Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda

Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780786715107
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Publication date: 12/21/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 592
Sales rank: 244,936
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.12(h) x 1.62(d)

About the Author

LT. GEN. ROMÉO DALLAIRE joined the Canadian Army in 1964. After returning from Rwanda, he was promoted to three-star general and served in various senior positions including assistant deputy minister in the Canadian Ministry of Defence. He is the highest-ranking military figure ever stricken with post-traumatic stress disorder, and continues to advise Canadian Forces and Veterans Affairs in matters related to PTSD. In January 2002 he received the inaugural Aegis Award for Genocide Prevention in London.

Read an Excerpt


It was an absolutely magnificent day in May 1994. The blue sky was cloudless, and there was a whiff of breeze stirring the trees. It was hard to believe that in the past weeks an unimaginable evil had turned Rwanda's gentle green valleys and mist-capped hills into a stinking nightmare of rotting corpses. A nightmare we all had to negotiate every day. A nightmare that, as commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda, I could not help but feel deeply responsible for.

In relative terms, that day had been a good one. Under the protection of a limited and fragile ceasefire, my troops had successfully escorted about two hundred civilians -- a few of the thousands who had sought refuge with us in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda -- through many government- and militia-manned checkpoints to reach safety behind the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) lines. We were seven weeks into the genocide, and the RPF, the disciplined rebel army (composed largely of the sons of Rwandan refugees who had lived over the border in camps in Uganda since being forced out of their homeland at independence), was making a curved sweep toward Kigali from the north, adding civil war to the chaos and butchery in the country.

Having delivered our precious cargo of innocent souls, we were headed back to Kigali in a white UN Land Cruiser with my force commander pennant on the front hood and the blue UN flag on a staff attached to the right rear. My Ghanaian sharpshooter, armed with a new Canadian C-7 rifle, rode behind me, and my new Senegalese aide-de-camp, Captain Ndiaye, sat to my right. We were driving a particularly dangerous stretch of road, open to sniper fire. Most of thepeople in the surrounding villages had been slaughtered, the few survivors escaping with little more than the clothes on their backs. In a few short weeks, it had become a lonely and forlorn place.

Suddenly up ahead we saw a child wandering across the road. I stopped the vehicle close to the little boy, worried about scaring him off, but he was quite unfazed. He was about three years old, dressed in a filthy, torn T-shirt, the ragged remnants of underwear, little more than a loincloth, drooping from under his distended belly. He was caked in dirt, his hair white and matted with dust, and he was enveloped in a cloud of flies, which were greedily attacking the open sores that covered him. He stared at us silently, sucking on what I realized was a high-protein biscuit. Where had the boy found food in this wasteland?

I got out of the vehicle and walked toward him. Maybe it was the condition I was in, but to me this child had the face of an angel and eyes of pure innocence. I had seen so many children hacked to pieces that this small, whole, bewildered boy was a vision of hope. Surely he could not have survived all on his own? I motioned for my aide-de-camp to honk the horn, hoping to summon up his parents, but the sound echoed over the empty landscape, startling a few birds and little else. The boy remained transfixed. He did not speak or cry, just stood sucking on his biscuit and staring up at us with his huge, solemn eyes. Still hoping that he wasn't all alone, I sent my aide-de-camp and the sharpshooter to look for signs of life.

We were in a ravine lush with banana trees and bamboo shoots, which created a dense canopy of foliage. A long straggle of deserted huts stood on either side of the road. As I stood alone with the boy, I felt an anxious knot in my stomach: this would be a perfect place to stage an ambush. My colleagues returned, having found no one. Then a rustling in the undergrowth made us jump. I grabbed the boy and held him firmly to my side as we instinctively took up defensive positions around the vehicle and in the ditch. The bushes parted to reveal a well-armed RPF soldier about fifteen years old. He recognized my uniform and gave me a smart salute and introduced himself. He was part of an advance observation post in the nearby hills. I asked him who the boy was and whether there was anyone left alive in the village who could take care of him. The soldier answered that the boy had no name and no family but that he and his buddies were looking after him. That explained the biscuit but did nothing to allay my concerns over the security and health of the boy. I protested that the child needed proper care and that I could give it to him: we were protecting and supporting orphanages in Kigali where he would be much better off. The soldier quietly insisted that the boy stay where he was, among his own people.

I continued to argue, but this child soldier was in no mood to discuss the situation and with haughty finality stated that his unit would care and provide for the child. I could feel my face flush with anger and frustration, but then noticed that the boy himself had slipped away while we had been arguing over him, and God only knew where he had gone. My aide-de-camp spotted him at the entrance to a hut a short distance away, clambering over a log that had fallen across the doorway. I ran after him, closely followed by my aide-de-camp and the RPF child soldier. By the time I had caught up to the boy, he had disappeared inside. The log in the doorway turned out to be the body of a man, obviously dead for some weeks, his flesh rotten with maggots and beginning to fall away from the bones.

As I stumbled over the body and into the hut, a swarm of flies invaded my nose and mouth. It was so dark inside that at first I smelled rather than saw the horror that lay before me. The hut was a two-room affair, one room serving as a kitchen and living room and the other as a communal bedroom; two rough windows had been cut into the mud-and-stick wall. Very little light penetrated the gloom, but as my eyes became accustomed to the dark, I saw strewn around the living room in a rough circle the decayed bodies of a man, a woman and two children, stark white bone poking through the desiccated, leather-like covering that had once been skin. The little boy was crouched beside what was left of his mother, still sucking on his biscuit. I made my way over to him as slowly and quietly as I could and, lifting him into my arms, carried him out of the hut.

The warmth of his tiny body snuggled against mine filled me with a peace and serenity that elevated me above the chaos. This child was alive yet terribly hungry, beautiful but covered in dirt, bewildered but not fearful. I made up my mind: this boy would be the fourth child in the Dallaire family. I couldn't save Rwanda, but I could save this child.

Before I had held this boy, I had agreed with the aid workers and representatives of both the warring armies that I would not permit any exporting of Rwandan orphans to foreign places. When confronted by such requests from humanitarian organizations, I would argue that the money to move a hundred kids by plane to France or Belgium could help build, staff and sustain Rwandan orphanages that could house three thousand children. This one boy eradicated all my arguments. I could see myself arriving at the terminal in Montreal like a latter-day St. Christopher with the boy cradled in my arms, and my wife, Beth, there ready to embrace him.

That dream was abruptly destroyed when the young soldier, fast as a wolf, yanked the child from my arms and carried him directly into the bush. Not knowing how many members of his unit might already have their gunsights on us, we reluctantly climbed back into the Land Cruiser. As I slowly drove away, I had much on my mind.

By withdrawing, I had undoubtedly done the wise thing: I had avoided risking the lives of my two soldiers in what would have been a fruitless struggle over one small boy. But in that moment, it seemed to me that I had backed away from a fight for what was right, that this failure stood for all our failures in Rwanda.

Whatever happened to that beautiful child? Did he make it to an orphanage deep behind the RPF lines? Did he survive the following battles? Is he dead or is he now a child soldier himself, caught in the seemingly endless conflict that plagues his homeland?

That moment, when the boy, in the arms of a soldier young enough to be his brother, was swallowed whole by the forest, haunts me. It's a memory that never lets me forget how ineffective and irresponsible we were when we promised the Rwandans that we would establish an atmosphere of security that would allow them to achieve a lasting peace. It has been almost nine years since I left Rwanda, but as I write this, the sounds, smells and colours come flooding back in digital clarity. It's as if someone has sliced into my brain and grafted this horror called Rwanda frame by blood-soaked frame directly on my cortex. I could not forget even if I wanted to. For many of these years, I have yearned to return to Rwanda and disappear into the blue-green hills with my ghosts. A simple pilgrim seeking forgiveness and pardon. But as I slowly begin to piece my life back together, I know the time has come for me to make a more difficult pilgrimage: to travel back through all those terrible memories and retrieve my soul.

I did try to write this story soon after I came back from Rwanda in September 1994, hoping to find some respite for myself in sorting out how my own role as Force Commander of UNAMIR interconnected with the international apathy, the complex political manoeuvres, the deep well of hatred and barbarity that resulted in a genocide in which over 800,000 people lost their lives. Instead, I plunged into a disastrous mental health spiral that led me to suicide attempts, a medical release from the Armed Forces, the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, and dozens upon dozens of therapy sessions and extensive medication, which still have a place in my daily life.

It took me seven years to finally have the desire, the willpower and the stamina to begin to describe in detail the events of that year in Rwanda. To recount, from my insider's point of view, how a country moved from the promise of a certain peace to intrigue, the fomenting of racial hatred, assassinations, civil war and genocide. And how the international community, through an inept UN mandate and what can only be described as indifference, self-interest and racism, aided and abetted these crimes against humanity -- how we all helped create the mess that has murdered and displaced millions and destabilized the whole central African region.

A growing library of books and articles is exploring the tragic events in Rwanda from many angles: eyewitness accounts, media analyses, assaults on the actions of the American administration at the time, condemnations of the UN's apparent ineptitude. But even in the international and national inquiries launched in the wake of the genocide, the blame somehow slides away from the individual member nations of the un, and in particular those influential countries with permanent representatives on the Security Council, such as the United States, France and the United Kingdom, who sat back and watched it all happen, who pulled their troops or didn't offer any troops in the first place. A few Belgian officers were brought to court to pay for the sins of Rwanda. When my sector commander in Kigali, Colonel Luc Marchal, was courtmartialled in Brussels, the charges against him were clearly designed to deflect any responsibility away from the Belgian government for the deaths of the ten Belgian peacekeepers under my command. The judge eventually threw out all the charges, accepting the fact that Marchal had performed his duties magnificently in a near-impossible situation. But the spotlight never turned to the reasons why he and the rest of the UNAMIR force were in such a dangerous situation in the first place.

It is time that I tell the story from where I stood -- literally in the middle of the slaughter for weeks on end. A public account of my actions, my decisions and my failings during that most terrible year may be a crucial missing link for those attempting to understand the tragedy both intellectually and in their hearts. I know that I will never end my mourning for all those Rwandans who placed their faith in us, who thought the UN peacekeeping force was there to stop extremism, to stop the killings and help them through the perilous journey to a lasting peace. That mission, UNAMIR, failed. I know intimately the cost in human lives of the inflexible UN Security Council mandate, the penny-pinching financial management of the mission, the UN red tape, the political manipulations and my own personal limitations. 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 "assess" the situation in the first weeks of the genocide: "We will recommend to our government not to intervene as the risks are high and all that is here are humans."

My story is not a strictly military account nor a clinical, academic study of the breakdown of Rwanda. It is not a simplistic indictment of the many failures of the UN as a force for peace in the world. It is not a story of heroes and villains, although such a work could easily be written. This book is a cri de coeur for the slaughtered thousands, a tribute to the souls hacked apart by machetes because of their supposed difference from those who sought to hang on to power. It is the story of a commander who, faced with a challenge that didn't fit the classic Cold War-era peacekeeper's rule book, failed to find an effective solution and witnessed, as if in punishment, the loss of some of his own troops, the attempted annihilation of an ethnicity, the butchery of children barely out of the womb, the stacking of severed limbs like cordwood, the mounds of decomposing bodies being eaten by the sun.

This book is nothing more nor less than the account of a few humans who were entrusted with the role of helping others taste the fruits of peace. Instead, we watched as the devil took control of paradise on earth and fed on the blood of the people we were supposed to protect.

Table of Contents

1My Father Told Me Three Things8
2"Rwanda, that's in Africa isn't it?"28
3"Check out Rwanda and you're in charge"43
4Enemies Holding Hands57
5The Clock Is Ticking80
6The First Milestones98
7The Shadow Force135
8Assassination and Ambush168
9Easter Without a Resurrection of Hope199
10An Explosion at Kigali Airport221
11To Go or To Stay?263
12Lack of Resolution328
13Accountants of the Slaughter374
14The Turquoise Invasion421
15Too Much, Too Late461
Glossary of Names, Places and Terms523
Recommended Reading545

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Toronto Globe and Mail
“Almost certainly the most important book published in Canada this year.” Quill & Quire
“[Shake Hands with the Devil] is an affidavit for an indictment—an indictment of the murderers, the hamstrung, bureaucratized UN, and the self-absorbed developed world. ... Roméo Dallaire emerges as our post–Cold War hero.” Candy Crowley, CNN Chief Political Correspondent“It’s stark and it’s horrible, but it’s fascinating and very moving.”

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Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
bookalover89 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Of all the books I've read in my life, this one is one of my all time FAVORITES! The rest of the world ignored the genocide in Rwanda, but he stayed and did everything possible to save lives. This is a must read for anyone interested in Rwanda. I didn't stop crying for days after I finished, because of the international indifference of a country in crisis, and the over 800,000 lives lost in 100 days. There is a documentary of the same name in whuch he goes back to Rwanda for the 10th anniversery in 2004 (It won an award in Sundance 2005)
christopher.fedak on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When a friend who was familiar with General Dallaire noticed "Shake Hands with the Devil" sitting on my coffee table asked me what I thought of the book, I could only respond that I felt it was a book that every human should read. The language used is straightforward, Dallaire hides nothing. Not his failures, nor the failures of others. He praises those whom he feels deserve praise, even when he might have doubted them earlier in the conflict. He describes in an almost day to day fashion the progress of thie UN Mission for Rwanda, lays bare each political quagmire, every unimaginable slaughter, and tells you about the horrors of the genocide the way you might hear it from an uncle. And that ring of honesty makes the account all the more horrifying.In reading this book, I have come closer to understand what it is to be heroic, and am left with nothing but genuine admiration for the men and woman that served with Roméo Dallaire. At the same time, I am left with bewilderment at the process that led to this end. It doesn't make sense how humanity could fail so utterly. And I think that is exactly the sort of thing that needs to linger at the back of every persons mind who must make decisions that determine the welfare of others.
uh8myzen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an absolutely stunning insider's look at the travesty of the Rwanda genocide and the United Nations mission led by General Romeo Dallaire.The book explores two stories. The first being General Dallaire's personal journey from a strong, confident warrior to the broken, suicidal man he became upon his return to Canada. A man consumed by the guilt and the horror of a genocide that very well could have been prevented had his warnings to the United Nations been heeded and had he been given the resources he required.The second story is that of the genocide itself and the refusal of the world to recognize the atrocities that were being committed and the UN's complete failure to act in any constructive way to stop it. Both stories are interwoven masterfully as we see the brave General's refusal to abandon his mission and the people of Rawanda in the face of overwhelming odds and his countless attempts to make the world pay attention. He repeatedly risks his own life in pursuit of that goal.This is a profoundly important piece of modern history that needed to be brought to the fore for so many reasons, and General Dallaire does that in this wickedly honest, no holds barred biography. It was both haunting and captivating, and above all, it was honest.General Romeo Dallaire is a forgotten hero who deserves to be remembered for all he tried to do in the face of overwhelming odds. It is a rare person capable of such a feat.Read this book... you will never forget it.
davetherave on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Probably the only true story from the inside of the genocidal horror that was Rwanda. This was a gripping though sometimes sickening read, from a man who almost went insane trying to cope with a desperately under-resourced force, and little or no interest from those in powerful positions in the UN and in so-called "free" nations of the world.
Cecrow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Disturbing, eye-opening account of the Rwanda massacre in the early nineties. Especially revealing concerning the UN response and a stark reminder on top of the Holocaust of the depravity humanity is capable of. Has relevance to today's war on terror, and why we need alternatives that go beyond a military response. The best book (fiction or non-fiction) I read all year.
marcLeroux84 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I started this book 2 years ago, and am still making my way through it. I find that I cannot read more than a chapter at a time without the horror getting to me, and i have to put it down for a spell. This is an absolutely fantastic book that highlights the inadequacies of the United Nations, and as the subtitle states: the failure of humanity
puckrobin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Romeo Dallaire is a true Canadian hero - sent into an untenable sitaution in Rwanda in 1994, Dallaire was forced to bear witness to a genocidal massacre whose scope was almost beyond the capacity of the modern North American mind to countenance. With brutal honesty about not only his frustrations and fears, but about his own limitations, Dallaire puts before the Western world a stark picture of the results of our superficial, high handed and ill conceived approach to modern warfare on one of the world's most unstable areas. Through courageous and candid revelations, and after battling personal demons of alcholism and depression as a result of his experience, Dallaire challenges all Canadians, indeed, all citiizens of the modern world, to re-examine the meanings of humanity, mercy, and peace and to examine how governments and individuals alike can - in fact must - contribute to how we might still, ultimately, prevail over conflict.
bung on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This seemed to me to be a cathartic writing for General Dallaire. He wanted to explain his failures in Rwanda, some of which he accepted as his fault, but most of which he blamed on the American refusal to enter a war in which they had no vested interest. An interesting read, but not the best source of information about the Rwandan genocide.
TomMcGreevy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There is nothing simple about this book. Despair is a reasonable response to it. Yet using it as a teaching resource to show the consequences of selfishness and apathy may help ensure that the experience described is not repeated. Hope born out of despair?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The real truth about the incomprehensible failure of the filthy UN under the worthless leadership of Kofi Annan! The world did not fail the Tutsi people  the UN and the rest of the free world did! This book  gives the facts and  lets us see why we need to abolish or recreate this rotten organization! Great book !
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kamas716 More than 1 year ago
I read this several years ago but was very impressed with it. It's the account by the man in charge of the UN mission in Rwanda during its genocide. It's a very disturbing story of inhumanity and bureaucratic rules/red tape that can allow such atrocities to happen. It's one of the few books I've cried while reading.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
What this book set out to accomplish is simple: telling the tragic and soul rending story of the Rwandan genocide through the eyes of General Romeo Dallaire, the man in charge of the UN mission for Rwanda back in 1994. Despite repeated warnings to his bosses back in New York 'one of them being Kofi Annan' and sending the now famous ''genocide fax'' he was ignored and had to watch along with his 400 peacekeepers the murder of over a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. His discription of those 3 months are nothing less but intence, heart breaking, and horrifing. This book has opened my eyes toward the tragedy of Rwanda and the man whom not only was in the middle of it all, but one of the few people who saved countless lives. I urge t everyone to read this book!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Many people might see this book as informative. It relays the facts of what happened during the conflict in Rwanda. Yes it takes a day after day account of what United Nations Assistance Mission For Rwanda (UNAMIR) contributed in the attempt to solve the genocide. Shake Hands with the Devil tells of the Force Commander, Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire¿s perspective, and what he went through while in Rwanda. Instead of the events that unfolded I think this books main purpose was to tell the world of their own blindness or caution when the situation was developing. The devastating outbreak of genocide in Rwanda took over 800,000 lives. It is obvious that the conflict was a horrible and immoral episode. The diplomatic complexity of the situation caused it to only escalate further. Hate radio was the main propaganda to motivate the killings of Tutsis and Hutu moderates. Many militias were out of control and killed them but couldn¿t be stopped. Not only did UNAMIR be asked to pull out of Rwanda because of a few casualties, it happened at the most inopportune time. UNAMIR was reduced to the size of a very small miniscule force all when the genocide began. They didn¿t have the personnel or materials to do anything to diminish the problem of the genocide in Rwanda. No country answered their calls for help and only delayed a reinforcement mission. Shake Hands with the Devil, however on top of telling the world how wrong it was, tries to get the message out that everyone sat and watched. The pleas and permissions UNAMIR had that were thrown out by the world and were unanswered are too many to count. Dallaire gives an understanding of what can happen even under the world¿s super powers watch. After reading Shake Hands with the Devil, genocide could happen again and the same powers could turn their broad shoulders like they did in Rwanda. This book is a great non-fiction account of what genocide is about and what steps should be taken to stop it. I recommend this book to any person who values human rights at any level.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In the book Shake Hands with the Devil Romeo Dallaire talks about the UN mission in Rwanda. Dallaire felt that the genocide in Rwanda could have been avoided if he had been given the support he needed. By writing about everything he saw in Rwanda it is easy to see the fault of the UN. This is a good book in which the author holds nothing back and tells us who is at fault in the Rwandan genocide. The author, Romeo Dallaire, was the Force Commander for the UN assistance mission in Rwanda. He arrived in Rwanda in 1993 and he stayed until the end of the genocide in 1994. His job was to be a peacekeeper and to assist in creating a new government. The book does a great job to show the failure of the UN and the rest of the world in the Rwandan genocide. It is convincing to anyone that reads it because of the numerous examples it gives. Romeo Dallaire shares even the smallest details of his time in Rwanda. He even talked about his Christmas tree. Compared with other books on this subject you hear pretty much the same thing you would hear anywhere else a large number of examples where the world has failed to keep its moral obligations. In conclusion Dallaire shows the failure of the UN and the rest of the world in the Rwandan genocide. He wrote about everything he saw in his time in Rwanda and about the lack of support that he needed to do his job. This is a good book but there are other books out there just like it. All this book does is give examples of where humanity failed to prevent genocide. I would not recommend this book since there are other books on genocide that tell the same thing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If we can learn from history, this book is a must read. We can learn how this happend and how to prevent it, from this mans memory of the genocide and the hell that was created here on earth. It could happen anywhere in the world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
From assassination, through slaughter upon slaughter of both Hutus and Tutsis to a ghastly genocide, General Dallaire led the UN peacekeepers from crisis to crisis in attempting to save humanity from itself. From neither the UN nor the great powers did he receive anything like adequate support -- until the tide had turned. Then he was awash with too much too late, and it may have been in fact counter productive by propping up the losers long enough to kill for another month or so. If our goal is to understand peacekeeping in the modern world, this is an important book to read. So, also, the military types interested in peace keeping or problem resolution will find a wealth of experience here. In historical perspective, this ultimate tragedy was only one of several in the Great Lakes region of Africa. In psychological perspective, it is a revelation in how humanity can turn on itself in such devastating ways, ignoring the principles of society, even those of Nature itself. His book title reflects his feelings when he had to cooperate with the genocidaires, however briefly. He felt he was compromising his basic being and betraying humankind. Dallaire paid a terrible personal price as a consequence. He discusses his own internal stress so vivdly one feels his pain walking through the pages. Three features stand out in sharp relief: 1) Part of humanity reverting to its jungle inheritance of predation. 2) The rest of humanity ignoring or manipulating the protagonists to their own advantage. 3) A very small part of humanity doing what they could to help, but with too little organization to be of the kind of help actually required. History now has a red flag waving, employing fear motivation to drive people to extremes. Nevertheless, Dallaire ends his notable book with optimism that humanity can still find its way.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was the most in depth account of Rwanda's massacre I have ever read. It is truly heartbreaking, and yet inspiring that in the midst of these horrible acts...someone was willing to stand strong. I was so impacted by this book that I actually went to see Gen Romeo Dallaire speak at a local University. He is as eloquent in person as he is on paper. I hope that he will find peace someday, and that this tragedy will never take place again!