Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa by Robin Philpot

Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa by Robin Philpot

Author:Robin Philpot
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 978-1-77186-005-5
Publisher: Baraka Books
Published: 2013-11-25T16:00:00+00:00

Chapter 10

The Importance of Being Canadian

- Carol Off

Imperialists: All honest, polite,

peaceable, charming people.

Gustave Flaubert, The Dictionary of Accepted Ideas

Carol Off’s essay The Lion, The Fox and the Eagle1 attempts to analyze, appraise, and define the role of Canada and Cana­dians in international affairs through the two major crises in Rwanda and Yugoslavia. This very Canadian approach to the subject—Canada is always trying to prove it is more than a US appendage—immediately relegates Africa and Africans to supporting roles for two of the author’s heroes, Roméo Dallaire, “the lion,” and Louise Arbour, “the eagle.” Her third hero, “the fox,” is Lewis MacKenzie, commander of UN peacekeepers in Yugoslavia. Simply by her take on the subject, Carol Off illustrates the tenacity and the pervasiveness of the literary convention in which Africa is the testing ground for European character.

She starts right off in Chapter 2, entitled Into Africa, with a long epigraph from Conrad about “strong, lusty, red-eyed devils” and “violence,” “greed,” and “hot desire.” The reader is left with little doubt about the author’s state of mind. She then proclaiMs that, “Heart of Darkness is not so much a place as a frame of mind, a journey into the darkness of the soul as it finally arrives at a place where there are no explanations for anything. Roméo Dallaire entered such a place (Rwanda) in the fall of 1993.” Conrad is always there to bolster Carol Off’s portrait of Canadians in Africa. She borrows quotes and images from him to widen the gulf that her heroes valiantly, selflessly, but vainly, endeavour to bridge.

In November 1993 Dallaire and his troops “sensed the darkness closing in.” As they try to understand what is happening, she opines that the only thing they “could sense was what Conrad described as ‘the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention’.” Later the reader learns that Dallaire’s mission, which had “tried and failed to stop the dark, random forces of hate and evil,” had begun “to morph into something more sinister.” The gulf is made so frightful and wide that those who try to bridge it or, to use a less fashionable but more accurate vocabulary, to take civilization across it, are doomed to fail. Indeed, if Conrad did not exist, somebody would have had to invent him.

Like so many others now and in the past Carol Off waxes lyrical every time she mentions the beautiful African countryside. For Off and her Roméo Dallaire, “Rwanda is extraordinarily beautiful.” The country is “covered by lush green hills.” The vegetation is “deep-blue green” and the “delicious humid climate” has a “perpetual breath of spring.” Dallaire and his Canadian assistant Major Brent Beardsley thought, “they were in paradise.” As goes the tradition, so goes Carol Off. The majesty and the beauty of the landscape is inversely proportional to the evil it hides, and that evil in all its details inevitably appears a few lines or paragraphs after her descriptions of Rwanda’s bucolic surroundings.

To portray the evil Carol Off recycles


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