Canadian officials have long done as they pleased in Africa, loudly proclaimed this country’s altruism and only faced push back from hard rightists who bemoan sending troops to the “Dark Continent” or “dens of hell”.
With many Canadians normally opposed to war supporting anything called “peacekeeping”, unless troops deployed with an African UN mission are caught using the N-word and torturing a teenager to death (the 1993 Somalia mission) they will be portrayed as an expression of this country’s benevolence. So, what should those of us who want Canada to be a force for good in the world think about the Trudeau government’s plan to join a UN stabilization mission in Mali, Congo, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic or South Sudan?
First, we have good reason to be cynical.
On his recent five country African “reconnaissance” tour defence minister Harjit Sajjan included an individual whose standing is intimately tied to a military leader who has destabilized large swaths of the continent. Accompanying Sajjan was General Romeo Dallaire, who backed Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front in 1993/94 and continues to publicly support the “Butcher of the Great Lakes”.
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 the mid-90s UN mission in Rwanda, claims Dallaire ignored RPF violence, turned a blind eye to the weapons they received from Uganda and possibility shared UN intelligence with the Ugandan sponsored rebels. Dallaire doesn’t deny his admiration for Kagame. In Shake Hands with the Devil, published several years after Kagame unleashed unprecedented terror in the Congo, 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 not in the spirit of UN guidelines that called on staff to avoid close ties to individuals, organizations, parties or factions of a conflict.
Included on the trip because he symbolizes Canadian benevolence, Dallaire hasn’t moved away from his aggressive backing for Kagame despite the Globe and Mail reporting on Kagame’s internal repression, global assassination program and proxies occupying the mineral rich Eastern Congo. The recently retired Senator has aligned his depiction of the 1994 Rwandan tragedy to fit the RPF’s simplistic, self-serving, portrayal and Dallaire even lent his name to a public attack against the 2014 BBC documentary Rwanda’s Untold Story. In February the former senator met with the Rwandan dictator in Toronto.
Three weeks ago the ruling party in Burundi released a statement criticizing the Canadian general’s role in Rwanda and his inclusion on Sajjan’s trip. Still, I’ve yet to see any mention of Dallaire’s backing of Kagame or the fact his ally in Kigali has significant interest in the UN mission in Eastern Congo.
Another piece of history that should be part of any debate about a UN deployment to the continent is Canada’s link to the UN force in the Congo, which is an outgrowth of the mid-1990s foreign invasion. In 1996 Rwandan forces marched 1,500 km to topple the regime in Kinshasa and then re-invaded after the Congolese government it installed expelled Rwandan troops. This led to an eight-country war between 1998 and 2003, which left millions dead. Since then Rwanda and its proxies have repeatedly invaded the Eastern Congo.
Kigali justified its 1996 intervention into the Congo as an effort to protect the Banyamulenge (Congolese Tutsi) living in Eastern Congo from the Hutus who fled the country when the RPF took power. As many as two million, mostly Hutu, refugees fled the summer 1994 RPF takeover of Rwanda.
The US military increased its assistance to Rwanda in the months leading up to its fall 1996 invasion of Zaire. In The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996-2006 Filip Reyntjens explains: “The United States was aware of the intentions of Kagame to attack the refugee camps and probably assisted him in doing so. In addition, they deliberately lied about the number and fate of the refugees remaining in Zaire, in order to avoid the deployment of an international humanitarian force, which could have saved tens of thousands of human lives, but which was resented by Kigali and AFDL [L’Alliance des forces démocratiques pour la libération du Congo, a Rwandan backed rebel force led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila].”
Ottawa played an important part in this sordid affair. In late 1996, Canada led a short-lived UN force into eastern Zaire, meant to bring food and protection to Hutu refugees. The official story is that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien organized a humanitarian mission into eastern Zaire after his wife saw images of exiled Rwandan refugees on CNN. In fact, Washington proposed that Ottawa, with many French speakers at its disposal, lead the UN mission. The US didn’t want pro- Joseph Mobutu Sese Seko France to gain control of the UN force.