Book review: Shake Hands With The Devil: The Failure Of Humanity In Rwanda

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Most of my reading is typically pretty light fare. Starting back as an undergrad, I tended to pick escapist stuff when I read for fun to couteract textbooks and other academic works. I do enjoy some deeper stuff from time to time and recently read Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Roméo Dallaire.

Back in July, I blogged on a series of articles on Africa. It was a rather harsh and non-typical look at the problems occuring there and it prompted some fairly strong responses. I didn't entirely agree with the author, but I thought he made some good points, but I readily admitted that there is plenty about Africa that I don't know anything about. I still contend that the problems facing Africans are huge and that simply caring or pledging money are not productive solutions. I asked if anyone had any ideas, but no one did. I found this book at the library and though it was a good opportunity to correct my ignorance.

Shake Hands with the Devil details the account of Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian, who was head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). Rwanda ended a bitter civil war in 1993 and UNAMIR was charged with overseeing the transition to the new government that came out of the peace accords. The transition never occured and fighting broke out between tribal factions. Between April and July of 1994, Hutu (one of the main tribal factions, along with the Tutsis) militias and elements of the military killed some 800,000 men, women and children.
There is plenty of blame to go around and lessons to be learned. From the UN, who was slow to react and unwilling to offer any substantial support, to the western powers who either ignored what was happening or actively interfered with the peacekeeping mission. Gen. Dallaire believed that a well equipped force of around 8,000 could have prevented the genocide and there are other experts that believe his analysis is correct. So often we hear "never again," but genocides have occured since WWII and are occuring today. This book offers hope that they can be prevented or stopped, if other countries are willing to make the effort.


Smitty 9:34 AM  

I am interested in getting this book moreso now than I was before. Thanks for the review.

I really honestly feel like our (as in the U.S.) total ignorance of Africa and lack of any cohesive, well-constructed foreign policy regarding Africa carries deeply racist overtones, and reflects Africa's apparent lack (I say apparent because it's not entire true) of "valuable" natural resources.

To put it more blunty: if Africa had more oil or more whites, we would give way more of a shit about our policy over there and be active participants rather than active...fundraisers.

I can't think of any excuse that would cover for why we don't have troops stomping mudholes in the asses of people who perpetrate genocide. Is it because it's both sides of a fight are doing it? Is it because we havent taken the time to figure out how their social structure works and thus we don't know where or what to do? Either way is pretty weak and embarrassingly puts on display where our priorities really are.

Bob 9:44 AM  

Well said Smitty.

steves 4:34 PM  

Smitty, I think racism has a lot to do with it and the author would probably agree.

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