FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Media’s Rwandan Fairy Tales

Like children’s fairy tales, foreign policy myths are created, told and retold for a purpose.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf imparts a life lesson while entertaining your five year-old niece. Unfortunately foreign policy myths are seldom so benign.

The tale told about Romeo Dallaire illustrates the problem. While the former Canadian General rose to prominence after participating in a failed (assuming the purpose was as stated) international military mission, he’s widely considered a great humanitarian. But, the former Senator’s public persona is based on an extremely one-sided media account of his role in the complex tragedy that engulfed Rwanda and Burundi two decades ago.

In a particularly egregious example of media bias, criticism of Dallaire’s actions in Rwanda have been almost entirely ignored even though his commander published a book criticizing the Canadian general’s bias. According to numerous accounts, including his civilian commander on the UN mission, Dallaire aided the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which invaded Rwanda with decisive Ugandan support and quiet US backing. Gilbert Ngijo, political assistant to the civilian commander of United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), summarizes the criticism: “He [Dallaire] let the RPF get arms. He allowed UNAMIR troops to train RPF soldiers. United Nations troops provided the logistics for the RPF. They even fed them.”

In his 2005 book Le Patron de Dallaire Parle (The Boss of Dallaire Speaks), Jacques-Roger Booh Booh, a former Cameroon foreign minister and overall head of UNAMIR, claims Dallaire had little interest in the violence unleashed by the RPF despite reports of summary executions in areas controlled by them. RPF soldiers were regularly seen in Dallaire’s office, with the Canadian commander describing the Rwandan army’s position in Kigali. This prompted Booh Booh to wonder if Dallaire “also shared UNAMIR military secrets with the RPF when he invited them to work in his offices.” Finally, Booh Booh says Dallaire turned a blind eye to RPF weapons coming across the border from Uganda and he believes the UN forces may have even transported weapons directly to the RPF. Dallaire, Booh Booh concludes, “abandoned his role as head of the military to play a political role. He violated the neutrality principle of UNAMIR by becoming an objective ally of one of the parties in the conflict.”

Dallaire doesn’t deny his admiration for RPF leader Paul Kagame who was likely responsible for shooting down the plane carrying both Rwandan Hutu President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira on April 6, 1994. (That event triggered mass killing and an environment of deep instability that facilitated the RPF’s rise to power in Kigali.) In Shake Hands with the Devil, published several years after Kagame unleashed terror in the Congo that’s left millions dead, Dallaire wrote: “My guys and the RPF soldiers had a good time together” at a small cantina. Dallaire then explained: “It had been amazing to see Kagame with his guard down for a couple of hours, to glimpse the passion that drove this extraordinary man.”

Dallaire’s interaction with the RPF was certainly not in the spirit of UN guidelines that called on staff to avoid close ties to individuals, organizations, parties or factions of a conflict.

A witness at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) actually accused Dallaire of complicity in a massacre. A Rwandan national testifying under the pseudonym T04, reported Tanzania’s Arusha Times, “alleged that in April 1994, Gen. Dallaire allowed members of the rebel Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF, now in power in Kigali), to enter the national stadium and organize massacres of Hutus. Several people, including the witness, took refuge there following the assassination of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana.”

But, criticisms of Dallaire’s actions in Rwanda have been almost entirely ignored by the Canadian media. Le Patron de Dallaire Parle went largely unnoticed, or at least not commented upon. A Canadian newswire search found three mentions of the book (a National Post review headlined “Allegations called ‘ridiculous’: UN boss attacks general,” an Ottawa Citizen piece headlined “There are many sides to the Rwanda saga” and a letter by an associate of Dallaire). Other critical assessments of Dallaire’s actions in Rwanda have fared no better, including Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa and Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Years Later in which Edward Herman and David Peterson “suggest that Dallaire should be regarded as a war criminal for positively facilitating the actual mass killings of April-July, rather than taken as a hero for giving allegedly disregarded warnings that might have stopped them.”

On the other hand, a Canadian newswire search of “Romeo Dallaire Rwanda” elicited over 6,000 articles that generally provide a positive portrayal of Dallaire. Similarly, a search for mention of Dallaire’s 2003 book Shake Hands with the Devil elicited 1,700 articles.

The complex interplay of ethnic, class and regional politics, as well as international pressures, which spurred the “Rwandan Genocide” has been decontextualized. Instead of discussing Uganda’s aggression against its much smaller neighbour, the flight of Hutus into Rwanda after the violent 1993 Tutsi coup in Burundi and economic reforms imposed on the country from abroad, the media focuses on a simplistic narrative of vengeful Hutus killing Tutsis. In this media fairy tale, Dallaire plays the great Canadian who attempted to save Africans.

While two decades old, the distortion of the Rwandan tragedy continues to have political impacts today. It has given ideological cover to dictator Paul Kagame’s repeated invasions of the Congo and domestic repression. In addition, this foreign policy myth has been used to justify foreign military intervention as is the case with the current political crisis in Burundi. The myth of Dallaire in Rwanda is also cited to rationalize the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, when in fact the true story illustrates the inevitable duplicitousness of foreign interventions.

Unlike in bedtime stories, in foreign policy making things up is usually harmful.

More articles by:

Yves Engler’s latest book is ‪Canada in Africa: 300 years of Aid and Exploitation.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
March 27, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Bailouts for the Rich, the Virus for the Rest of Us
Louis Proyect
Life and Death in the Epicenter
Paul Street
“I Will Not Kill My Mother for Your Stock Portfolio”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Scum Also Rises
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Stimulus Bill Allows Federal Reserve to Conduct Meetings in Secret; Gives Fed $454 Billion Slush Fund for Wall Street Bailouts
Jefferson Morley
Could the Death of the National Security State be a Silver Lining of COVID-19?
Ruth Hopkins
A Message For America from Brazil’s First Indigenous Congresswoman
Kathleen Wallace
The End of the Parasite Paradigm
Anthony DiMaggio
Misinformation and the Coronavirus: On the Dangers of Depoliticization and Social Media
Andrew Levine
Neither Biden Nor Trump: Imagine Cuomo
David Rosen
God’s Vengeance: the Christian Right and the Coronavirus
David Schultz
The Covid-19 Bailout: Another Failed Opportunity at Structural Change
Evaggelos Vallianatos
In the Grip of Disease
Edward Leer
Somebody Else’s World: An Interview with Kelly Reichardt
Robert Fisk
What Trump is Doing in the Middle East While You are Distracted by COVID-19
Daniel Warner
COVID-19: Health or Wealth?
Thomas Klikauer – Norman Simms
Corona in Germany: Hording and Authoritarianism
Ramzy Baroud
BJP and Israel: Hindu Nationalism is Ravaging India’s Democracy
Richard Moser
Russia-gate: the Dead But Undead
Ron Jacobs
Politics, Pandemics and Trumpism
Chris Gilbert
Letter From Catalonia: Alarming Measures
Richard Eskow
Seven Rules for the Boeing Bailout
Jonathan Carp
Coronavirus and the Collapse of Our Imaginations
Andrew Bacevich
The Coronavirus and the Real Threats to American Safety and Freedom
Peter Cohen
COVID-19, the Exponential Function and Human the Survival
César Chelala - Alberto Luis Zuppi
The Pope is Wrong on Argentina
James Preston Allen
Alexander Cockburn Meets Charles Bukowski at a Sushi Bar in San Pedro
Jérôme Duval
The Only Oxygen Cylinder Factory in Europe is Shut down and Macron Refuses to Nationalize It
Neve Gordon
Gaza Has Been Under Siege for Years. Covid-19 Could Be Catastrophic
Alvaro Huerta
To Survive the Coronavirus, Americans Should Learn From Mexicans
Prabir Purkayastha
Why the Coronavirus Pandemic Poses Fundamental Challenges to All Societies
Raouf Halaby
Fireside Chatterer Andrew Cuomo for President
Thomas Drake
The Sobering Realities of the American Dystopia
Negin Owliaei
Wash Your Hands…If You Have Water
Felice Pace
A New Threat to California’s Rivers:  Will the Rush to Develop Our Newest Water Source Destroy More Streams?
Ray Brescia
What 9/11 Can Teach Us About Responding to COVID-19
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Covid-19 Opportunity
John Kendall Hawkins
An Age of Intoxication: Pick Your Poison
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Propaganda Virus: Is Anyone Immune?
Nicky Reid
Fear and Loathing in Coronaville Volume 1: Dispatches From a Terrified Heartland
Nolan Higdon – Mickey Huff
Don’t Just Blame Trump for the COVID-19 Crisis: the U.S. Has Been Becoming a Failed State for Some Time
Susan Block
Coronavirus Spring
David Yearsley
Lutz Alone
CounterPunch News Service
Letter from Truthdig’s Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer to the Publisher Zuade Kaufman
CounterPunch News Service
Statement From Striking Truthdig Workers
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail