History and Area Studies Essays

An essay regarding the Rwandan Genocide

In 1994, Rwanda experienced a genocide that can be explained as the most intimate genocide in the twentieth century.  Thankfully, the genocide in Rwanda only affected large numbers of local groups, distinguishing it from other twentieth century genocides that ultimately targeted foreign groups.  The genocide also revealed the unhealthy economic and social trends that much of the continent was facing as a result of long-term problems caused by colonialism.  In today’s conditions, one can assume that genocide will not happen in Rwanda again, unless significant changes in national border depictions and demographics take place in the future.

The organized genocide in Rwanda was planned by the country’s very own political and military elite, rendering the mass-killing event as a local and intimate catastrophe.  According to Frederick Cooper, author of Africa since 1940: The Past of the Present, the genocide in Rwanda and its numbers were made possible by planned mobilizations of army officers, police forces, and extremist Hutu civilians against both Tutsi and moderate Hutu populations.  Due to the killings of a large number of sympathetic and moderate Hutu individuals, the genocide’s organizers also utilized the killings as a vehicle to assume further political power.  In other words, Hutus who did not sympathize with the ruling party were considered sympathizers with either the Tutsi or other rebelling groups.  Radios across the country echoed government orders to kill any Tutsis within reach.  In addition to organized mobilizations, the genocide became more intimate in terms of the weapons used and civilian perpetrators.  Since no two armed forces were at conflict at the time, guns and military vehicles were not used ubiquitously.  The machete, alongside the civilian made club, was responsible for a large portion of the million deaths counted after the genocide.  Killings were performed in close quarters, allowing many criminals and murderers to subject their victims to different forms of human suffering (i.e. rape, beatings, hostages, etc.) before ending their lives brutally.  Even colleagues, neighbors, friars, and close acquaintances killed each other for reasons of self-security and hatred perpetuated by government propaganda and extreme Hutu civilians.  Local officials, officers, and even neighbors and colleagues killed one another on massive scales.  Given the aforementioned elements of this unfortunate event, the genocide was intimate enough to make good friends become eventual enemies.

Fortunately, the intimacy of the genocide in Rwanda kept episodes of violence from reaching other nearby nations.  Victims of the genocide were residents of Rwanda, with most of them either being native to Rwanda’s lands or affiliated with the peoples of Rwanda.  Many documents regarding the genocide did not acknowledge significant deaths of individuals outside of Rwanda due to activities related to the genocide (though there were deaths related to genocide perpetrators escaping Rwanda upon the invasion of Rwanda by Tutsi rebels).  The twentieth century witnessed the attempted genocide of Jewish populations in the holocaust and the genocide efforts of Yugoslav entities against Muslim Albanian Kosovars.  These two events involved the killings of peoples from lands foreign to the killers; German Nazis were responsible for killing Jewish populations outside of Germany’s lands and Albanian Kosovars were victims of Serbian and affiliated Yugoslav entities.  In the case of the genocide in Rwanda, no group of foreign individuals (i.e. Zaire, Uganda, Tanzania, etc.) was subjected to mass-murder events.  The majority of victims were native to modern Rwanda’s lands.  Therefore, since the genocide was local in nature, it distinguished itself from past and concurrent issues that involved killings on large scales.  This may explain why the international community did not fully intervene in Rwanda’s affairs as it did towards Nazi Germany and Serbia in World War II and the Balkan wars, respectively.

The genocide in Rwanda reflected undesirable economic and social trends in the African continent that were products of colonialism.  One of the few causes to the genocide in Rwanda was the lowering prices of coffee worldwide.  Since colonialism was responsible for turning African diverse economies into African single-resource dependent economies, Rwanda’s coffee dependent economy and its citizens suffered.  Like Rwanda, coffee dependent countries like Ghana and the Ivory Coast experienced damages to their economies that hindered their paths to infrastructure and political developments.  If colonialism had never changed the pre-colonial economic patterns in Africa (extensive trade routes, diverse commodities, land ownership, etc.), lowering statistics would not be ubiquitous across Africa as a reaction to lowering commodity prices, and the people of Rwanda may have had better standards of living to offset the variables of genocide. Another cause to the Rwandan genocide was the social classifications and hierarchies that were present before and during the genocide.  Belgian colonists strengthened the definitions and distinctions of the Hutu and Tutsi peoples and highly favored Tutsi-defined peoples by appointing Tutsi individuals into positions of authority.  As soon as Belgian colonialism ended, many problems leftover by the Belgians caused Tutsi leadership to be ineffective and corrupt.  In response to such Tutsi authority, the majority Hutu population of Rwanda rebelled against Tutsi authorities and many Tutsi subsequently found refuge in neighboring Uganda.  Hutu genocide activities against remaining Tutsi populations began when Rwandan president Habyarimana died in his helicopter from a missile explosion.  Similar, but less drastic social trends were taking place in Zaire, Sudan, and South Africa, where European defined populations were suffering from different acts of marginalization and crime.

After the twentieth century, the world has continued to prevent genocide in all of its lands.  Rwanda shall thus not experience genocide again if the world continues to care about Rwanda’s problems.  Hutu and Tutsi individuals are more than aware of the divisiveness that genocide brings to their respective communities.  Drastic demographic changes, such as mass migrations, or the manifestation of new national borders in response to prospective independence movements, may bring about scenarios to set-up dissimilar genocide causes if all worst case scenarios were to occur.

It is accurate to explain the genocide in Rwanda as a local, intimate genocide.  It was a unique genocide, for Rwandan authorities aimed to kill its own people.  The genocide amplified the trends characterizing the economic and social problems created by past colonial administrations.  We hope that Rwanda does not suffer another episode of mass killings.  Drastic changes in populations and borders are two of few slow developing events that could potentially establish foundations for conflicts amongst peoples.

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