Following is a review of Prelude to Genocide - Arusha, Rwanda, and the Failure of Diplomacy by David Rawson, Ohio University Press, Athens, 2018.
Prelude to Genocide is the most detailed and best documented account of a diplomatic negotiation that I know of. Its authoritativeness and accuracy cannot be questioned. The effort that went into culling through the files and then affixing the proper citations is astounding. The story unfolds in a chronological fashion although it jumps backward at times to repeat some common background for a new thread. The book flows fairly well. Its best features are the comprehensiveness of the study and its worst the fact that it is an academic treatise that is not likely to entertain folks who are not deeply interested in either the Rwandan crisis or the process of negotiations.
This book is not going to reach a popular audience, but for those focused on Rwanda or on what constitutes a negotiation and how that occurs, the book is illustrative. In that regard, anyone who wonders what diplomats actually do will not help but be impressed with the enormous amount of to and fro and give and take that ensues as foreign policy is pushed along. The book has definite text possibilities for classes on diplomacy, negotiation or conflict resolution. The latter because the author notes throughout what was not working and what the ultimate result of such failures would be.
Some readers are going to try to mine this book for smoking guns, i.e. proof that the U.S. knew genocide was coming, or complicity in that regard by the failure to act. Rawson is up front on what the U.S. knew about deteriorating security and when, as well as Rwanda’s historical predilection towards ethnic violence. He is similarly candid when talking about the policy frameworks that governed U.S. actions. Certainly diplomats were hamstrung from not having all possible options available, but given the parameters within which they had to work, this book provides an accurate record of what transpired.
Since none of the Rwandans involved in the talks has or will write about their motives and expectations, this book must stand as definitive. Kigali side players are dead and RPF players that remain are too cautious to be frank and too blinded by hindsight to be accurate. Internal records on the part of participants - whatever might have existed - are probably long gone.