Rwanda’s 20-year old mistake that won’t let Canadian senator sleep

A CANADIAN senator, Romeo Dallaire, recently dozed off while driving and crashed his car into a lamp stand while on his way to work.  Ordinarily, this is not news to an average Rwandan as most have crashed their cars or seen cars crash into one object or the other. It is simply not unusual.
Canadian senator, Romeo Dallaire. Sunday Times/Courtesy
Canadian senator, Romeo Dallaire. Sunday Times/Courtesy

A CANADIAN senator, Romeo Dallaire, recently dozed off while driving and crashed his car into a lamp stand while on his way to work. 

Ordinarily, this is not news to an average Rwandan as most have crashed their cars or seen cars crash into one object or the other. It is simply not unusual.

But Dallaire is not your ordinary man. Moreover, the cause of the accident was not the usual reckless driving, nor was he driving under the influence of alcohol. 

It emerged that the senator wasn’t not even worrying about the plight of his Quebec constituents, if any, but of a 20-year-old mistake that happened partly under his watch far away in Rwanda. That is the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

People who have studied the Rwanda Genocide against the Tutsi have placed Dallaire among the ‘good guys’ who, at least, tried to do something but were overpowered by the forces of evil that prevailed then resulting in the massacre of about a million innocent people.

Personally, I developed a liking for Dallaire after reading his book, Shaking Hands with the Devil, in which he recounts his mission and futile attempts to stop the Genocide.

After crashing his car, he appeared before his fellow senators to apologise and it’s his words rather than the apology itself that emphasised the real impact of the Genocide particularly on those who directly suffered the brunt or were witness.

According to media reports, the senator told his colleagues that he had been troubled by the upcoming 20th Anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide against the Tutsi rendering him “sleepless and stressed.”

For those who are hearing about this man’s name for the first time, Dallaire, 67, is a retired Lieutenant General who served as commander of the ill-fated UN Peacekeeping Mission to Rwanda prior to and during the 1994 Genocide.

In 1996, Dallaire was made an Officer of the Legion of Merit of the United States, the highest military honour available for award to foreigners, for his service in Rwanda.

In 2004, his book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, was awarded the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction.

In 2006, he was awarded a Doctorate of Humane Letters by the Queens College of the City University of New York in recognition of his efforts in Rwanda and for speaking out against Genocide.

Guilty outweighs praise

Besides the many awards, today Dallaire has a good job as a Quebec Senator yet the man can’t have peaceful nights.

I can imagine his sleep riddled with ugly scenes from twenty years ago, of women and children being ripped apart with machetes while he stood there, capable of doing something yet “not allowed” to get involved.  

Under his nose, with his armed peace keepers, he watched as many were raped, maimed or chopped to pieces, yet his hands were “tied” by the rules that governed his so-called peace keeping mission.

Imagining this situation enables one to understand why Dallaire can’t sleep and why no amount of accolades might ever be able to cure his guilty, a personal guilty. He accepts to take responsibility and blames himself for not having taken action to avert the world’s biggest human calamity in recent history.

The awards, rather than sooth him are just a constant reminder of the mistake that the international community, through his peacekeeping troops, could have helped to avert but never did.

While the memories of the Genocide against the Tutsi can’t allow one man in Canada to sleep, in Rwanda, the country soldiers on with national efforts unite the people through genuine reconciliation and forgiveness.

Through initiatives such as Ndi Umunyarwanda, there are for the wronged to forgive and the perpetuators to take responsibility and say ‘sorry.’

Dallare’s demonstrated acts of feeling remorse can be regarded as some kind of guilty, yet he’s not a Rwandan. He was on a job that simply prohibited him from getting involved. He feels guilty because he’s a human being who watched while other humans were being dehumanised. 

This is virtue, and virtue belongs to only good people.

Rwandans could learn from the Canadian senator and through such initiatives as Gusabana Imbabazi, put together the shameful past and unit to build the country in the spirit of Ndi Umunyarwanda (I am Rwandan).

Like Dallaire’s let us hear testimonies of Rwandan’s who can’t sleep well today because they are disturbed by their acts of omission or commission during the Genocide. At the end of their testimonies, let all Rwandans hear them say that ‘We’re indeed sorry and regret what happened.

May the Dallaires of Rwanda stand up and be counted. 

 

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