shook hands,” the general was to recall. “I felt that I had shaken hands with the devil.”
Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda is the title of Dallaire’s recently published book telling of his experiences as the former military head of the UN assistance mission in Rwanda. It offers a reminder that, as the 10th
anniversary of the slaughter approaches, the Rwanda genocide falls into the category of unfinished business for the international community.
Unfinished, because a decade has gone by without a proper investigation into what happened, without even a formal board of inquiry into the causes of the aircrash that killed two heads of state and is popularly credited with starting the awful slaughter.
That the Rwanda slaughter was awful is clear and few accounts have been as graphic as those in Dallaire’s book. It is an account not only of the mass murder of about 800 000 people but also of the mental breakdown of the author, a rising star in the Canadian Defence Force, who — as he, himself, recalls — made several suicide attempts back home in Canada as he battled to come to terms with the memory of what he had seen.
“We saw many faces of death during the genocide, from the innocence of babies to the bewilderment of the elderly, from the defiance of fighters to the resigned stares of nuns,” he observes. “For many years after I came home I banished the memories of those faces from my mind, but they have come back, all too clearly.”
The fact that memory had caught up with Dallaire, sending him over
the edge, came to public attention four years ago when the general was found unconscious and seemingly drunk under a park bench in Canada. Admitted to hospital, it transpired that the alcohol with which he was consoling himself had not mixed well with the drugs he was taking for depression.
It was a depression that was understandable when one considered the sights he had seen in Rwanda, but it is questionable whether such sights were the only cause of his breakdown. There were also the 10 Belgian soldiers.
The general had problems with the Belgians under his command — drinking on patrol, trashing hotels, ignoring orders from black officers, roughing up local politicians at road blocks and on one occasion “buzzing” parliament in their Hercules aircraft, startling troops on the ground into opening fire on them. Dallaire even accuses them of cowardice at one stage, for abandoning a convoy.
Immediately after the initial aircrash that killed Rwanda’s Hutu president, Juvenal Habyarimana, Dallaire had attempted to have the then prime minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, a “moderate” Hutu, broadcast on the government radio station to calm the population.
Instead she was killed with her bodyguard of Belgian soldiers. In a section of the book, which can only be described as extraordinary, Dallaire describes how he was being driven into the main military camp in the capital of Kigali for a meeting with government officials when “I got a glimpse of what looked like two Belgian soldiers lying on the ground at the far end of the compound”.
He told his driver to stop, but the driver ignored him, drove around a corner and parked. Instead of taking further action to find out what had happened to the two Belgian soldiers under his command, Dallaire proceeded to the meeting.
“Commanders spend their careers preparing for the moment when they will have to choose between lose-lose propositions in the use of their troops,” he observes. “Regardless of the decision they make, some of their men will most certainly die. My decision took sons from their parents, husbands from their wives, fathers from their children. I knew the cost of my decision.”
It was hours later that he finally turned his attention to the Belgians, demanding to know where the 10 bodyguards were. Told they were in the camp’s hospital, he insisted on being taken there and was directed to the morgue. “At first, I saw what seemed to be sacks of potatoes to the right of the morgue door. It slowly resolved in my vision into a heap of mangled and bloodied white flesh in tattered Belgian para-commando uniforms.”
Dallaire believed that the killing of the Belgian troops was part of a plot
to force the withdrawal of Belgium and precipitate carnage. The “plot” had been described to him months previously by a secret informant code-named “Jean Pierre”. But was Jean Pierre the senior figure in the government forces Dallaire believed him to be, or was he in fact nothing more than a lowly driver fired for petty theft, as has been claimed? Was Habyarimana’s plane brought down by a Sam 7 missile as suspected and was that part of a plot? Was it genocide?
The genocide question — the answer to which seems self-evident and necessary for mankind to encompass and cope with the horrors Dallaire and others have recorded — goes to the heart of the Rwanda tragedy. Many have claimed to answer it, some of them indignantly, pointing to evidence such as the use of lists of names to hunt down victims, the distribution of machetes, the reference to Tutsis on government radio as “cockroaches” to be exterminated. But while the lists existed, the selection of victims seems have been based more on hysteria than planning.
Defence teams, made up of lawyers from around the world, staged an unprecedented strike here in Arusha at the end of Dallaire’s evidence, bringing the Bagosora trial to a standstill. Prime among their grievances was the complaint that their clients were being tried for a crime that has never been proven.
Dallaire’s book is sub-titled The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. Until such time as humanity establishes what happened in Rwanda the failure continues. At the moment all that can be said with confidence is that, whatever else it was, it was surely the devil’s work.
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