Analytical book review


The book ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’ centres on the 1994, Rwandan genocide which shocked the world. The author, Romeo Dallaire, is the former head of the U.N. Peacekeeping Force that was deployed in Rwanda during the chaos. He tells us the story of the great evil where he and his men had to literally watch extremist Hutus systematically execute around 800,000 Tutsis. At the time Romeo Dallaire was a general, and tried to prevent the genocide from taking place. His warnings to the UN, three months prior to the killings, went ignored and his subsequent pleas for help to put things back into place went unheard. Once the Hutus targeted the Belgian Peacekeepers who served as guards to the President, his man power was once again cut down instead of being increased.

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He and his men watched helplessly as thousands of innocents were slaughtered. In a way the book presents the chronology of the epic horror that swept Rwanda. It was after he learned that he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that the writer began the book. One can gauge the enormous impact the massacre has on him through his state of mind. In an interview he said, “I actually think it’s having relived that year in Rwanda and the four months of the genocide through writing the book. I mean, I actually had to relive it. You can’t write it unless you relive it.”(  Not only the UN, but more or less most countries that were in a position to help, showed minimal interest in Rwanda at the time of the epidemic. The genocide could have indeed been prevented and once it began, it could have been controlled. In this essay we will first take a look at the events that revolved around the genocide from the beginning till the end. Then we will examine whether the international community had a role to play in the downfall of the Tutsis and if they could have prevented the widespread chaos and massacre that prevailed later on.

Summary and Analysis

“…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 governments not to intervene as the risks are high and all that is here are humans,”” recalls Romeo Dallaire in his powerful narrative Shake Hands with the Devil. His narrative proves that Rwanda was set on fire from the inside, while the world stood and watched it burn to the ground.

On the whole Dallaire was not only shocked but appalled at the way things were turning out for Rwanda. He did not understand or rather could not fathom how human life could be treated so cheaply, as though it was worthless, unless it was the life of a white man. It is a narration of the ‘100 days of killing’ where thousands of men, women and children were at times first tortured and then murdered in cold blood.  When General Dallaire informed Kofi Anan, the Head of Peacekeeping that he had received information that a civil war plan was being set into motion, he was simply told in not so many words to stay out of it and inform the President who himself was reported at the centre of the entire plan.  Rwandan President Habyarimana and the Burundian President died at once when their plane was shot down. And with their deaths all hell broke loose on Rwanda. The mass murders were a collaboration between The Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) and Hutu Militia (the interahamwe). At that point the peacekeepers deployed by the UN in the region were told not to intervene, so many have to sit and watch as thousands are killed. Once the ten Belgian soldiers are killed, whatever international forces were inside Rwanda were asked to pull back and leave the country immediately. Finally the international community had reacted, but only to save its own, not to help the dying Rwandans. The place at the time was disgusting, dogs turned into flesh eating monsters; as the number of dead escalated “dumper trucks” went around collection and throwing away bodies.

Speaking about the actions of the French in particular, Dallaire wrote about the shame he felt when he saw French soldiers protecting expatriates while a myriad of Rwandans watched them leave for safety. “I saw how aggressively the French were pushing black Rwandans seeking asylum out of the way. A sense of shame overcame me. The whites, who had made their money in Rwanda and who had hired so many Rwandans to be their servants and labourers, were now abandoning them. Self-interest and self-preservation ruled.” Even Rwandans who were working with international firms were not good enough to be saved and were left behind.

America was a superpower during the 1990s; other countries followed its league. It chose not to act; it chose to let Rwanda rot. In an address to the Press Corps the then President Clinton’s only interest cantered around getting American citizens out of the country, he mentioned nothing about helping the natives or the dangers to their lives. ( His words show his concern for Americans and the fact that he has no interest in the lives of anyone other than his own citizens. One very crucial incident took place at the Don Bosco School. The place had over 2000 refugees under the protection of Belgian soldiers deployed by the UN. The soldiers were told to retreat to the airport; they did as they were told and left the natives behind who were then subsequently killed.

During April, the UN Security Council decided to withdraw its peace keeping force from the region. The troops which were 2500 in number and idle were then cut down to a pathetic 270. “The future of UNAMIR’s participation in implementing the Arusha Peace Agreement was being decided by fifteen men sitting in a backroom beside the Security Council hall in New York, one of whom was a hardline Rwandan extremist. He found himself allied with the Americans, Russians and Chinese, who all wanted the mission to end. On the morning of April 6, we received the Security Council’s Resolution 909, which extended our mandate for six weeks… The report sent the wrong message, and the consequences were truly devastating. It confirmed for all Rwandans-the moderates attempting to hang on to hope and the extremists plotting extermination-that the world didn’t give a damn about Rwanda,” narrates the General. Rwanda had no real hope as the UN and the international community was already looking for excuses not to act, now on top of all that they had a Rwandan feeding them exactly the justifications they needed to stay out of it. Time and again both the UN and USA refused to acknowledge the mass killings are genocide. By the time they did thousands upon thousands had perished. Admitting that it was genocide would mean that the UN would have to intervene with immediate effect, a step they did not wish to take. When assistance was finally approved, the 5,500 troops that Dallaire has originally asked for came too late. The French forces that were eventually authorized in the south-west Rwanda, they managed to create a ‘safe area’ for the Tutsis, where not surprisingly, Tutsis continued to die. Finally the Tutsi RPF forces managed to take over Kigali at which point the Hutus fled to Zaire, while the French were replaced by Ethiopian soldiers. On average, 8000 Rwandans died per day during the 100 day massacre and all the world did was watch. As a general Dallaire sees himself as a great failure; he believes that at the end of the day his presence in Rwanda was “nothing more than a camouflage,” where the soliders were used as a gimmick to convince the world that  something was being done to help stop the killings.

Critical Commentary

Dallaire has insisted time and again that the genocide could have been prevented. The prevention more or less comes down singularly onto America, who during the 1990s had a great amount of influence over the UN. In his book The Limited of Humanitarian Invention, Dr. Alan Kuperman discusses at length the fact that states such as the U.S. and the U.K. failed to even acknowledge the term genocide let alone deal with the problem. Likewise Dallaire also gives evidence of the same where he writes, “…during those last weeks we received a shocking call from an American staffer…He told me that his estimates indicated that it would take the deaths of 85,000 Rwandans to justify the risking of the life of one American soldier. It was a macabre, to say the least.” At regular points in history the United States has selectively taken up the role of the international police, coming in and disciplining states that threaten to go wrong. In the case of Rwanda, American had nothing to gain; hence it stayed out of the whole picture.

One more important factor was the Radio which was more or less the only means of communication (albeit one sided) that the general public had. Each day lists of people who were to be killed were announced on the radio. America had the technology to block the airwaves and could have subsequently curbed the murders but refused to do so.

The UN failed to act in large part because France and China, both permanent members, were against helping Rwanda. Both had their own motives as both were known suppliers of weapons and arsenal to the Rwandan government.  “The Americans were interested in saving money, the Belgians were interested in saving face, and the French were interested in saving their ally, the genocidal government,” said Alison Des Forges, a scholar on Rwanda and author of a report on the humanitarian conduct in Rwanda. Every country that could have a difference, chose not to. ( In a way America was Rwandans worst enemy because the world followed in its footsteps and the world chose to walk away from Rwanda without a second thought.

When Dallaire had forwarded such sensitive information to the UN about the upcoming attacks, instead of turning a blind eye to the problem they should have sent in more troops to the regions.  With 2,500 more men, perhaps the General may have been able to seize the weapons and prevent the genocide from happening. It should be noted that this itself is somewhat of a weakness of Dallaire to assume that he could have saved everyone. Even if he had been successful in apprehending the perpetrators, there is no telling how many would have escaped his efforts and started the genocide anyway. It is evident from the book itself that this had been well thought out and properly planned.

In his book, Dr. Kuperman analyses the odds and says that out of the 800,000, a mere 175,000 only would have been saved. The point though is, that life is precious and even those 175,000 people deserved to live. The sad part is that over a thousand well armed soldiers from both France and Belgium were flown into Rwanda but were used as nothing more than ushers for the nationals that were trapped there. These men could have been used to stop the genocide; they could have very easily halted men, most of who had nothing more than shovels to kill their victims. The forces that were already on the ground were repeatedly told not to intervene, orders that the General defied time and again.

The soldiers that were meant to help Rwandans came from Bangladesh and Ghana; all of them were inadequate and inept, with poor training and skills. And all the while the international community could not decide whether to help or not because they were fixated on the word ‘genocide.’ It took ages for them to admit that it was indeed genocide, while thousands died each day as they lingered onto their decisions.

This pandemic of a sort could have been prevented to an extent; once it had begun it could have even been controlled and lives could have been saved. Unfortunately, even though it would have been a drop in the bucket for the international community, no action was taken to help. At last when French troops came in to help Rwandans, they somehow also managed to help the Hutus leaders who had orchestrated the entire massacre, escape onto Zaire.

Rwanda was lost between political lethargy and genuine disinterest on part of the major players in the world. The lives of her men, no more than numbers that diminished by a distinct margin.


Shake Hands with the Devil is a heart wrenching account of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Through the authors Romeo Dallaire narration the reader is exposed to a multitude of horrors that took place during the time. Much to his despair and dismay, the political will of the international community seemed lethargic in its decision making and waited while thousands died each day. At the end of the day, Rwanda held no usefulness for the superpowers which was why it was so heavily ignored. Even though warnings were sent out about the impending doom that hung over the country. Once the mass murders were underway the international community once again failed to act. Peace keeping forces were told to observe and refrain from acting which resulted only in the death toll rising even more. While men, women and children died, soldiers swept into the country only to save the foreigners stranded there, where as close to useless military aid in the form of Bangladeshi and Ghanaian soldiers were provided to help the Rwandans. In Rwanda preventing the genocide would have been as easy as blocking the radio airwaves which served as guidelines on who to murder. The U.S. had the technology to do this but refused to do that too. Rwanda is not a changed place where ethnicity is no longer a topic of conversation. Tutsis and Hutus live side by side, some live right next door to men that murdered their families. To prevent future genocides the UN needs to step out of its shell and actually do its job. The international community, especially superpowers that influence decision making globally, need to show a little more interest in the lives of men that are not their nationals. Campaigns need to be established and the media needs to play a very important role in preventing any future genocides. Like Rwanda and the Holocaust, the first action has always been to deny that it’s happening. This mentally has to change and it can only be done if leaders show more compassion to human beings than they would to their own dogs. And for that the book is quite aptly subtitled ‘The Failure of Humanity’


Dallaire, Romeo: Shake Hands with the Devil: the Failure of Humanity

Kuperman, Dr. Alan: The Limited of Humanitarian Invention: Genocide in Rwanda

Power. Samantha, A Problem From Hell. America and the Age of Genocide,

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