Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Lessons from Rwanda III: A crushing lack of political will

“Rwanda was on nobody’s radar as a place of strategic interest. It had no natural resources and no geographical significance. It was already dependent on foreign aid just to sustain itself, and on international funding to avoid bankruptcy. Even if the mission were to succeed, as looked likely at the time, there would be no political gain for the contributing nations; the only real beneficiary internationally would be the UN. For most countries, serving the UN’s objectives has never seemed worth even the smallest of risks. Member nations do not want a large, reputable and strong United Nations, no matter their hypocritical pronouncements otherwise. What they want is a weak, beholden, pathetic scapegoat of an organisation, which they can blame for their failures or steal victories from.

"Worst of all, I suspect that some of these powerful nations did not want to get involved because they had a firmer grip on the threats to the Arusha Accords than did the rest of us… [T]he permanent five of the security council, all had fully equipped and manned embassies in Rwanda, including both military and intelligence attaches… [T]hese nations either new in detail what was going on or were totally asleep at the switch. I firmly doubt they were asleep.” (Shake hands with the Devil: The failure of humanity in Rwanda, Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, pp89-90)

This is a damning assessment. Rwanda was so unimportant that even though the leading nations in the international community knew what was brewing, they did nothing to bolster the UN peacekeeping mission. Rather, they continued to starve the UN of the resources and political will it needed to do its job properly, primarily because a successful UN is a strong UN, and a strong UN not in these nation’s interests.

Dallaire was, of course, a long way from New York, and can only guess at the motivations of the great powers or their knowledge or motivations. But it is pretty clear that he was never given the resources he needed to do his job; not one whole battalion of troops was contributed by any nation, and one cannot simply add units from different nations to make up a whole. While the nations may not have known the full extent of the horror planned, it is clear that they were playing fast and loose with African lives. Eight hundred thousand of those lives would be lost.

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