Ghosts of Rwanda
Ghosts of Rwanda Reflection Does the Genocide in Rwanda have a singular cause? I do not believe so; the cause of genocide in Rwanda in 1994 was due to years of built up hatred between the Tutsis and the Hutus along with many other occurrences. The Rwandan Genocide is no exception with many variables contributing to the horrific events that took place. According to the documentary Ghosts of Rwanda, in 1994, Rwanda experienced a premeditated, systematic and state sponsored genocide with the aim of exterminating those who were ethnically identifiable as Tutsi.
Between 500,000 and 800,000 people were killed in a period of 100 days, with around 77 percent of the population registered as Tutsi being murdered. One of the most common explanations of the Rwandan Genocide is the desire of Rwanda’s elite to remain powerful (Uvin, 2001). While Rwanda was in an economic crisis, the government maintained its expenditure pattern by increased borrowing and increasing Rwanda’s foreign debt (Uvin, 1998), thus providing an example of the Rwanda’s elite trying to maintain wealth and power.
There were several variables that threatened the power and the regime of President Habyarimana and his inner circle known as the Akazu including, the economic crisis, financial structural adjustment, internal political discontent, the PRF invasion, and the international pressure for democratisation and the negotiation of power sharing with the RPF (Uvin, 1998). The regime was being threatened by so many variables that it resorted to using ethnic hatred as a tool to unite the majority of the population around the government, fight the PRF, and make elections impossible (Uvin, 1998).
I believe that people’s identity and view of the world is often shaped by the culture lived in and the history that surrounds that culture. Thus, when examining the variables involved that led to the Rwandan Genocide, it is important to consider the history and culture of Rwanda. Throughout the history of Rwanda, there is a continuous distinction between the Hutu and Tutsi, with shifts in power resulting in the discrimination of one tribe and the favouritism of the other.
Under the power of Tutsi King Rwabugiri, ethnic differences were established when the King implemented a system in which, in return for labour, access to land was given. However, this system only applied to Hutu farmers and exempted Tutsi farmers (Eriksson, 1996). During the German colonization and later the Belgian trusteeship, the Tutsi were also favoured and viewed as superior (Eriksson, 1996). The Belgians increased the emphasis on the distinction of ethnic identity by issuing cards bearing the nationality designations of Rwandans (Klinghoffer, 1998).
The colonisation by both Germany and Belgium contributed to an ethnic jealousy in Rwanda through treatment of the Tutsi (O’Halloran, 1995). The general decolonisation in Africa led to the Hutu revolution in which Rwanda underwent the transition from a Tutsi dominated monarchy to a Hutu led independent republic, which resulted in tens of thousands of Tutsi fleeing into exile (Eriksson, 1996). The Akazu aimed to accelerate racist prejudice in Rwanda, first by extending the threat of the RPF to all Tutsi.
This was achieved by various staged shootings by the army on the capital Kigali, which were blamed on the Tutsi (Uvin, 1998). Hate propaganda was also used to spread fear and hate against the Tutsi. This propaganda was financed by Akazu members and was in various different mediums including the state radio station (Dadrian, 2004). Also during this period, a variety of extremist political parties were formed, preaching hatred and violence, and Rwanda became more militarised with an increase in army size from 5000 to 40000.
Militias and small “self-defence groups” also formed and received arms and training (Uvin, 1998). As seen in the documentary Ghosts of Rwanda, the Prime Minister during the genocide, Jean Kambanda, was encouraging everybody to carry a gun, thus encouraging the violence that was taking place and creating an environment where more people were likely to be killed. Many of these processes taken by the elite and powerful are similar to processes used in past genocides: to spread ethnic fear, organize the forces of violence, and to desensitise people to violence (Uvin, 1998).
Although Rwanda’s elite and powerful did play a large role in the instigation of the genocide, countless ordinary civilians were also involved and persuaded to take part in the killings, perhaps accounting for the death of more innocent people than the elite and powerful. One explanation of the involvement of ordinary civilians is the phenomenon known as the ‘in-group bias’, which argues that individuals have the tendency to view the world as “us” and “them” or in-groups and out-groups.
This happens because it is important for individuals to belong to a group, and usually individuals hold the in-group which they are a part of in a positive light while often viewing the out-group as inferior or negative, creating prejudice and discrimination. This behaviour is not always automatic and the technique of using propaganda in the Rwandan Genocide helped to enhance the negative view of the Tutsi (Woolf & Hulsizer, 2005. ) Perhaps, the hate propaganda instigated a negative view of the Tutsi, and then the staged shooting on Kigali confirmed this negative view of the Tutsi.
Genocide is not caused by one singular factor, instead genocide should be viewed as occurring when many variables transpire and interact with each other. The factors already mentioned are some of many issues that contributed to the genocide in Rwanda, however none of these variables acted alone, and how they interacted with each other is also vital in the understanding of how the genocide occurred. The History of Rwanda is thought to have impacted on the genocide, however many countries around the world have histories of conflict in the past and have not resorted to genocide.
The history of conflict alone did not ensure the genocide, but when paired with hate propaganda and staged shootings, old anger was renewed in many ordinary Rwandan people who then went on to participate in the mass killings. The elite and powerful people of Rwanda are often thought to have caused the genocide, however they may not have acted the way they did if they were not influenced by the pressure they were under caused by the economic crisis, and the RPF invasion.
The Rwandan Genocide shocked many people and raised the question of how such an inhumane act of genocide could occur when after the Holocaust the world said “never again”. The Rwandan Genocide demonstrates that genocide is not caused by one singular factor but rather occurs when a ‘perfect storm’ of social psychological factors are present and interact with each other. The history and culture of Rwanda, the economic situation of the country, the elite and powerful people, as well as the ordinary people who participated in the killings, all contributed to the Rwandan Genocide.
Exactly how these factors interacted with each other to cause the genocide may never be fully understood. However, from the Rwandan Genocide, the complexity of genocide can be understood and lessons can be learned that perhaps may assist in preventing future genocides from occurring. *Graph and table from Google Images Notice the decline in the population in 1994 due to the genocide. This table gives a timeline idea of events leading up to the genocide. References Dadrian, V. N. (2004).
Patterns of twentieth century genocides: the Armenian, Jewish, and Rwandan cases. Journal of Genocide Research, 6(4), 487-522. Eriksson, J. (1996). The International Response to Confliect and Genocide: Lessons from the Rwanda Experience. Strandberg Grafisk, Odense: Steering Committee of the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda. O’Halloran, P. J. (1995). Humanitarian Intervention and the Genocide in Rwanda. Research Institute for the Study of Conflict and Terrorism.
Klinghoffer, A. J. (1998). The International Dimension of Genocide in Rwanda. Washington Square, NY: New York University Press. Uvin, P. (1998). Aiding Violence: The Development Enterprise in Rwanda. West Hartford, Connecticut: Kumarian Press. Uvin, P. (2001). Reading the Rwandan genocide. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers. Woolf, L. M. , & Hulsizer, M. R. (2005). Psychosocial roots of genocide: risk, prevention, and intervention. Journal of Genocide Research, 7(1), 101-128.