What Kind of Country Has No Dogs?



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Arseneault



Jesse Arseneault

Dr. David Clark

English 767

Dec. 11, 2009

“What Kind of Country Has No Dogs?”:

Sovereignty and Animal Death in the Rwandan Genocide

How do we account for the death of animals in the face of a genocide? How, in such situations, are we to address, comprehend, or even grieve the loss of nonhuman animals with a pervasively assumed sovereignty of human life over animals’ lives? Both of these questions haunt this paper at its outset as it attempts to address the death of dogs in the Rwanda genocide, as – when dogs began feeding on the corpses of dead Rwandans and were declared a “health problem” by the United Nations – the UN and Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) shot every dog in Rwanda1. Considering animals in any postcolonial context involves speaking out in a striking absence in what is a primarily humanist field of study since, as Peter Armstrong crucially points out, “[c]oncerned as it is with the politics of historical and contemporary relations between ‘Western’ and other cultures since 1492 or thereabouts, postcolonial studies has shown little interest in the fate of the nonhuman animal” which he suggests might be a consequence of “the suspicion that pursuing an interest in the postcolonial animal risks trivializing the suffering of human beings under colonialism” (413). This paper attempts to speak somewhat to that absence in hopes to both bring animals into a postcolonial consciousness and to address the dogs in Rwanda in an analysis that will add to understandings of situations in which violence done to humans and to animals converge.

I am concerned with the absence of concern for animals in the wake of the genocide in light of the notion that few texts address the dogs, and even the ones that do only provide scant details. I also want to confront what I read as a hesitancy to acknowledge the deaths of animals in these texts. Without suggesting that dogs should be a primary focus in the wake of 1994 that supersedes concern for human welfare in the republic’s post-genocide climate – without adhering strictly to an animal rights discourse that would privilege dogs as isolated subjects of the right to life in a context where such rights were so vehemently disregarded for humans – I want to interrogate the seeming absence of concern for the dogs in the proliferation of Western literature that has documented the events in Rwanda in 1994. This paper looks at Western narratives of the genocide to examine the ways in which the treatment of the dogs in the genocide is symptomatic of deeply entrenched notions of sovereignty, both in terms of the sovereignty of human lives (and deaths) over those of animals and the ways that political sovereignty is purchased through the deaths of animals. As texts I will examine describe, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), when they were in Rwanda between April and July, 1994, were prohibited from intervening in the genocide (a term they were not even permitted to use for fear that the West would have to intervene as per the UN’s Genocide Convention), dogs were the only bodies on whom they opened fire when they began feeding on the corpses of the Rwandan dead. I read the hesitancy to bring dogs into the realm of grievable life or to have concern for the dog’s lives – or the refusal to openly support such concern in the wake of the genocide – as derived from what Judith Butler calls the “norms of intelligibility” that position the dog outside the realm of grievable life in legal terms and in terms of how the dogs are narrativized by Western writers of the genocide. I also suggest that, precisely because dogs are rendered ungrievable life, they are instrumentalized as a site on which certain political and biological sovereignties may be enacted. Entwined with their positioning outside the norms of grievable life and “outside the law” – a phrase I will expand on in the pages to come – the dogs in Rwanda are rendered a repository of displaced Western intervention in the genocide, especially in the face of the impotence and inaction of the UN and other forces to stop the genocide, a site on which sovereignty can be enacted precisely because they are outside the realm of human concern.

I should stipulate at the outset of this paper that I am not interested in making hierarchical distinctions between the human dead of the genocide and those dogs dead at the hands of the RPF and UN Peacekeepers. Matthew Calarco’s Zoographies sheds light on such distinctions, when he comments on comparisons of violence done to animals to the Nazi Holocaust, suggesting that “giving even minor attention to the mistreatment of animals in this political and philosophical context might appear at first blush to be highly questionable” (110). Only fifteen years after the event of the genocide, the context I examine in this paper follows a nation in the heat of genocidal consciousness that would render questionable any attempts to compare the human dead to the animal dead. Indeed, only fifteen years after the event, memorializations of the human toll still continue to foreground the pervasive memory of the murders that colour any attempt to speak for the animal dead. “But unless we are willing to beg the question at hand,” Calarco writes, “we cannot view the comparison of violence toward human beings and animals as scandalously inadequate simply because it compares human to nonhuman life … What the question of the animal obliges us to consider is precisely the anthropocentric value hierarchy that places human life always and everywhere in a higher rank over animal life” (110). Speaking of the dead dogs of the Rwanda genocide certainly compels an examination of the ways in which human lives are privileged over those of animals. Yet such an examination is not merely drawing a comparison between the value of human and animal life, but acknowledging that in the Rwandan genocide both human and animal lives were precariously lived and cut short. Indeed, Judith Butler stresses that, “in the context of war … one surely should … point to the destruction of animals, of habitats, and of other conditions for sentient life” (Frames 75), and my paper aims to consider the ways in which animal life was affected by the Rwandan war and subsequent genocide. My examination of the role of the dogs in the genocide should certainly not be read as an attempt to overshadow the suffering of humans, but I am interested in the extent to which animal life is disregarded in such extreme situations of violence and the way their bodies become a site on which sovereignties are enacted.

In Philip Gourevitch’s journalistic account of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, the author gives a brief passage (that is also one of the most sustained documentations of the dog-shooting) that marks the absence of dogs in the scenery of post-genocide Rwanda. This brief passage is interjected in what is a stark departure from the beautiful country that Gourevitch earlier describes. Indeed, after surveying the beauty of the Rwandan landscape, declaring “Rwanda is spectacular to behold” (20), he describe how, only a year after the genocide, “most of the dead had been buried … the work of the killers looked just as they had intended: invisible” (21), but is dumbfounded when he “notices the absence of dogs” (147), and asks, “What kind of country has no dogs? … Village life without dogs? Children without dogs? Poverty without dogs?” (147). The questions he asks about dogs mark one of the many ways in which the idyllic Rwandan landscape is disrupted by a profound absence in the wake of the killings. The dead are buried, but the dark history of the beautiful countryside is belied by the absence of domesticated animals and even of “any animal sounds” (147). He even describes the nights as “eerily quiet” (147), spectralizing the profound absence of animals. After some inquiry, Gourevitch finds that “the dogs were eating the dead” and, as a result, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) and the UN peacekeepers, who “regarded the corpse-eating dogs as a health problem” (148) shot all the dogs in Rwanda. I want to interrogate this absence of dogs, which also mimics the absence of discourse about the dogs, in the wake of the genocide. I read this absence as symptomatic of the notion that they lie outside the norms of intelligibility over what constitutes grievable life and outside the legal provisions enacted following the genocide (genocidaires are “brought to justice” in UN trials, but not dog-killers). Few texts speak of the dogs, if at all, and even then only in passing, and yet, as I will examine, the role of the dogs has striking implications for notions of political and biological sovereignty.

I want now to return to the question of what it means for the dogs to be outside the norms of intelligibility and outside the law, and how, in this positioning, the dogs become a site on which sovereignty is enacted in the genocide. What it means to be outside the law might best be described by Derrida’s sustained analysis of the animal in The Beast and The Sovereign in terms of how he views the beast and the sovereign as connected by their similar relationship to the law. He writes, “sovereign and beast seem to have in common their being-outside-the-law. It is as though both of them were situated by definition at a distance from or above the laws, in nonrespect for the absolute law, the absolute law that they make or that they are but that they do not have to respect” and suggests that “being-outside-the-law” can “on the one hand (and this is the figure of sovereignty), take the form of being-above-the-laws ... [and] on the other hand (and this is the figure of what is most often understood by animality or bestiality), [being outside the law can also situate] the place where the law does not appear, or is not respected, or gets violated” (17). Although this logic of being-outside-the-law common to both the beast and the sovereign draws a relationship between the two, it does not necessarily provide an equation between them. As Derrida crucially points out, the sovereign is “above-the-law,” and the hierarchical language of being above does not necessarily extend to the animal; they are outside – but not above – the law. The sovereign can “take the form of the Law itself, of the origin of laws, the guarantor of laws” or “the absolute law that they make or that they are but that they do not have to respect” (17). The beast, however, remains only outside and not above the law. Also, that they are outside the law does not preclude the possibility of their forcible subordination to the sovereign, especially since the sovereign – as Derrida points out – can also originate the law, presumably in a way that subsumes the animal.

The dogs in Rwanda, in the process of them being shot by Sovereign powers, are drawn into a relationship with the Sovereign even in their place outside the law. The UN and the RPF forces – both figures of political and national sovereignties – establish that relationship in the act of shooting dogs in a way that Achille Mbembe’s “Necropolitics” sheds light on. Situating his argument within the assumption that “sovereignty resides, to a large degree, in the power and the capacity to dictate who may live and who must die” (11), Mbembe writes that Sovereignty is “defined as a twofold process of self-institution and self-limitation (fixing one’s own limits for oneself). The exercise of sovereignty, in turn, consists in society’s capacity for self-creation through recourse to institutions inspired by specific social and imaginary significations” (13). In terms of the way that the UN, itself arguably an institution inspired by imaginary significations of global democracy, self-limits in Rwanda’s genocidal context – having a mandate that disallows shooting at humans to stop the genocide – I am interested in the way that it institutes control by designating the dogs a “health problem.” Mbembe continues, “the perception of the existence of the Other as an attempt on my life, as a mortal threat or absolute danger whose biophysical elimination would strengthen my potential to life and security – this, I suggest, is one of the many imaginaries of sovereignty” (18), foregrounding the way in which sovereignty is purchased through the death of a threatening other. The shooting of dogs in Rwanda, then, cannot simply be read as a “health problem.” Under the guise of such a designation, however true it may be, they are also rendered2 a danger whose elimination reinforces the sovereignty of human life and of such political powers as the UN. This reduction of animal life to a biological hazard also has a great deal with their being outside the protections of the law.

Returning to Derrida’s discussion of the beast and the sovereign, since I have already discussed the relationship between the animal and sovereignty, I want to suggest that this being-outside-the-law on the part of the animal is also tied to their being beyond human concern in such extreme situations of violence. The beast, in the place where the law does not appear or gets violated – especially readings of the Rwanda genocide in which animal life is subordinate to concern for violence done to humans – occupies a precarious position, even if outside the law. Indeed, in the post-genocide tribunals that sought to bring genocidaires under the law or make them subject to legal punishment for crimes against humanity, “there is no ‘crime against animality’ nor crime of genocide against nonhuman living beings” (The Beast 110) that would seek to bring killers of dogs to justice. In the legal sense, dogs are outside the law in the sense that they cannot be the recipients of criminal punishment for eating the dead, but also in the sense that the killing of dogs is not recognized in the wake of the Rwanda genocide. A dog “is not a subject of law (not therefore of power) who could protest against a ‘wrong’ done to it and occupy the place of a plaintiff in a trial” (Derrida and Roudinesco, “Violence” 70), which precludes any legal attempt to speak for them. They are outside-the-law even in the sense that wrongs against them are not recognized by the law. Indeed, they cannot be “wronged” as humans can be wronged because they do not bear the prerequisite recognition of subjectivity that would allow them to protest a wrong. This existence of the beast outside the law, or where the law does not appear, also relegates them outside the realm of legal concern over their lives.

The notion that dogs cannot be the subject of having wrong done to them also echoes Judith Butler’s comments in Precarious Life, through which dogs might be understood as outside the law and outside the bounds of legal subjectivity because they lie outside of the “norms of intelligibility” over what constitutes a grievable form of life. Asking the questions, “Whose lives count as lives? And finally What makes for a grievable life?” (20), she suggests that

normative schemes of intelligibility establish what will and will not be human, what will be a livable life, what will be a grievable death. These normative schemes operate not only by producing ideals of the human that differentiate among those who are more and less human. … [S]ometimes these normative schemes work precisely through providing no image, no name, no narrative, so that there never was a life, and there never was a death. (146)

Although Butler situates her critique within media representations of human subjects, her work might also be extended to notions of the animal in terms of how the grievability of animal life becomes subordinate to respect for human suffering and death. Just as norms of intelligibility establish who is more and less human, they might also render the life of an animal ungrievable precisely because it is not human. In the shadow of genocide, where human life and death is a primary concern, the texts I will examine suggest that dogs’ lives are subordinate to such concerns. The absence of concern for the dogs in the wake of the Rwanda genocide certainly suggests that dogs do not represent a grievable form of life. Indeed, the description of dogs as a “health problem” that Gourevitch signals relegates the dog to the status of a depersonalized, denarrativized biological threat to the human body rather than a life that could conceivably be grievable or a subject of human concern. The absence of stories surrounding the dogs in the wake of the Rwanda genocide and the notion that, as I will soon examine, these stories largely refer to dogs in terms of an instrumentalized “health problem” which renders them a site on which sovereignties are enacted.



James Dawes’s That the World May Know, one of the scant descriptions of the dogs in Rwanda, gives a brief description of them being shot in terms that preclude their grievability. The author describes how the RPF encountered dogs that “were unusually large and fierce, having fed well on the heaps of corpses choking the roadways. RPF soldiers, sickened by this final indignity began to shoot the dogs. Immediately, animal rights groups in London launched a protest to protect the dogs” (20). This statement is the most extensive reference to the dogs in Dawes’s text, and the indignity on human deaths that Dawes foregrounds certainly colours any attempt to speak about dogs’ deaths. Derrida suggests, “No doubt it will always be necessary to kill animals. And probably humans too” (“Violence” 70), and the genocidal climate of Rwanda is one such situation where ethical questions around the value of a dog’s life are complicated by assumptions about the value of human life as dogs begin to feed on the corpses of human dead. But one of the consequences of this situation is that, as Butler’s arguments suggest, the dogs are given no narrative beyond the indignity they enact on the bodies of the dead. Indeed, that their actions cause indignity, Dawes suggests, becomes the reason for the RPF opening fire on them. And yet, in that interaction between the RPF and dogs is an assumption about the sovereignty of human life (and dignified death, since the dogs are, in a sense, purportedly desecrating the corpses of Rwandans) by the way dogs are killed for the indignity they enact. In the process of killing the dogs, the RPF establish the sovereignty of human dignity – and ethnic dignity, since most of the corpses would be their fellow Tutsis – over and above the value of dogs’ lives. Significantly, however, Dawes includes reference to animal rights groups protesting the death of dogs, but ends his paragraph without commentary and does not himself show concern for the lives of dogs. However, that he does not deride the concern animal rights groups show for animal life in this situation perhaps suggests that it is not out of the realm of possibility, but the value of animal life remains unquestioningly subordinate to the concern for respectful human death. My analysis does not aim to judge the actions of the RPF in light of the indignity Dawes suggests they experience as dogs feed on the bodies of their own people, but this incident exposes how – in such extreme situations – the life of the dog ceases to matter at the expense of violence done to human lives. In Butler’s terms, dogs remain outside the norms of what constitutes a grievable life in such situations and outside the law, as Derrida suggests, by the way they are indiscriminately killed without concern over judicial retribution. And, following from Mbembe’s “Necropolitics,” the act of shooting the dogs also becomes a venue through which human sovereignty is purchased as the threat to dignified death is eliminated, but certain political sovereignties also emerge in the way that the UN is represented in a number of texts.

Roméo Dallaire’s account of the genocide certainly speaks to a relationship between sovereignty and animal death in the way that animal metaphors and dogs come into his narrative. He describes Rwandans in the Hotel Mille Collines3 as “live bait being toyed with by a wild animal, at constant risk of being killed and eaten” (382), assigning bestial metaphor to the genocide in Rwanda. As Judith Butler points out, “the bestialization of the human in this way has little, if anything, to do with actual animals, since it is a figure of the animal against which the human is defined” (Precarious 78), but the reductive metaphor that describes “wild animal” Hutu militias risks primitivizing the conflict in Rwanda, aligning itself with what Gourevitch signals as the dominant sympathy of Western powers toward the genocide, “that Rwandans were simply killing each other as they were wont to do, for primordial tribal reasons, since time immemorial” (154). Indeed, such metaphors naturalize the genocidal conflict in a way that diminishes the long history of colonialism entrenched in Rwandan consciousness, which recent films such as Sometimes in April have attempted to counter by situating the events of April 1994 in a long colonial history4 in which “the Hut-Tutsi divide was established by the Belgian colonizers” (Diken 750). Also, that a UN general wields this primitivizing metaphor reinforces the legitimacy of the UN as a sovereign, “civilized” political power intervening in a “barbaric” colony, and the animal-as-metaphor is the site at which that ideology circulates.

Toward the end of his narrative, Dallaire also describes an incident in which he opens fire on dogs that signals the way sovereignty is purchased through the shooting of dogs. Dallaire’s narrative describes an incident where dogs disrupt the peace he tries to cultivate by buying domesticated goats in the following passage:

Toward the end of July I had asked my Ghanaian escort to buy us a few goats—a ram, a nanny and a couple of kids—to bring some life into my days. I took immense pleasure in watering them, feeding them, and watching them roam the Amahoro. … One day my Ghanaian batman came running into my office and said for me to come quickly—a pack of wild dogs was attacking my goats. Without stopping to think I grabbed my pistol, raced outside and started shooting at the dogs as I ran across the parking lot. I fired my entire clip at them. I missed them all, but still the dogs fled and I felt satisfied that I had saved my goats. (501)

The dogs in this passage act as a threat to the peaceful life and great pleasure Dallaire derives from caring for the goats. According to Mbembe’s account of sovereignty, they represent a threat to the security and peace he has cultivated by tending to goats – a threat that is overcome by the move toward the dogs’ biophysical elimination. It might be valuable to ask the question of whether the General would have opened fire if a Hutu Power militia as opposed to dogs had killed his goats, given that the UN had a mandate not to intervene in the genocide. Dallaire races toward the dogs “without stopping to think,” implying that the lives of animals in this climate do not require thought. That he does not think echoes Derrida’s description of the beast as “outside the law” in that, whereas human lives might at least require some thought or would have borne some legal implications, dogs’ lives bear no such implications. Dallaire is prohibited from opening fire on human bodies, but that dogs do not require a first thought evidences Dallaire’s assumption of human sovereignty and the dogs’ bodies are the site at which that sovereignty is enacted.

Dallaire makes reference in this passage to the descent of his sanity but, especially in light of Mbembe’s necropolitical critique, Dallaire’s attack on the dogs “without stopping to think” also bears profound implications for notions of sovereignty. Dallaire describes the onlookers in his encampment who observed him shooting the dogs and that they “said nothing but the message was clear: ‘The General is losing it’” (501). I do not mean to diminish the toll that three months in the Rwanda genocide would have on the General’s mental wellbeing. However, Mbembe discusses “the material destruction of human bodes,” which I want to extend here to dogs’ bodies, and how “[s]uch figures of sovereignty are far from a piece of prodigious insanity or an expression of the rupture between the impulses and interests of the body and those of the mind” (14). While the General’s actions do evidence a stressed mental state in the face of atrocity, the notion that he acts “without a thought” also emphasizes how the dogs are subject to human sovereignty in such extreme situations of violence. Also, in light of the animal metaphor he earlier uses to describe Rwandans, Dallaire’s decision to “kill the animal” in the interest of maintaining his secure enclosure serves to reinforce his civilized sovereignty (and the sovereignty of the Western powers he represents as a General in UNAMIR) in the face of the “barbarism” of the genocide.

Beyond General Dallaire’s personal experience with the dogs, the UN’s shooting of dogs also bears implications for Western political sovereignty, particularly in light of Western political allegiances and the UN’s refusal to intervene in the genocide. Gourevitch’s literary journalistic text, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families reports the fate of the dogs at the hands of UNAMIR forces. He offers one of the most sustained readings of the dogs in Rwanda in the following passage:

I was told about an Englishwoman from a medical relief organization who got very upset when she saw RPF men shooting the dogs that were feeding off a hallful of corpses at the great cathedral center and bishopric of Kabgayi, which had served as a death camp in central Rwanda. “You can’t shoot dogs,” the Englishwoman told the soldiers. She was wrong. Even the blue-helmeted soldiers of UNAMIR were shooting dogs on sight in the late summer of 1994. After months, during which Rwandans had been left to wonder whether the UN troops knew how to shoot, because they never used their excellent weapons to stop the extermination of civilians, it turned out that the peacekeepers were very good shots.

The genocide had been tolerated by the so-called international community, but I was told that the UN regarded the corpse-eating dogs as a health problem. (148-9)

Gourevitch highlights the irony in the UN’s actions; namely that, even though the UN tolerated – or refused to intervene in – the genocide, the dogs became a problem that the UN took on. This irony is compounded by the fact that the dogs are shot at a death camp for humans, which the UN does nothing to disrupt5. That the dogs are designated a “health problem” by the UN and killed on this assumption makes them a venue through which the UN becomes able to do something, to exercise sovereignty in the genocide by eliminating a biological threat. I earlier suggested that, as a “health problem” dogs lives are reduced by the UN to a biological hazard. In Mbembe’s terms, the dogs become a threat to the security of the UN (although Gourevitch highlights the primary threat, the genocide itself) whose biophysical elimination becomes a venue through which their sovereignty emerges. Indeed, Mbembe highlights the “instrumentalization of human existence and the material destruction of human bodies and populations” as one of the venues through which sovereignty emerges (14), and I suggest that such a framework might also apply to the instrumentalization of animals’ lives when dogs are designated a “health problem” that the UN “solves”. Furthermore, based on Mbembe’s assertion that sovereignty is expressed in the decision over “who may live and who must die” (11), sovereignty is doubly exercised in the notion that the UN prove good shots as they kill dogs and decide not to save the lives of those dying in the genocide. Gourevitch, like Dawes, also emphasizes a British subject concerned for the animals, but is decidedly silent on his own position in relation to concern for the dogs’ lives. He provides no narrative that would render the lives of the dogs grievable; they are outside the norms of intelligibility that dictate grievability. Also, that the UN opens fire on the dogs without hesitation (the dogs are not lives, but a “health problem”) positions the dogs outside the law in the sense that they are expendable without legal consequence. The assumption of the dogs’ being outside the domain of grievable life and outside legal systems of rights renders them a site on which sovereignty can be enacted.

That the dogs eat the bodies of the dead might position them outside the law in another way, not in the juridical sense, but in that they violate the norms of what is expected of domesticated animals. The dogs eat the dead in what Dawes reads as an “indignity,” which certainly suggests that they have somehow exceeded norms of behaviour within which domesticated animals are expected to act. However, that the UN peacekeepers designate the dogs a health problem precludes their ability to be recognized as autonomous subjects capable of behaving at all. They are merely a problem whose solution is achieved with their death. The dogs’ being outside-the-law as Derrida suggests also positions them outside the norms of intelligibility that recognize them as subjective lives. Also, following from Mbembe and preceded by their being outside what constitutes grievable life, their deaths are also rendered an exercise of sovereignty as the UN solves the health problem they represent.

The film Shooting Dogs, like Gourevitch’s text, highlights the irony of the UN’s focus on dogs in the face of the genocide, and also signals notions of sovereignty connected to the corpse-eating dogs. The film offers a fictionalized account (based on real events, as the opening scene of the film tells) of the first days of the genocide, when UNAMIR troops were positioned at the Ecole Technique Officielle, a school in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, which served as a sanctuary for people escaping the killings until “Belgian UN troops abandoned more than 2000 Tutsis to be slaughtered” (Asiimwe). Despite its title, the film deals only briefly with the UN shooting dogs. Bülent Diken suggests that the film’s title, rather than referring the dogs themselves, is metonymic of “society gradually being dissolved into a state of nature” and views the film as an examination of “the gradual erosion of the line between civilization and barbarism” in which “man is a dog to men” (747). I have already discussed how such metaphors primitivize the situation in Rwanda by constructing a “state of nature” and overlooking the political and colonial histories that brought about the genocide. Certainly, if the film’s title refers more to a descent into barbarism than the actual shooting of dogs, it overlooks this history. Also, that the film follows a British protagonist with whom its Western audience can identify reinforces stereotypes of Western civility and sovereignty in the face of the “barbaric” genocide.

However, in the brief scene in which the film discusses shooting dogs, it foregrounds notions of political sovereignty in UN’s actions to counter the “health problem” of the corpse-eating dogs. In the film, a priest, Father Christopher, returns to the school after finding his friends dead in their home, and the following exchange happens with a UN officer:

Dalon: Christopher! We need you to tell the rest of the school that we are having problems with the dogs.

Christopher: Dogs?

Dalon: The ones outside the gate. They are eating the bodies. Can you just please inform everyone that we have a health problem here? We are going to shoot the dogs. If they hear gunshots they should not panic, okay?

Christopher: Did they open fire? Did they open fire, Charles?

Dalon: Did who open fire?

Christopher: The dogs! Were they shooting at you?

Dalon: What are you talking about?

Christopher: It’s just, according to your “mandate,” if you’re going to shoot the dogs then the dogs must have been shooting at you first.

Dalon: Please, Christopher…

Christopher: I’ll tell you what! Why don’t we just say fuck the mandate. And when you’ve finished with this health problem maybe you’ll address the other health problem. The one over there with the fucking machetes!

Father Christopher, in a gesture sympathetic with post-genocide disdain over the UN’s inaction, highlights the irony that the UN would target the dogs rather than stop the machete-wielding Hutu Power militias. And yet sovereignty is enacted in this scene over the bodies of dogs. Christopher makes reference to the UN mandate which prevented the peacekeepers from opening fire unless they were fired upon, suggesting that the dogs cannot be shot unless they first open fire. That Dalon does not hesitate to shoot the dogs suggests that they fall outside the law – outside the legal protections of the UN’s mandate. They are also in a sense instrumentalized in terms of a health problem that needs fixing, denying them any semblance of a livable life or grievable death. Again, that the UN aims to shoot them in order to solve this problem makes them a site at which the sovereignty of the UN emerges, preceded by the notion that the dogs are expendable because of their being outside the norms of grievability and outside the law. Even though, the film suggests, they do nothing to intervene in the genocide, the dogs become a site at which they can and do take action. However, Christopher’s comments undermine the sovereignty at play by suggesting that solving the “health problem” does not solve the genocide.

What is particularly important in light of my arguments is that Christopher speaks out, however indirectly, in defense of the dogs. He suggests that the dogs have not shot at the UN, and that the shooting of the dogs would violate their mandate. While Christopher’s refutation of Dalon’s UN mandate may simply aim to expose the UN’s asininity, it also opens the possibility of considering dogs under the law as he includes them under the protection of the UN’s mandate. At the very least, Christopher asks for justification for shooting the dogs, even if such justification is to expose the asininity of the UN’s mandate, by highlighting the genocidal conflict of which the corpse-eating dogs are a symptom rather than a central problem.

While the dogs occupy a precarious position outside the law and outside the norms of intelligibility that dictate what is and is not grievable life, I wonder whether dogs can conceivably enter the realm of human concern in ways that might disrupt the ways sovereignties are exercised over the bodies of animals. Certainly, in such extreme situations of violence as the Rwanda genocide, I have emphasized the ways in which concern over human life supersedes that over animals; but my analysis does not aim to hierarchize the value of lives, nor does it aim to detract attention from the very real violence done to mass populations of human beings and the indignity experienced by Rwandans as dogs fed on the bodies of their citizens. Instead, it aims to draw attention to the ways violence done to animals is instrumentalized and disregarded in the interest of sovereignty. This project follows largely from Peter Singer’s assertion that, “[i]f we wish to avoid being numbered among the oppressors, we must be prepared to rethink all our attitudes to other groups, including the most fundamental of them” (xxii). The rethinking that Singer calls for need not overshadow violence done to humans, but bringing animal life and death into the norms of intelligibility that dictate grievable death might counter hegemonic instrumentalizations of animal life. That Dawes, Gourevitch and Shooting Dogs make reference to individuals or groups showing concern for the shot dogs in Rwanda certainly suggests that such concern is not outside the realm of possibility. However, in light of the extreme situations of physical violence that these texts cover, they also expose the limits of human concern and beg the question: to what extent can animal life enter our consciousness in order that we would acknowledge their lives as lives and their deaths as grievable?

Works Cited

Armstrong, Philip. “The Postcolonial Animal.” Society & Animals 10.4 (2002): 413-419. Print.

Asiimwe, Arthur. “Rwanda Survivors Say Hollywood Has Got It Wrong.” Common Dreams. CommonDreams.org 17 April 2006. Web. 12 Nov. 2009.

Butler, Judith. Frames of War. New York: Verso, 2009. Print.

— — —. Precarious Life. New York: Verso, 2004. Print.

Calarco, Matthew. Zoographies: The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to Derrida. New York: Columbia UP, 2008. Print.

Dallaire, Roméo. Shake Hands With the Devil. Toronto: Random House, 2003. Print.

Dawes, James. That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007. Print.

Derrida, Jacques and Elisabeth Roudinesco. “Violence Against Animals.” For What Tomorrow…: A Dialogue. Trans. Jeff Fort. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2004. Print.

Derrida, Jacques. The Beast and the Sovereign. Trans. Geoffrey Bennington. Eds. Michel Lisse, Marie-Louise Mallet, and Ginette Michaud. Vol. 1. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2009. Print.

Diken, Bülent. “Sacrifice as Gothic Romance.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 26 (2008): 747-751. Print.

Gourevitch, Philip. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda. New York: Picador, 1998. Print.

Mbembe, Achille. “Necropolitics.” Public Culture 15.1 (2003): 11-40. Print.

Shooting Dogs. Dir. Michael Caton-Jones. Perf. John Hurt, Hugh Dancy, and Claire-Hope Ashitey. Equinoxe, 2005. Film.

Shukin, Nicole. Animal Capital: Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2009. Print.



Sometimes in April. Dir. Raoul Peck. Perf. Idris Elba, Oris Erhuero, Carole Karemera, and Debra Winger. HBO Films, 2005. Film.


1 While there has been a striking absence of material produced on the dogs in Rwanda, many texts – some of which I examine in this paper – have documented the shooting of the dogs in Rwanda. James Orbinsky’s An Imperfect Offering, Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families and James Dawes’s That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity offer what are perhaps the most sustained documentations of the dead dogs in Rwanda.

2 In Animal Capital: Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times, Nicole Shukin describes the “double entendre” of the term “rendering.” She writes that rendering “signifies both the mimetic act of making a copy … and the industrial boiling down and recycling of animal remains,” which exposes the power of representational logics “to hegemonize both the meaning and matter of life” (20). Her framework of representation exposes the violence involved in “rendering” dogs a biological hazard and foregrounds the ways in which such a designation hegemonically reduces the value of animal life to a biological hazard.

3 The Hotel Mille Collines is the famous site at which Paul Rusesabagina saved many Tutsis from murder, a situation dramatized the film Hotel Rwanda.

4 Raoul Peck’s Sometimes in April begins with footage of Belgian colonizers separating people into ethnic groups, Hutu and Tutsi, based on their physical appearance, emphasizing the role of colonial histories in entrenching ethnic divides in Rwandan consciousness.

5 That the UN does not intervene in the genocide (their inaction is, in a sense, a type of action that suggests Rwandans’ lives are expendable) is also an exercise in sovereignty in Mbembe’s terms.


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