My hero, Romeo Dallaire

June 3rd, 2011

I have recently finished watching a superb documentary, ‘Ghosts of Rwanda’, about that nation’s repulsive genocide of 1994. In recent years, the US government — as well as those of Britain and France, among others — has publicly declared its regret that more was not done to prevent the attempted eradication of the Tutsis or reduce the human loss. The UN and its Secretary-General of the time, Kofi Annan, have made similar remarks.

Kofi Annan is from Ghana, a country that I have worked in and is very dear to me, and the UN’s spectacular ineptitude during the mass killings — including reducing their force when General Romeo Dallaire asked for backup — does not reflect well on the organisation or Annan.

However, I learned something new from the documentary. While other countries — including the US which, under the Clinton administration, was loathe to enter Africa after the Somalia debacle of 1992 and publicly stated so — were commiting to not providing troops for the UN mission, the two main countries that did stick around and provide the lion’s share of troops were Ghana and Canada. (This is discussed in part 6 of the above link, from around 4.00 to 6.00).

Dallaire, the beleagured Canadian General in charge of the UN mission, states that he said to Ghanaian General Henry Kwami Anyidoho, “Henry, they want us out. We’ve failed in the mission. We’ve failed in attempting to convince… We’ve failed the Rwandans. We are going to run and cut the losses; that’s what they want us to do.” ‘They’ in this sentence can only be construed as the UN people at headquarters in New York.

Anyidoho said No.

“We haven’t failed, and as commanders we are going to sit here, work hard and see to its solution. So let’s tell those people back in New York that we do not think the mission should be closed.”

800,000 people are thought to have died in 100 days of genocide in an area smaller than the US state of Maryland — targeted killings without mercy in an attempt to wipe out Tutsis. The UN force, under Canadian command with a large chunk of Ghanaian troops, have been widely credited with keeping that number below the million mark.

While other governments, Western and African, were running away from Rwanda as genocide was beginning, it is no surprise to me, having lived and worked in both, that the two Generals who decided to stay were from Ghana and Canada, respectively.

And the relationship extends into our present millenium. When the Vancouver Canucks made it into the Stanley Cup Final last week — that’s the final of the (Ice) Hockey season, for your information — these Ghanaian children gave their support to Canada’s team.

Beautiful. Honest. Relevant.