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Smart Library on Globalization > Genocide > Topic 2: Approaches to Studying Genocide > Overview: Approaches to Studying Genocide
Hardliner Responses Set the Stage for Genocide in Rwanda
By taking irregular steps to protect their waning power, hardliners in the Rwandan government set the stage for genocide.
Genocides do not just happen. There is a history and a background that leads up to and sets the stage for a genocide. Rwanda is no exception.
The story of the Rwandan genocide can be told, in part, as the story of an embattled regime's attempts to hold onto power. Steps taken by the regime before the genocide put in place conditions that turned deadly when the conflict began.
Political Trends Leading Up to Genocide
During the colonial period, under Belgian rule, the difference between “Hutu” and “Tutsi” were solidified into ethnic groups. Until that time, the difference between Hutu and Tutsi was largely a matter of class. “Tutsi” was the term used to indicate that a person was a member of the minority cattle herding aristocracy while “Hutu” was the term used for farmers (the largest part of the population). The distinctions were more a matter of class than ethnicity. Indeed, after acquiring enough cattle, a Hutu could become a Tutsi.
However, because the Europeans viewed the world through a lens in which race was a (if not “the”) key way of defining humans, they understood Tutsi and Hutu in terms of race or tribe. The Belgians backed the Tutsi aristocracy in the Rwandan kingship and hardened the differences between groups by requiring universal tribal identification cards.
The revolution of the early 1960s brought an end to Belgian and Tutsi rule and gave Hutus monopoly control over the government. During the Hutu revolution, masses of Tutsi fled into nearby countries. Gregoire Kayibanda, the first president of Rwanda, was harshly discriminatory toward Tutsis and there were several anti-Tutsi massacres under his rule. Even though Rwanda's second president, Juvenal Habyarimana, was less harsh, he maintained strong limits on Tutsi advancement in the system.
Conflict and political tension in Rwanda was not limited to Hutu/Tutsi relations. The policies of the two presidents of Rwanda heavily favored their home areas. So, while Kayibanda's rule largely favored the south-central area of Rwanda (his home region), Habyarimana's rule gave northwesterners a near monopoly on posts in the government, army and state-run companies. This practice of favoritism created conflicts over power among Hutu.
Changes in the Early 1990s
In the early 1990s, the situation in Rwanda changed dramatically.
Both of these events seriously weakened the MRND's hold on power. However, those in power were not going to let go that easily. Hardliners within the government fought to maintain their position both against Tutsi rebels and more moderate Hutus. The steps they took to hold onto power were the same actions that set the stage for the genocide.
Hardliner Responses that Set the Stage for Genocide
Six responses by hardliners in the Rwandan government to hold onto power also created the conditions for genocide.
Linked Tutsi Residents to RPF
Hardliners explicitly linked resident Tutsis to the Tutsi dominated RPF. Just after the RPF invasion, Habyarimana labeled Tutsi civilians as rebel accomplices and arrested as many as 13,000 civilians, most of them Tutsi. Just over a year later, a military commission identified the principle enemy as “Tutsi inside or outside the country, who are extremist and nostalgic for power and who have never recognized and still do not recognize the realities of the 1959 Social Revolution and who want to take power by any means necessary, including arms.”
The upshot was to define the Tutsi residents as rebels who were willing to take up arms against their Hutu neighbors.
Established the Civilian Defense Program
The government dramatically expanded the civilian defense program. Two components of this program would have deadly effects:
The effect was to incorporate civilians into the war.
Funded and Trained Youth Militia
Almost all political parties had youth wings—made up mostly of young and unmarried men who carried out the party's bidding in local areas. The youth wing of the MRND, the interahamwe, was unusual in that the military and MRND provided some of them military training. So, unlike the youth wings of other parties, the interahamwe was transformed from groups of political party toughs to trained militias. While the extent of the military training is not certain, there appear to have been several thousand militias in different parts of Rwanda by the beginning of the genocide. In many areas, it was these militias that tipped the balance of power in favor of the genocide.
Planned to Massacre Tutsi Civilians
A crucial piece of evidence that the genocide was planned came from an informant who had left the military to train interahamwe. In January 1994 the informant told the head of the UN Peacekeeping force in Rwanda, Romeo Dallaire, that, as part of the civil defense program, instructions were given to the militias to create lists of Tutsi civilians who would be targeted for “extermination.”
While the informant's evidence does not prove that the Rwandan government planned the genocide ahead of time, it shows that the hardliners most threatened by the changes in the early 1990s had radicalized by early 1994. The “death lists” and “death squads” show that the hardliners were willing to use lethal violence against civilians in order to maintain their tenuous hold on power.
Disseminated Racist Propaganda
MRND supporters funded and disseminated anti-Tutsi propaganda. They used such avenues as the weekly magazine Kangura and the private radio station Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) to:
Established Hutu Power
In the minds of the hardliners, recent events called for Hutus of different parties to unite under a common idea of Hutu Power.
The Stage Is Set
By April 1994, the stage had been set.
By the time of Habyarimana's assassination, the populace had been armed, militarized (through militias and neighborhood patrols) and radicalized. When the genocide began it was both extremely fast and shockingly brutal.
Data and Methods:
Research was conducted in three stages:
Straus, Scott. 2008. The Order of Genocide: Race, Power, and War in Rwanda. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Introduction, pp.1-16.
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