2. The Root Causes of the Rwandan Genocide

It is hard to point to only one or two reasons as to why the conflict and then...
Some of this support came in the wake of the movement for ‘Structural Adjustment
Programs’ across Africa. Leading economis...
was happening in Rwanda. There were massacres and killings perpetrated by both
Hutu’s and Tutsi’s. The RPF was not just ma...
people into these centers and blow them up together, than it was to track each down.
The organizers of the genocide knew t...
 Bond, Patrick. ‘Looting Africa; the Economics of Exploitation.’ University of KwaZulu Natal Press &
Zed Books, 2006. Ne...
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Sec 2 Root Causes Of The Rwandan Genocide


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Sec 2 Root Causes Of The Rwandan Genocide

  1. 1. 2. The Root Causes of the Rwandan Genocide It is hard to point to only one or two reasons as to why the conflict and then the genocide occurred in Rwanda. There were too many contributing factors. I will try now to expand upon some already introduced in Section 1, but will also introduce new factors that happened between independence in 1962 and the genocide which took place from April to July of 1994 and killed nearly one million people in Rwanda. Section 1 talked about the random-ness of colonial power over African countries. Rwanda had been no different in the marking of its borders and the abuses of power and exploitation of its people by outsiders. What was different about Rwanda was that it was, and is, mono-lingual, the ethnic divisions were both created and given throughout the 19th and first half of the 20th century. One may imagine that a mono-lingual culture or area with few distinct ethnic groups would stand a better chance of living together, cooperating and tolerating each other. This was not the case. As noted in Section 1, Belgium switched allegiance from supporting Tutsi’s to supporting Hutu’s right before Independence of Rwanda—even helping to create a Hutu political party (PARMETHU). This led to confusion and lust for power along ethnic divisions. Jobs, education and access to health were suddenly open to Hutu’s and not Tutsi’s. At independence, many of the minority Tutsi’s fled the country for fear of persecution from the governing Hutu majority (about 85-15%). The Tutsi’s went into the surrounding countries. Many wound up in refugee camps that stood for over 30 years—not unlike the Palestinian camps in Lebanon. To the south, in Burundi, something similar happened. Almost as soon as independence, the ethnic divisions had been cut so deep in Rwanda that killings and massacres began of mostly Tutsi’s by Hutu’s. There would be a few people killed here and there or a massacre sometimes. The news coming from Rwanda to the exiled groups was not good—much like the news that leaves Palestine to the Palestinian refuges and diaspora. Still, at independence and into the 1970’s, Rwanda signed on to every major human rights treaty, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and even wrote a constitution. The Hutu power structure relied on a few elite controlling the poor masses. Catholicism, the French language and control of resources were used to undermine social cohesion. This was not hard to do in this densely packed, poverty stricken country. It did not help that in neighboring Burundi a mirror Tutsi ruling class was doing the same to the people. In fact, in the mid-1970’s it is believed that the Tutsi government of Burundi had carried out ethnic cleansing—this has been historically washed over, but it is likely that thousands of Hutu’s were killed at the hands of Tutsi’s in Burundi, thus giving reason for an even more repressive governance by the Hutu’s in Rwanda. Juvenal Habyarimana came to power in Rwanda in the early 1970’s. Habyarimana was more moderate than his predecesor but he still believed in controlling the masses with an iron fist. As the 1980’s came, Rwanda was one of the poorest, most densely populated countries in the world. Its roughly nine million people far exceeded livable land. It was a country that was highly dependent on foreign aid. With very few cash crops, Habyarimana continuously went to bilateral donors, the World Bank and the IMF for help or support.
  2. 2. Some of this support came in the wake of the movement for ‘Structural Adjustment Programs’ across Africa. Leading economists had encouraged countries like Rwanda to focus on one (or two) main cash-crops for export and by achieving stability with this crop, the free market would help monetary gains trickle-down into local markets. Besides the few farmers able to farm for subsistence, the government took over control of most land and forced the people to cultivate coffee as the main cash-crop. The problem with coffee is that it does not provide sustenance. One cannot eat a coffee bean off a tree and feel nurtured. But this is what the government had decreed based on recommendations from foreign interests. It was believed by exporting coffee to European markets, money would come back into the country that could then be used to buy subsistence foodstuffs from neighboring African countries. This may have worked to some extent had the Democratic Republic of the Congo not been in major conflict due to their dictator and Uganda had not been in civil war, trying to break free from the grasps of their dictator. As you can see the reliance on one cash-crop and on unstable neighbors did not help the Rwanda cause. One of the many problems with reliance on foreign aid at this time is that Rwanda was not able to produce homegrown Rwanda-specific institutions. Justice, security, health and education were reliant on outsiders for help and outsiders have their own interests at heart. It also allows the foreign institutions to ignore political repression—which is exactly what was happening in Rwanda. Foreign institutions used a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach to Rwanda (eg what worked elsewhere, will work in Rwanda) and chose to ignore what was actually going on in the country. The 1980’s also brought the organization of Rwandan exiles in the diaspora—mostly Tutsi’s. Many organizing in neighboring countries had been born as refugees or fled Rwanda as children and only had romantic notions of their ethnic homeland, thus wanted to ‘return’ -- peacefully or violently. The Rwandan Patriotic Front (and Army) was created to do just this: return to Rwanda and seize control of government and the people. They mostly organized in the refugee camps of Uganda, north of Rwanda. The organizing of opposition forces outside of Rwanda allowed the Rwandan government to further centralize control in the hands of a few through fear and manipulation. The government owned the media and continuously sent out messages of the hateful Tutsi outsider’s ready to attack the livelihoods of the Hutu natives at any moment. As this was happening, the world coffee market crashed. Coffee had always been seen as a product for Europe and North America, so when the demand slowed in the 1980’s due to various global economic crisis, people of the ‘north’ were less willing to spend money on something like coffee. The combination of angry Rwandan exiles, falling coffee prices, little available land, fear- mongering media and myriad other problems proved a lethal one. The RPF/A took advantage of this vulnerability and entered Rwanda in 1990 attempting to ‘liberate’ the people from the Hutu government, thus, beginning a long civil war. For the next four years, the RPF/A fought a rebellion within Rwanda, but it was the ruling Hutu government that got the international backing. The RPF was seen as another outside agitator, even though it was made up mostly of Tutsi exiles and Hutu moderates. There were numerous attempts at peace agreements with both the RPF and Habyaramina’s MRND paying lip service to the wishes of the international negotiators. The whole time the peace process was starting and stopping outside of Rwanda, war
  3. 3. was happening in Rwanda. There were massacres and killings perpetrated by both Hutu’s and Tutsi’s. The RPF was not just made up of exiled Tutsi’s, but anti-MRND Hutu’s, as well. Whereas the MRND was only made up of Hutu’s. A casual observer in Rwanda today, and likely during the 1990-1994 civil war would not be able to meet someone on the street and judge that person a Hutu or Tutsi, unless the Rwandan presented an ID card. There are short, fat Tutsi’s, just like there are light- skinned Hutu’s. This made the conflict and the ethnic identities even more mis-leading. Rwanda had been a society of inter-marriage, there were no language barriers and most people lived off the same, poor lands. Everyone needed and wanted cattle and sustenance for their families. The fact that the civil war became a fight of Hutu versus Tutsi was just the latest evil outcome of centuries of missionary, colonizing and imperialistic forces that paid no heed to the land and the people that were being exploited. When Rwanda went to war, it had the fewest roads per its population of any country in Africa.i Their had been exploitation and little given back. This was never as clear as it was in Rwanda. The Arusha Peace Agreement (APA) was finally signed between the MRND and the RPF in Arusha, Tanzania in August of 1993. The war had already displaced thousands, if not millions within Rwanda and out of Rwanda to neighboring countries, including Burundi and Tanzania. These constrained countries had the incentive to bring Rwanda to peace, even while Burundi, for example, had yet to achieve peace as well. Of course, the Tutsi killings of Hutu’s in Burundi had likely stoked the idea of retribution upon Rwandan Tutsi’s as early as the 1970’s. Part of the APA was a UN Peacekeeping force and power-sharing with the RPF. When the APA was signed, members of the governing MRND’s inner-circle were angry at Habyaramina. They did not want power sharing with Tutsi’s. A plan was developed to exterminate, to ethnically cleanse the 1.2 million Tutsi’s that were in the country. Lists of Tutsi’s and anti-MRND Hutu’s were drawn up in every community across the country for cleansing. Youth were trained in cadres. It was easy to train the youth to be killers: they had little education, barely any job opportunities, their lands were densely packed and uncomfortable and the prospect of being able to grab land and education and economic opportunities through the elimination of an ethnic minority had great traction. The Catholic church in Rwanda—run by Hutu’s—also saw this as an opportunity to organize the poor masses in the community around a common goal. Of course, the church used coded-language and spoke of the need to take over ancestral lands and to root out pests from within. The APA and the UN Peacekeepers were unable to keep the peace or control the MRND elites. At the beginning of April 1994—while the world was celebrating the coming of the first democratic election in South Africa after apartheid—a plane carrying the president of Burundi and Habyarimana was shot out of the sky as it was about to land in Rwanda after a regional peace conference. There upon, the civil war turned into a genocide. Over the next 100 days nearly a million Tutsi’s and some Hutu’s were killed in Rwanda. A country that had nearly nine million people, soon had nearly eight million. It did not take long, as it was a well thought out plan. As soon as the plane blew up, road blocks were set up in the capitol, Kigali, and other towns. Drivers were pulled from vehicles and slaughtered. Large groups of Tutsi’s were rounded up and brought to churches, hospitals and schools, being told they would be safe—only to be massacred by the youth cadre, paramilitary, and government security forces. It was easier to horde
  4. 4. people into these centers and blow them up together, than it was to track each down. The organizers of the genocide knew this well. The UN did little to stop the genocide as it was happening; international bodies refused to send troops and equipment; surrounding nations had their own issues and were already too inundated with Rwandan refugees to help out; international aid organizations in the country fled, leaving their Rwandan employees behind—many of whom were Tutsi’s. The only people fighting to end the genocide were the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), led by future president Paul Kagame, which had been fighting for four years. They received little support, but put pressure on the MRND during the genocide, and the MRND began pulling out of the capitol. As they fled to other parts of the country and region, they continued to kill and massacre. The radio’s and TV continued to read off names of Tutsi’s and Hutu moderates to kill. Often one neighbor killed their neighbor or son killed mother, for fear of their own life being taken if nothing was done. In July of 1994, the RPA finally took the capitol, ending the genocide and the war. Nearly a million people had been killed, including those by the ‘liberating’ RPA. Over a million Hutu’s fled to the neighboring countries, especially the Congo. International military support never came—Bill Clinton eventually called it the worst mistake of his presidency, having known what was going on in Rwanda and not doing anything about it. QUESTIONS: • What could the international community have done to prevent conflict between the Hutu’s and Tutsi’s? • If you were in Rwanda in 1993 as an outsider, what would you have done to prevent the pending genocide? • Why was it important for the governing Hutu’s to exploit ethnic differences with the Tutsi to remain in control? • The Rwandan government had ratified the UDHR, a constitution, the African Charter on People’s & Human Rights and the Arusha Peace Agreement amongst other treaty documents. Why were they not held accountable for their ongoing atrocities? • Do these kind of international treaty documents help in preventing crisis and conflict? Why or why not?
  5. 5. i Bond, Patrick. ‘Looting Africa; the Economics of Exploitation.’ University of KwaZulu Natal Press & Zed Books, 2006. New York, London and Johannesburg.