Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure Of Humanity In Rwanda (2004)

Winner: 2004 Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction

The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda was written with a view to leaving a document for the General’s children for them to try and understand why the father they saw leave for a UN mission in 1993 and the soldier who returned in August, 1994 was not the same father. As the book developed it became a personal record of the genocide of over 800,000 souls (both Tutsi and Hutu) and was dedicated to the Rwandans, abandoned to their fate, who were slaughtered in the hundreds of thousands, to the fourteen UN soldiers under his command who died bravely in the service of peace and humanity and to his researcher, who died while working so hard to tell the story.

shake-hands-with-the-devil-romeo-dallaireIn 2004, on the tenth anniversary of the date that UN peacekeepers landed in Rwanda, Random House Canada published the unforgettable first-hand account of the genocide by the man who led the UN mission. Digging deep into shattering memories, General Dallaire has written a powerful story of betrayal, ÒnaivetyÓ, racism and international politics. His message is simple and undeniable: “Never again.”

When Lt-Gen. Roméo Dallaire received the call to serve as force commander of the UN intervention in Rwanda in 1993, he thought he was heading off on a modest and straightforward peacekeeping mission. Thirteen months later he flew home from Africa, broken, disillusioned and suicidal, having witnessed the slaughter of 800,000 Rwandans in only a hundred days. In Shake Hands with the Devil, he takes the reader with him on a return voyage into the hell of Rwanda, vividly recreating the events the international community turned its back on. This book is an unsparing eyewitness account of the failure by humanity to stop the genocide, despite timely warnings.

Woven through the story of this disastrous mission is Dallaire’s own journey from confident Cold Warrior, to devastated UN commander, to retired general engaged in a painful struggle to find a measure of peace, reconciliation and hope. This book is General Dallaire’s personal account of his conversion from a man certain of his worth and secure in his assumptions to a man conscious of his own weaknesses and failures and critical of the institutions he’d relied on. It might not sit easily with standard ideas of military leadership, but understanding what happened to General Dallaire and his mission to Rwanda is crucial to understanding the moral minefields our peacekeepers are forced to negotiate when we ask them to step into the world’s dirty wars.

Excerpt from Shake Hands with the Devil:

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… This book is 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.