Effect On The Rwandan Genocide Of 1994 History Essay

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Towards the end of the 19th century, European powers began competing for control in Africa; this led to the Berlin Conference in 1884 where the continent of Africa was divided into 50 countries. The divisions were performed arbitrarily and the common culture, history, and language of groups of Africans was ignored (Prunier 13). Belgium gained control of Rwanda after World War I. The Belgians divided the Rwandan people into two groups (Hutu or Tutsi) in attempt to strengthen their control (see Appendix A). Although the Hutus made up 85% of the Rwandan population, they were denied land ownership, higher education and government positions under the rule of the Belgians. The Tutsis were extremely angered by this (Gourevitch 96).

After World War II, the Tutsis became belligerent in their attempts to become independent. In 1959, Belgian rule came to an end. Hutus immediately overthrew Tutsi rule, and the first Hutu president was elected, Greg wa Kayabanda (Prunier 25). This government switch reversed the oppression, and this time the Tutsi were the ones being oppressed. (Mamdani 38-40). The identity classification of "Hutu and Tutsi" remained in affect because it was a way for the Hutus to oppress the Tutsis (Ghosts of Rwanda).

On April 6th, 1994, Hutu President Habyarimana was killed in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. This is the day that the killings began (Dallaire 62). Prior to the genocide, Rwanda had a population of 8 million, 650,000 of which were Tutsi (Kuperman). The country had been involved in civil war from 1990 to 1993 between the government controlled by the Hutus, and a rebel force comprised mainly of Tutsi (Kuperman).

On April 11th, the New York Times reported a death estimate of 8,000, but also reported that fighting in Rwanda had "diminished in intensity" (Kuperman). On April 12th, Belgium's De Standaard reported on government violence in Kigali saying that "it is absolutely certain that a large number of acts of terror were committed" (Kuperman). These early reports also indicated that the Tutsi rebels were winning the civil war. On April 14th, Le Monde and the London Times reported that it was now the Hutu who feared vengeance from Tutsi rebels, and reporting "a strange calm reigns in downtown" Kigali. On April 16th, the Guardian reported an "estimated 20,000 deaths" (Kuperman). On April 18th, daily coverage of the violence stopped after most foreigners left, including journalists. Human rights groups began suggesting possibility of genocide. The Red Cross had accurate death counts because of their nationwide network of health camps (Dallaire 118).

The United Nations arrived before any of this fighting had occurred with 2,500 troops knowing nothing about the extremely important history or culture of the country. Canadian Major General Roméo Dallaire was the one in charge of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), a UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda (Dallaire 46).

Hutu officials began preparing for genocide, training armed militias, arming civilians, distributing lists of people to kill, and broadcasted hate messages over the radio portraying Tutsis as "evil cockroaches and rats" (Kuperman). Hutu extremists broadcasted lists of Tutsi names, addresses, and license plates over radio stations in Rwanda, and commanded the killing of all Tutsi men, women, and children (Gulseth 136-137).

General Roméo Dallaire was informed about the plan of Tutsi extremists, and created a plot to take over multiple Tutsi arms caches with the intention of keeping the peace (Ghosts of Rwanda). However, when General Dallaire requested permission from UN headquarters in New York to carry out this operation, the UN peacekeeping department commanded General Dallaire to avoid the use of force (Dallaire 142-144). This decision was made because of the Mogadishu event that had occurred three months earlier in Somalia (Ghosts of Rwanda).

The Battle of Mogadishu was a Special Forces operation to capture Somalian president-to-be and warlord, Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The operation resulted in 18 US deaths and 80 wounded, when upon arrival of the US Special Forces team, they were ambushed by thousands of armed civilians in support of Aidid (Eversmann 23). A Secretary of Defense was also fired, and the event "brought the Clinton Administration to its knees" (Ghosts of Rwanda). The following hundred days involved a genocide of 800,000 Rwandans (Gourevitch 86).

Evaluation of Sources

The first evaluated source is a report titled, "How the Media Missed Rwandan Genocide". The origin of this source is a report that was written by Alan J. Kuperman in Bologna, Italy and published by the International Press Institute in 2000. At the time, Kuperman was Resident Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy. The purpose of this article was to expose and analyze many mishaps by the media that contributed to the continuation of the genocide. The value of this report is that it not only analyzes the broken and incorrect response the media gave from around the world, but it also examines the internal media's "mistakes" that took place inside Rwanda. This report is a secondary source and the extent of fabrication the international and national media within Rwanda encompassed during the genocide. A limitation is that it focuses solely on the effects of the media and how the media halted its reports on the genocide. Furthermore, it mentions the media having an effect on the decisions of the United Nations; however, this source does not mention the Mogadishu incident.

The second evaluated source is a documentary titled, Ghosts of Rwanda. The origin of this source is a documentary that was directed by Greg Barker and published by the WGBH Educational Foundation in 2004. Greg Barker is a director and producer with a master of science in International Relations from the London School of Economics. Its purpose was to inform the public of the events that took place in Rwanda in 1994. The documentary was also released on the ten year anniversary of the genocide, to remember the event. The value of this film is that it gives both firsthand interviews and perspectives of important people involved, such as the Force Commander of the UN's peacekeeping force in Rwanda, General Roméo Dallaire. More importantly, it includes interviews with native Rwandans from actual footage during the genocide to interviews of Rwandan survivors. However, a limitation is that the documentary's director focused on the UN's lack of involvement and believed that this was the sole cause of the continuation of the genocide and failed to acknowledge the media aspect.


At the beginning of the genocide, international media mistook genocide for civil war. Since the country had been involved in civil war from 1990 to 1993 between the government, controlled by the Hutus, and a rebel force comprised mainly of Tutsi (Kuperman). The New York Times reported fighting had "diminished in intensity" (Kuperman) on April 11th. Reports of violence were diminishing, when in fact violence was intensifying. Furthermore, the death estimates that were being reported were extremely underestimated, by a factor of ten. For a country with 8 million people, these underestimated numbers were not large enough to trigger the word "genocide". After nearly all of the foreigners left, including the journalists, coverage of the violence stopped (Kuperman). This led to a decrease in the number of reported deaths. Finally, after three weeks into the genocide, the first reports of a large-scale massacre surfaced. The Red Cross was distributing accurate death counts with accurate data (Dallaire 118). These huge numbers was an attempt by the Red Cross to capture the world's attention through the media.

After the media began recognizing the genocide and reporting accurate numbers, the entire world was well aware of the mass killings taking place in Rwanda (Ghosts of Rwanda). If one was skeptical that this event was still not genocide, they would have to look no further than the broadcasts within the country. Hutu extremists broadcasted messages over the radio, commanding slaughter of all men, women, and children that were Tutsi (Gulseth 136-137). At this point it was undeniable that the world did not know of these happenings, yet they chose not to get involved. This was also a similar characteristic of the United Nations. The United Nations arrived in Rwanda before tensions even began to reach this severity. However, the veto power ability of the United States determined whether the United Nations became involved. This resulted in the UN mission being specifically ordered not use force to keep this peace (Dallaire 142-144). This unwise and regretted decision was made with concern of Mogadishu: a failed US Special Forces operation that occurred in Africa (Somalia) a few months earlier (Eversmann 23). This event was also covered by international media with tremendous criticism, which heavily embarrassed the United States and contributed to their extensive cautiousness of the Rwandan UN operation. If this embarrassing event had not happened so soon, and in so close of a region as the events in Rwanda, perhaps UNAMIR would have received the authorization they needed by the United Nations, intervened with force, and seized the arms caches.

International media failed to report a nationwide killing campaign was under way in Rwanda until almost three weeks into the violence (Kuperman). When the reports finally did surface and the violence was declared genocide, western officials dragged their feet. The west did this not because they weren't empathetic towards the situation; however, they chose not to intervene because they could not afford the risk of failure. Once more with regards to the use of media, specifically how the media was covering other events in the world, this tragedy in Rwanda occurred in the wrong place, at the wrong time. The Hutu government of Rwanda noticed this good timing initiating genocide, and succeeded by fooling western reporters to think that the violence was a civil war rather than genocide allowing the genocide to carry on without world interference.


In conclusion, initially the decision to not use force to intervene was determined because of the mistakes made by the media. Lacking a thorough investigation, the international media initially reported that the killings were just casualties of a civil war in which the country had been involved in since the 1990s. This was a huge mistake that contributed to the initial decision by the United Nations to disallow the use of force by UNAMIR to keep the peace in Rwanda. However, once General Roméo Dallaire became aware of the multiple huge arms caches along with the extreme tension in Rwanda and sent a proposal directly to the United Nations headquarters to allow the use of force, there was no excuse for the United Nations to not be aware of the situation. The UN should have quickly allowed the use of force; however, an event occurred that, once again, can be traced back to the media: Mogadishu. It was ultimately the media that brought this extreme criticism upon the United States' government. This criticism resulted in a lack of commitment for peace keeping by the United States, especially in Africa, and in turn this refrained the United Nations from effectively intervening in Rwanda.

The media had a much greater effect on the continuation of the Rwandan Genocide because the media not only failed to report accurately, but was the root of the United Nations lack of involvement.

Appendix A


In order to strengthen their control, the Belgian colonists divided Rwanda's unified population into two distinct groups: Hutu and Tutsi (Prunier 13)

In order to do this, the colonists created a strict system of racial classification. The Belgians, influenced by racist ideas, thought that the Tutsi were a superior group because they were more "white" looking (Ghosts of Rwanda)

The size of the nose and the color of the eyes were factors that determined whether a person was classified as either Hutu or Tutsi (Hymowitz and Amelia 3).

The colonists believed that the Tutsi were natural rulers, so they put only Tutsis into positions of authority and discriminated against Hutus. Even though prior to colonization, the people of the region that became Rwanda lived together, the Belgian colonization put one group above the other (Mamdani 36).

List of Sources