Analysis Of Rwanda Conflict History Essay
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Within a period of three months in 1994, eight hundred thousand to one million people were killed as a result of civil war and genocide in Rwanda. The exchanges of massacres were so horrific that people in other parts of the world, who had paid little attention to Rwanda until news of the genocide broke, were bewildered as to what could have caused such fury. The conflict was portrayed in the media as one of deep ethnic hatred. But to those who were on the scene during the years preceding, the story is far more complicated than that. A combination of complex interacting factors contributed to the massacres, war, and refugee movements that were tied to political power struggles and elite insecurity. The real causes of the blowup are rooted in a half-century history of rapid population growth, land degradation, inequitable access to resources, famine, and betrayal. Environmental scarcity was used as a political tool to mobilize the rural population for political ends.
Could the massive genocide in Rwanda have been prevented? In an attempt to answer this very question, this essay describes and analyses the intercultural conflict between the ethnic groups of the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda. In order to understand the causes for this massacre the present discussion will address this conflict with an examination of the country's history. Secondly, an assessment of the hierarchies and power struggles that took place as a result of colonialism and the end of the Cold War period is discussed. This essay attempts to assess the communicative role that the media played in inciting these massacres and the lack of communication at the international level. Lastly, a look into present day Rwanda and the attitudes and behavior that have resulted from the devastating effects of civil war is observed.
In pre-colonial Rwanda, socio-political cleavages and inequalities were established and maintained through an aristocratic system in which Tutsi monarchs governed a polis of Twa, Hutu and Tutsi through, mainly, feudal client/patron relationships. Today it remains contested to what extent these clientships were exploitative of Hutu only or whether the common Tutsi were subjected to the same degree of exploitation. In any event, regardless of the extent of pre-colonial ethnic identities, German and Belgian colonial rule altered the social landscape dramatically. On the basis of racial scholarship, contemporary European anthropologists 'discovered' three different groups of Rwandans, which supposedly represented major population groups: the Ethioped (Tutsi), Bantu (Hutu) and Pygmoid (Twa). The Tutsi, with apparent physical resemblance to their European masters, were selected as the superior race and the colonial administration subordinated Hutu and Twa to the rule of Tutsi monarchs. The superiority of Tutsi was justified with reference to presumed racial features, as well as alleged economic and political skills (Buckley-Zistel 2006).
The Hutu's fear and hatred of the Tutsi has its roots in centuries of abuse. The Hutu were in Rwanda long before anyone, other than the Bantu tribes. The Tutsi arrived much later, around the 15th century, nomads travelled southwards through the Horn of Africa, making them immigrants to Rwanda. Theirs was a slow and peaceful infiltration. But over time they used their cattle and their warring skills to build their power and prestige. Whenever the Hutu needed the use of cattle, they worked for the Tutsi owner as payment. This simple arrangement eventually crystallized into a feudal-type class system. Land, cattle, and power were consolidated in the hands of the Tutsi, and the Hutu became serfs. Hutu peasants bound themselves to individual Tutsi lords, giving land, produce, and personal services in exchange for the lord's protection and use of his cattle. Tall and aristocratic in bearing, the Tutsi claimed they were divinely ordained to rule. In this manner, the Tutsi minority, between 10 and 20 percent of the population, held dominion over the Hutu for 400 years (DeSouza, 1997).
In 1885 Europe's colonial powers convened at a conference in Berlin to carve up the African continent. Rwanda was pronounced a German colony. The Germans ruled Rwanda through the Tutsi king, or Mwami, who, in turn, used German forces to strengthen his own position. Since the Europeans governed their colonies ostensibly to enlighten poor backward souls and to introduce them to the concept of fairness, one would have thought that the Europeans would have attempted to relieve the Hutu from serfdom. Far from it; what little flexibility had previously existed between the Tutsi lords and the Hutu vanished during the colonial era. It was during this period that the Mwami came closer to absolute rule than at any other time. Hutu rebellion was dealt with swiftly: Villages were burnt and leaders executed-with guns supplied by Europeans. It was no different when the Belgians took over during World War 1. From 1916 until Rwandan independence in 1962, the Belgians ruled through the Tutsi aristocracy (DeSouza).
The Europeans were always attracted to the Tutsi. Unlike the Hutu, who are a dark people, short and squat, with coarse features, the Tutsi are tall and fair, with finer features that reminded Europeans of themselves. The Germans and Belgians romanticized the tall Tutsi as Africa's elite. Schools were open to them and admission to college was fixed in their favor, by requiring applicants to pass a minimum height test. They were assured of the best jobs and this consolidated the higher status of the Tutsi by emphasizing the differences between them and the Hutu. The Belgians even introduced identity cards, requiring everyone to be recognized by their tribe.
In the years leading up to Rwanda's independence the country's High Council, a Tutsi body, called for urgent training of the Tutsi elite in preparation for self-government in an attempt to perpetuate Tutsi dominance. The Hutu leaders countered with "The Manifesto of the Bahutu" which sought to end the Tutsi's stranglehold on the government. The Belgians ignored the manifesto; the Tutsi trivialized it. One Tutsi group said: "Relations between us and them have forever been based on servitude; therefore, there is no feeling of fraternity whatsoever between them and us.... Since our Kings have conquered all of the Hutu's lands by killing their monarchs and enslaving their people, how can they now pretend to be our brothers?" Tensions mounted in 1959. In a last ditch attempt to hold onto power, the Tutsi began massacring any Hutu they believed might stand in their way. Francois Karera, a senior politician in the former Hutu government, now an exile in eastern Congo, was a young teacher in 1959 when the Hutu rose up for the first time. He recalls that period as one when he, as an educated Hutu, was "hunted" by Tutsi for daring to aspire to a higher standing than a mere peasant farmer. But the Hutu prevailed. In the sporadic violence of that period, more than 20,000 Tutsi were displaced (DeSouza). After Rwanda became independent in 1962, they held national elections. The Hutu candidate Kayibanda was elected President following a Hutu victory at the polls.
This enraged the Tutsi militants and they organized into guerrilla bands. Between 1961 and 1966 they launched ten major attacks from neighboring countries: Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and Zaire. This prompted retaliation from the Hutu in power and in 1963, around 10,000 Tutsi were killed following a rebellion attack from Burundi. Eventually defeated they fell into exile with Tutsi refugees totaling 150,000. This was repeated in 1973 when Tutsi were killed on suspicion of involvement in a coup where the Hutu General Habyarimana overthrew President Kayibanda.
Events in neighboring Burundi served to further inflame the Hutu-Tutsi hatreds in Rwanda. Burundi is alike in size and population; they have the same tribal mix of Hutu and Tutsi, share much of the same history, and were part of the same colony. Like Rwanda, Burundi became independent in 1962. But unlike Rwanda, Burundi's Tutsi minority has retained power; and to this day rules the country. In the late '60s and early '70s, when the Tutsi in Burundi began to fear that the country's more numerous Hutu would come to power as they had in Rwanda, the Tutsi came up with a simple solution: eliminate the Hutu in Burundi. In 1972, they set out to massacre every Hutu with an education, a government job, or money. "Many Hutu were taken from their homes at night," wrote David Lamb of the Los Angeles Times in his book The Africans. "Others received summonses to report to the police station. So obedient, subservient, and hopeless had the Hutus become that they answered the summons, which even the most unlearned soul knew was really an execution notice. Sometimes, when the death quotas at the prisons and police stations had been filled for the day, the queued-up Hutu were told to return the next day. They dutifully complied. The few Hutu who tried to escape the executioners seemed to make only token attempts. It was a pathetic sight. They would walk down the main road toward the border. If the Tutsi gendarme stopped them," he continued, "they would turn quietly back." Within three months 250,000 Hutu were killed and their homes destroyed (DeSouza).
On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying the presidents of two African countries was struck by a missile and crashed. Both presidents, Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and Cyprian Ntaryamira of Burundi, members of the Hutu ethnic group were killed. Counting the murder of Burundi's president Melchior Ndadaye the previous October, a total of three Hutu presidents had been assassinated in six months. The country exploded into genocidal conflict between the Hutu and the rival Tutsi, who had been out of power in Rwanda but who had established a base in neighboring Uganda from which they had been launching attacks against the regime that had ousted them. Hutu bands killed large numbers of Tutsi in an effort to forestall the invasion. But within weeks, the Tutsi regained control and waged retaliatory attacks on the Hutu, hundreds of thousands of who were by then fleeing the country (Gasana, 2002).
James Gasana, who was Rwanda's Minister of Agriculture and Environment in 1990-92, and Minister of Defense in 1992-93, at one point tried to warn his government of the coming configuration, but to no avail. He analyzes what happened as environmental and economic decline that set the stage for a social collapse. It's a story that has important implications not only for Rwanda, but for every region where population pressure threatens to exceed what the resource base can maintain. The story begins with a country undergoing a population explosion that was to increase it from 1,887,000 people in 1948 to 7,500,000 in 1992-making it the most densely populated country in Africa. Most of the people were poor farmers, and in the 1980s, many of the poor got even poorer. One of the root causes of, ironically was, the land tenure program established by the 1959 revolution as a means of giving the peasants a more equitable share in the country's assets. The revolutionaries did not foresee what would happen as children inherited their parents' land and divided it up equally. With the population expanding, the inherited pieces-many of them very small to begin with-got smaller. At the same time, the land holdings of the elite who were in power got larger, as wealthy northern Hutus and their allies spent much of the 1970s and 1980s accumulating land for their own estates. Of course, this further reduced the amount of land available for peasant farmers. Many of the peasants moved to marginal land--to steep slopes and acidic soil, where crops barely grew.
RELATED ARTICLE: The Warning
"It can be concluded that if the country does not operate profound transformations in its agriculture, it will not be capable of feeding adequately its population under the present growth rate. Contrary to the tradition of our demographers who show that the population growth rate will remain positive over several years in the future, one cannot see how the Rwandan population will reach 10 million inhabitants unless important progress in agriculture as well as other sectors of the economy were achieved. Consequently it is time to fear the Malthusian effects that could derive from the gap between food supply and the demand of the population, and social disorders which could result from there."
Report of the National Agriculture Commission (1990-1991), chaired by James Gasana
By 1989, an estimated 50 percent of Rwanda's cultivated land was on slopes of 10 degrees or higher. Slopes this steep eroded severely when tilled, and the cycle of poverty worsened. By 1990, the erosion was washing away the equivalent of 8,000 hectares per year, or enough to feed about 40,000 people for a year. Moreover, because demand for land outstripped supply, virtually all the cultivatable land (other than that being hoarded by the elite) was being used, and there was little opportunity to let fields lie fallow and regenerate. As a result, soil fertility declined faster yet. Of course, as population grew, the demand for energy increased as well. Rwanda has been heavily dependent on biomass for energy, either wood or crop waste. Most of the energy in those years was provided by firewood. But with more people trying to get more firewood from smaller pieces of land, the country's trees were disappearing at an increasing rate. Deforestation on the steep-sloped lands made the ground more exposed to running water, and increased erosion still more. The compounding of all these factors led to a disastrous shortfall in food production. Two-thirds of the population of Rwanda was unable to meet even the minimum food energy requirement of 2,100 calories per person per day. The average person was getting just 1,900 calories, becoming gradually weaker and at the same time more desperate. Nor were there any readily available alternatives to subsistence farming. By the end of the 1980s, the unemployment rate for rural adults had reached 30 percent (Gasana).
Throughout the 1980s, the worsening of the rural situation, especially in the south where most of the poor farmers lived, had generated increasing resentment against the Hutu government, which was accumulating wealth for its mostly northern elite. It's important to keep in mind that the peasants and the people in power were both mainly Hutu, so this resentment was an economic, not ethnic, concern. At the end of the decade, however, with internal strife splitting the Hutus, the Tutsi-led rebels in Uganda judged that this would be a good time to declare full-scale war against the regime. By 1990, the Rwandan peasants were being stricken by both starvation and war. In an interview with Radio Rwanda, representatives of a peasant association named Twibumbe Bahinzi declared: "There is a generalized famine in the country, that is difficult to eradicate because it is only the cultivators-pastoralists [peasants] who are bearing its impacts while the 'educated' [the elite] are enjoying its side effects. Those who should assist us in combating that famine are of no use to us.... It will require no less than a revolution similar to that of 1959.... On top of this there is war. Even if the cultivators-pastoralists can still till the land, it is very difficult for them to work in good conditions when they have spent the night guarding the roadblocks, and are not sure that they are going to harvest...." In retrospect, this statement confirms that even under the added stress of war, the peasants did not at this point consider ethnicity to be the issue. It was still an issue of rich and poor, or north and south (Gasana).
President Habyarimana worked hard to deflect the peasant opposition, personally lobbying farmer representatives to rally the peasant movement to his side and to abandon their rhetoric about rural poverty. He accomplished this by promising them that their concerns would be addressed, and by letting his supporters help them to deflect their anger from the elite Hutus to the attacking Tutsis. By 1991, the Uganda-based Tutsi army was making that strategy easy for Habyarimana, as it was targeting Hutus in its guerrilla attacks. By now, thousands of Hutus were fleeing the war and the famine, and had become "internally displaced persons" (IDPs) gathering in refugee camps. The Tutsi rebels were more than happy to treat the camps as military targets. By the time a cease-fire took place in 1992, the IDP population had reached 500,000. But the cease-fire was short-lived, as the plane crash that killed Habyarimana immediately reignited the war. By 1993, the number of refugees had reached 1 million, and by the end of the war about 100,000 had died. It was during this post-assassination period that the worst of the genocidal acts occurred (Gasana).
A career officer in the Canadian army, General Romeo Dallaire went to Rwanda in late 1993, and became Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR). General Dallaire commanded the ill-equipped UN force of 2,500 troops that was reduced to 450, and left high and dry by the international community. Many of the hundreds of thousands of Rwandans, who were slaughtered, huddled in churches for sanctuary. Death squads lobbed in grenades. In their frenzy, killers severed the Achilles' tendon the heels of their victims so they could return and finish the job later. Teachers killed students. Neighbor slaughtered neighbor as local officials helped organize the killing. Months before the genocide, General Dallaire told his superiors at UN Headquarters in New York that there was an informant who claimed the Hutu extremists were plotting mass killing, but General Dallaire was told that it was beyond his mandate to raid arms caches or to intervene. Once the massacres began, his force was left virtually powerless to stop the killing and his cries for reinforcement and international intervention fell on deaf ears (Interview with Frontline).
Now retired General Romeo Dallaire states that "1993-1994 was an era in the New World disorder. That's not what George Bush senior said, he said, "New World order", and in fact, many of us thought that we had entered the New World order, so much so that even though the Cold War had ended, and there was a peace dividend being demanded, the conservative entities of the powerful nations, and particularly the west, still believe that the era was an era just like the past that is the normal nation state, sovereign state situation, in which the people, the governments, and the military continued to advance these independent states into the future (Frontline, 2003)."
There are many factors in regards to Rwanda and their effects, but one that Dallaire particularly pointed out was the fact that the Franco-Anglo dimension of Rwanda was in the forefront, and not hidden in the back. The majority of the population spoke French. The government was a French government, but the rebel forces were English speaking, and essentially introduced the English language as one of the dominant languages now, if not the dominant language in the structure of the nation (Frontline).
Dallaire stated that "One major power came to me within the first weeks, and said quite clearly after they did their assessment that they were not going to come and stop the carnage. There were bodies all over. We were already burning bodies with diesel fuel, because of the fear of disease, and the smell, and the wild dogs. They said, "You know, this country is of no strategic value. Geographically, it provides us nothing. It's not even worth putting radar here. Economically it's nothing, because there's no strategic resources, only tea and coffee, and those resources already the market is falling out of those markets." They said, "In fact what there's too much of here is people", and they said, "Well we're not going to come because of people." And in fact, in quantifying that said, "That not only the government, but the people of that nation could possibly reconsider if for every soldier either killed or injured, there would be an equivalent of 85,000 dead Rwandans (Frontline)."
The big question is: Are all humans human or are some more human than others? Do some count more than others? General Dallaire talked of how millions were sent to Yugoslavia during this same time. "Tens of thousands of troops were going into Yugoslavia. Everybody was looking at Yugoslavia. Nobody came to Rwanda. They pulled everything out, and abandoned us in the fieldâ€¦ they ripped the heart out of the possibility of stopping, or at least curtailing, or saving a number of black Africans. They don't count. In Yugoslavia, it was portrayed as long seething problems that educated people had debated, and it's religious, and it's ethnic, and it's been something studied and analyzed. As such, we brought in new terms, like "ethnic cleansing". That's what the problem was in Yugoslavia. In Rwanda, it was just a bunch of tribes going at each other, like they always do. Rwanda was black. Yugoslavia was white European (Frontline)."
Where was the media? While when you look at humanity, and the plight within the humanity, the big game, the real crisis was in a small country in dark Africa that nobody really was interested in. It is my opinion that because of the business dimension of the media, because of the essentiality created of certain events and certain priorities that the media, in the main, moves down the road of the mainstream crisis or thinking of the world powers, and what was missing in Rwanda was essentially the depth, the knowledge of really what was Rwanda. "The media like so many others failed. We failed. The media failed. The world powers failed. Individually we failed. How is it possible that in the news in the evening in a country like Canada with its depth of human rights and its belief in the individual, that its people can watch a newscast, where one of our own is being abused by our own judicial system, yet in the same newscast, they're showing thousands of human beings, barely 12 hours away, being slaughtered. We're uproared against our own judicial system abusing our own, but we take it in stride the destruction of human beings far away," stated General Dallaire.
Within the country the media was exceptionally important. The country is known as a radio country. The voice of the radio is the voice at some villages in talking to them, of near God. "In the displaced camps, in the refugee camps, at the height of the killing, you could still find people with portable radios. Where did they get the batteries? We couldn't even get batteries for our flashlights. How were they able to keep that going? And how did they continue to advance it? â€¦We came in there bare bum. We had no radio station. No radio stations were available in the inventory of UN, and it was dropped from the budget" (Dallaire, Frontline).
The extremist radio station that was broadcast throughout the nation, RTLM, became the voice of the devil. The extremist accelerated it concepts through broadcast about who should not live in the country and talked of ways to eliminate them. When the RTLM was launching descriptions of how to kill; General Dallaire contacted the UN, and the super powers, and asked for his own radio station and "someone to find the emitter and close down that radio." He was told at the height of the genocide that "Rwanda is a sovereign state, the airwaves belong to that sovereign state, and we cannot intervene." Sovereignty is an instrument not to do something. Nationalism is an instrument to create differences and friction. We must question those who use those outdated instruments to not intervene (Frontline).
The print media, Kangura, depicted vile cartoons of Tutsi women using their sexual prowess on UN peacekeepers, or using their beauty in order to undermine the Hutu community. Kangura warned Hutus, "be on guard against Tutsi women." The Ten Commandants of the Hutu, which laid out rules for what should be done; four of those mentioned women, Tutsi women, and how you have to be careful of them. And so not surprisingly when the violence began, the violence directed at the Tutsi women was sexual violence. Rape served to degrade and destroy Tutsi women, and the effect of the media propaganda is seen very readily when you begin to interview rape victims in Rwanda. The comments that were made to them in the course of the sexual violence, the ethnic invectives used as they were being raped, mirror exactly the depiction of these women in the gender propaganda that was put out before the genocide. There's a correlation between the hate propaganda that was put out, also then replicated on the airwaves with the RTLM, and then the subsequent acts of violence against women (Frontline).
The sexual violence that took place during the Rwandan genocide was not some sort of random, opportunistic, unfortunate byproduct of the genocide. General Dallaire says "This was a tactic of genocide. This was a deliberately selected form of abuse that was directed at women, both on the basis of their gender, and also in the case of Tutsi women, on the basis of their ethnicity. This form of violence didn't just pop up out of nowhere. If you look at the genocide propaganda that preceded the Rwandan genocide, and you look at the role of the Rwandan media in portraying images of women, particularly Tutsi women, you will see in that propaganda, portrayal of women, Tutsi women, as being beautiful, sexual, seductresses, but devious, using their sexuality in order to undermine the Hutu, in order to perpetuate a Tutsi agenda. Rape was one of the hardest things to deal withâ€¦especially systematic rape and gang rape of children. Massacres kill the body. Rape kills the soul, and there was a lot of rape (Frontline)."
More than a decade after the genocide, Rwanda's local communities remain severely affected by the experience of the violence and horror. This is reflected in the way people remember their past, as well as in what they choose to forget. During fieldwork in the districts of Nyamata and Gikongoro, journalist Susanne Buckley-Zistel found that even though the memory of the genocide as such, its pain and suffering, was essential for all interviewees. "A clearer picture of the causes of the genocide had disappeared into oblivion." What she refers to as "chosen amnesia," enables a degree of community cohesion necessary for the intimacy of rural life in Rwanda. Buckley-Zistel finds that while this is presently essential for local coexistence, it prevents the emergence of a critical challenge to the social cleavages that allowed the genocide to occur in the first place and impedes the social transformation necessary to render ethnicity-based violence impossible.
After a violent conflict, the experience of bloodshed and terror leaves deep scars amongst the parties to the conflict. In cases where violence was perpetrated in the intimate realm of a community, future cohabitation is profoundly affected by the experience and coming to terms with the past is a major challenge. Central to the Hutu-Tutsi conflict lies the interplay between ethnic realities and their subjective reconstruction (or manipulation) by political entrepreneurs. Over time, ethnic belonging has become meaningful for many Rwandans, even more so since a section of the population was exterminated because of its ethnic identity. In today's post-genocide environment it is therefore necessary to address these cleavages through changing the way the members of a community relate to each other. Failing this, violence and aggression may remain a mode of solving inter-community problems (Buckley-Zistel).
At first sight, what is remembered and what is silenced in post-genocide Rwanda seems paradoxical: while the event of the genocide was constantly evoked by her interviewees, the causes of the genocide and the decades of tension between Hutu and Tutsi were ignored. Despite earlier pogroms against Tutsi in 1959, 1962 and 1973, the past was portrayed as harmonious, and the 1994 genocide as a sudden rupture that took everybody by surprise. In the course of fieldwork, however, it soon emerged that the absence of certain memory, this chosen amnesia about past divisions, is less a mental failure than a conscious strategy to cope with living in proximity to 'killers' or 'traitors'.
Memory about the genocide was considered to be very important, but some aspects of the past were eclipsed from their dialogue. Buckley-Zistel found that her interviewees frequently made their omissions explicit, stating that, despite their public attitude and occasionally even their participation in reconciliation projects, in their hearts it looked different. In particular those engaged in reconciliation efforts, cautioned her not to trust her impression of peaceful coexistence; they suggested that people hide their true feelings, especially from an outsider. Many of the following accounts cannot be anything but generalizations homogenizing the diverse experiences of war and genocide from the vantage point not simply of Hutu or Tutsi but of victim, perpetrator, bystander, et cetera (Buckley-Zistel).
As a young woman explained:
To remember is good, but it should be inclusive. For instance,
my parents have been killed during the genocide. But when they
[the public] remember they remember only Tutsi, so I am
frustrated because they don't remember my family. (Young,
rural woman, Nyamata)
Her frustration resonates in the words of an elderly man:
It is important not to forget the past so that we can prevent
the future. But the bad was not only the genocide but also the
Hutu who died in the Democratic Republic of Congo of diseases,
and also those who were killed in revenge when they came back.
Nobody has won this war; everybody has lost at least one family
member. (Elderly man, Ntamara, Nyamata)
Moreover, Rwanda's genocide memorials are a source of much controversy about memory, as expressed in the following quotes:
According to what happened here in Rwanda we cannot forget, it
is very important. But, you know, sometimes it creates conflicts
among Rwandans. I think we should stop memorial sites because
they are nonsense, they generate trauma and hate. Trauma is for
all and not for survivors only. (Rural woman whose husband has
recently been released from prison, Nyamata)
In the words of a woman whose husband is still in prison:
First of all, we cannot identify the people they put into the
memorial sites. They took all bones. And no particular ethnicity
died, all Hutu and Tutsi died. The problem is when they remember,
they remember only Tutsi, while during the war RPF killed many
Hum, so they should remember also our people who died during
Second, when we are on the memorial sites, both Hum and
Tutsi, it creates conflicts. Survivors remember what happened
and it makes them angry. So we think that they should give pardon
to perpetrators and we live again in peace. (Young, rural woman
with husband in prison, Nyamata)
Those who have no memory:
You know, we did not know how it came. We were friends, the
same people, sharing everything. We are innocent in this
situation. (Elderly, male farmer, Nyamata)
According to me, I cannot determine who is responsible for the
genocide. We heard that people were being killed without
knowing who planned it. (Young rural woman with husband in
Those who indicate elite responsibility:
We cannot know. It was because of the bad leadership, otherwise
we were living in a good climate. (Elderly, male released
prisoner, Nyamata rural)
We saw genocide approaching. It was planned by intellectuals. We
were innocent and surprised. (Elderly, male relative of released
prisoner, Nyamata rural)
The war was because of politicians. One day we were told to kill
but never got an explanation why. (Elderly man, Ntamara, Nyamata)
It was bad governance. Authorities create divisions among
Rwandans, that Tutsi and Hum are different. Also, it was because
of selfishness. Before 1990 ethnicities were living together,
sharing beers, and getting married to each other. The conflict
came after 1990. At Gikongoro, before the war, Tutsi and Hutu
had good relations. (Young Tutsi who had been released from
prison, via ingando or 'solidarity camp', after confessing his
participation in the genocide, Gikongoro, near the road to
The above quotations show a clear divide in what version of the past different groups of Rwandans consider appropriate: while some prefer exclusively to recall the genocide of the Tutsi, others insist that all suffering needs recognition. The disagreement is mainly along Hutu/Tutsi lines, and illustrates that ethnic group identity is still very significant in Rwanda. The way the war and the genocide were experienced is intrinsic to one's ethnic identity, and today's repercussions, central to every moment of day-to-day life, continue to be informed by this division. Buckley-Zistel finds that ethnic identity in Rwanda is more important today than it was before the mobilization for the genocide. The make-up of the society is highly diverse, reflecting a variety of different, competing group interests, some of which are directly related to the genocide. The survivors of the genocide, for example, form one constituency. As a direct consequence of the violence, they face a myriad of problems. Many have lost all family members and relatives and feel lonely and abandoned. In rural Rwanda, not having the assistance and support of family members often poses severe practical problems, such as being unable to cultivate land effectively or to collect water when sick. Moreover, having been targets and witnesses of the atrocities, they suffer from trauma and depression. Many rape victims have been infected with HIV/AIDS, and are today still slowly and quietly dying from the genocide (Buckley-Zistel).
From an ontological perspective, the stories people choose, or eclipse, in reference to their past prevent a sense of closure and fixed boundaries between 'us' and 'them'. Buckley-Zistel finds that through not referring to the underlying social cleavages, they seek to reduce their impact and subvert their dividing powers. This marks a rearrangement and deliberate leaving open of bounded, in this case Hutu or Tutsi, communities, which is essential for day-to-day survival and allows for peaceful coexistence. Generally, many of her interviewees have an interest in living together, mainly because they have no choice. The country is very densely populated and rural dwellers, in particular, live in close proximity to and have dependency on each other. Much of agricultural and rural life requires collaboration, since fields have to be ploughed together. In cases of sickness or death, transport to hospital requires the collaboration of four to six men and daily convalescence requires good neighborly relations. Some survivors even find themselves dependent on the murderers of their family to bring water to their sickbeds. Moreover, intermarriage, a frequently mentioned sign of reconciliation, often happens against the will of the larger family. Given the small number of Tutsi survivors, and the necessity of matrimony for rural life, Tutsi often have no alternative to marrying a Hutu. Hence survivors, in particular, cannot live by themselves; they need communities, as expressed in the following statement:
We have to be courageous. Living in the community, we cannot live
alone. A survivor cannot live alone. For example, we live with a
family which killed our relatives. We have to relax and remain
confident, and pretend that there is peace. (Woman of mixed
parentage, married to a Tutsi, who lost all her and most of his
family, Karaba umudugudu, Gikongoro)
The genocide of 1994 seemed inexplicable. But a study of links between extreme environmental degradation and the enormous violence that occurred between Hutus and Tutsis could have important implications for stressed populations in other regions. A quarter of a million Hutu were slain in three months, but the world did not take notice. Nobody called it genocide, then or now. And nobody asked that the Tutsi in Burundi be tried. (To this day, sporadic killing of the Hutu continues in Burundi, and recently there has been an ominous escalation.) Meanwhile, for lack of funds and assistance, Rwanda's unsuccessful Tutsi rebels lived quietly in exile until October of 1990. At that time, using Uganda as a base, the Rwandan Patriotic Front launched an invasion. Their stated aim: to take over the government in order to protect the Tutsi. By then, they had regrouped, retrained, and rearmed with new and heavier weapons. The initial assault was repelled by the Hutu government, but skirmishes continued through 1991 and 1992. A cease-fire was called in January 1993, but the Tutsi attacked again. On August 4, 1993, a peace agreement was signed in Tanzania. Implementation of the agreement, however, was slow. And when Rwanda's Hutu President was killed in April of 1994, there was widespread fear among the Hutu that another Tutsi rebellion was again underway. "In the Hutu mind, the Tutsi were going to bring back their regime; we the Hutu were going to work for them again, and the educated Hutu would be killed as in 1959," says Francois Karera, who insists the Hutu's subsequent massacre of the Tutsi was driven by fear and self-preservation. The Hutu were determined," claims Karera, "not to allow the Tutsi to repeat history (Gasana)."
When leaders have control over the national media, these kinds of campaigns are particularly effective: a relentless drum-beat of ethnic propaganda can distort political discourse quickly and dramatically. Political campaigns such as these undermine stability and push countries towards violence by dividing and radicalizing groups along ethnic fault lines. Two factors are particularly important in this regard: the existence of antagonistic group histories and mounting economic problems. Some conflicts are in essence power struggles between and among competing elites. The starting point is a lack of elite legitimacy, which sooner or later leads to elite vulnerability. The emergence of elite competition might be the proximate cause of conflicts in places such as Rwanda, but hostilities escalate only because of the existence of other underlying problems of permissive conditions-problematic group histories and economic problems (Brown, 191-2).
By early 1996, the United Nations had ended all four of its major post-Cold War peacekeeping operations; those that continued after that date have been much smaller in size and scope. Rwanda's countless victims, lent fresh authority to humanitarian intervention without consent of the parties. The UN's experience with peacekeeping has highlighted a number of issues that represent key questions for the future. These can be grouped into four basic categories: consent of the parties as a prerequisite for UN action; peacekeepers' operational mandate and the use of force; political support of the Security Council and of member states, including the United States; and the organizational capacity of the United Nations itself (Karns/Mingst, 219).
Rwanda is not only living in the context of affliction with the ex-powers and the complexity of ethnicities inside its own nation, it's a country that is attempting to build from the past in efforts of reconciliation and bringing the nation back to a one single body. And it is my belief that, in fact, reconciliation in that nation, as in others, will be done by the women, particularly the mothers and the children. Through education, the difference amongst will be overcome. We the human race need to become more cultured, know geography, learn some anthropology, sociology, and maybe even philosophy. More depth needs to be brought to communication and analysis. We must stay dynamic in the search for the truth of what's going on for we are the instrument of the absolute called "justice", and if we resign or are unthinking, then to me we will be destabilized. Intellectually based media can help enormously in seeking information and prodding us to do things.
There was more coverage of Tanya Harding during the three and a half months of the Rwandan genocide by ABC, CBS and NBC than the Rwandan genocide. We had Nelson Mandela's election and Yugoslavia, and oh somewhere in there, a bunch of black tribesmen in Africa are killing each other. Was it because it was on CNN's radar screen that that effort was done? Or was it the hand of someone above, guiding the media, and informing it in subtle fashions that, "Listen, we have absolutely no interest in going into another hellhole in Africa. We do not want to get involved in Rwanda. So don't get us involved." How much of that influence actually bayed upon the leadership of those three great media consortiums? And to think about General Dallaire left alone in the middle of a massacre without a single media source because it wasn't in the budget???
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