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Why Did the Government of Rwanda Perpetrate a Genocide in 1994?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 2460 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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The government of Rwanda committed mass genocide in 1994, with an estimated two million Hutu Rwandan’s displaced, and a further 800,000 Tutsi murdered in the space of six weeks. The reasons why the government of Rwanda perpetrated a genocide are deeply rooted in almost two hundred years of oppression by Tutsi Rwandans, enabled by German and Belgian control. This essay aims to explain the history surrounding the social and economic discrimination by Tutsi Rwandans against Hutu Rwandans, as well as the impact of the Rwandan Civil War, the Hutu Power Movement and the assassination of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and the Hutu president of Burundi Cyprien Ntaryamira.

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In order to understand the reasons why the government of Rwanda committed mass genocide in 1994, it is first important to understand the previous history of Rwanda and its long history of settlement. The earliest known inhabitants of Rwanda were named the Twa (Mamdani, 2002), and were soon taken over by Bantu groups. This group was later separated into the Tutsi and the Hutu by a caste system, and this distinct separation was a leading factor towards the genocide in 1994. In 1884, Germany was given Rwanda and Burundi by the Berlin Conference of that year (Appiah & Gates, 2010) and Tutsi became favoured for administrative jobs due to the belief that Tutsi were descended from Ethiopians, and therefore racially superior. (Jones, 2004). However, during World War I, Belgian forces took control with more direct colonial rule from 1926, modernising the Rwandan economy but further disenfranchising the Hutu by introducing racial identity cards in 1935. Previously, wealthy Hutu’s could become honorary Tutsi and gain social status, however, this was no longer possible. (Gourevitch, 2000) The introduction of these identity cards by Belgian forces was the beginning of a sectarian crusade against Hutu Rwandans and has been cited as a main factor in the genocide of 1994. (Muscara, 2010)

Secondly, the revolution of Hutu-Tutsi relations after independence was also a spark which added to increasing tensions between the two clans. After World War II, the Hutu emancipation movement grew, and there was increasing sympathy for the Hutu within Catholicism. Hutu scholars in 1957 also wrote the “Bahutu Manifesto”, the first document to separate Tutsi and Hutu by race, calling for power transfers based on ‘statistical law’ (Prunier, 1999). Tensions culminated in an attack against Dominique Mbonyumutwa by supporters of the pro-Tutsi party in November 1959 (Carney, 2013). Rumours spread that he had been killed, and Hutu activists began a campaign on murder against the Tutsi, sparking the beginning of the Rwandan Revolution (Prunier, 1999). The Tutsi tried to return fire, but the Hutu had gained the backing of the Belgian administration (Gourevitch, 2000), who then in 1960 began replacing Tutsi administrators with Hutus, which resulted in the deposition of the king, and Rwandan independence with a Hutu-dominated republic formed in 1962 (Prunier, 1999). Tutsi began to flee Rwanda into Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Zaire, (Mamdani, 2002) but were regarded as refugees. They formed armed groups to launch attacks into Rwanda, however, these were largely unsuccessful. Pro-Hutu discrimination continued in Rwanda. Violence against the Tutsi did decrease following a coup in 1973, which brought President Juvénal Habyarimana to power (Prunier, 1999).

Thirdly, the Hutu Power movement greatly influenced the Government’s decision to commit mass genocide. Following Habyarimana’s election following the coup in 1973, the dire economic situation in Rwanda began to turn, along with reduced violence against the Tutsi. However, anti-Tutsi rhetoric remained in the country, most notably from the family of the First Lady, Agathe Habyarimana. A group calling themselves the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) formed and invaded in 1990, which Habyarimana exploited to advance an anti-Tutsi agenda, becoming known as Hutu Power (Prunier, 1999). Out of this fear was born the Kangura magazine, founded by government members and military officers, filled with anti-Tutsi propaganda and the Hutu Ten Commandments; a set of racist guidelines which even went so far as to label Hutu who married Tutsi as traitors (Melvern, 2004). By 1992, an extremist right-wing party called the Coalition for the Defence of the Republic (CDR) made its way to the forefront of politics by promoting a critical agenda of the President’s attitude towards the RPF. Following the 1992 ceasefire agreement of the Rwandan Civil War, extremists became concerned that Tutsi could be included in Government and began to plot against the President. Hardliners continued to carry out localised killings of Tutsi during 1992 until January 1993, when local Hutu and extremists murdered around 300 people. The RPF resumed aggressions in 1993 citing these killings as the primary motive, however this only increased support for extremist Hutus (Prunier, 1999). From here on, the Hutu Power movement became a third force in Rwandan politics, joining with Habyarimana’s government and traditional opposition. However, other than the CDR, no party was exclusively Hutu Power orientated; instead, parties split into “moderate” and “power” wings, with both claiming leadership of the parties (Prunier, 1999). Radical youth militia groups formed from the “power” wings of political parties, included the Interahamwe, attached to the ruling party, and the Impuzamugambi of the CDR (Dallaire, 2005). These militias were trained by the Army and the French, who claimed that they were unaware of their true purpose. (Prunier, 1999)

Following these tensions, on the 6th April 1994, an aeroplane containing Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Hutu President of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down whilst preparing to land in Kigali, killing everyone on board. Responsibility for the attack was disputed, with both Hutu extremists and the RPF blamed. On the evening of the 6th April, a crisis committee, made up of Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, Major General Augustin Ndindiliyimana, and a number of other senior army staff officers. Despite the fact that Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana was next in the political line of succession, the committee refused to recognise her authority (Dallaire, 2005) Dallaire met with the committee that night and demanded that Uwilingiyimana was given her rightful authority, however, Bagosora refused, stating that Uwilingiyimana did not “enjoy the confidence of the people” and was “incapable of governing the nation”. (Dallaire, 2005, p. 224) In 2006, after an eight-year long investigation by Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière found that Paul Kagame of the RPF ordered the assassination. (McGreal, 2006). An investigation by the Rwandan government in 2010 blamed Hutu extremists (Government of Rwanda Committee of Experts, 2010), while a second French investigation in 2012 appeared to publish that the RPF was exonerated (Tribunal De Grande Instance De Paris, 2012), however this was not the case (Reyntjens, 2014).

The United National Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) was established by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 872 in 1993 to assist in the implementation of the Arusha Accords, designed to end the Rwandan Civil War (Department of Public Information, 1993). UNAMIR sent Belgian soldiers to Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana to transport her to the Radio Rwanda offices in order to address the nation. However, the Presidential Guard took over, and would not permit Uwilingiyimana to speak on air. The next morning, soldiers and civilians overwhelmed Belgian forces guarding Uwilingiyimana, forced them to give up their weapons, and murdered Uwilingiyimana and her husband (Dallaire, 2005). The ten Belgian soldiers were taken to Camp Kigali military base, tortured and killed. (Gourevitch, 2000). As well as the murder of Uwilingiyimana, extremists spent the night of the 6th April and the early morning of the 7th April moving around Kigali with lists of moderate politicians and journalists, with aims to murder those on the list (Dallaire, 2005). The mission was largely successful, with fatalities that evening including President of the Constitutional Court Joseph Kavaruganda, Parti Liberal leader Landwald Ndasingwa and his Canadian wife, Minister of Agriculture Frederic Nzamurambaho, and chief Arusha negotiator Boniface Ngulinzira. According to (Dallaire, 2005, p. 232), “by noon on 7 April the moderate political leadership of Rwanda was dead or in hiding, the potential for a future moderate government utterly lost.” An exception to this was the new army chief of staff, Marcel Gatsinzi; who attempted to negotiate a ceasefire with the RPF and keep the army out of the genocide, but he had only limited control, and was replaced by the hardline Bizimungu after just ten days (Prunier, 1999).

Large scale killing of Tutsi began within hours of Habyarimana’s death, with the Crisis Committee the principal authority coordinating the genocide. Military leaders in Gisenyi were the most organised, gathering Interahamwe and civilian Hutu, announcing the death of the President, blaming the RPF, and then ordering the crowd to “begin your work” and “spare no one” (Melvern, 2004, p. 164). In Kigali, the genocide was led by the Presidential Guard, assisted by the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi, who set up road blocks throughout the capital. Each person passing the road block was required to show the national identity card, and any with Tutsi cards were slaughtered immediately. The militias also began searches of houses in the city, looting property and slaughtering Tutsi (Prunier, 1999). Tharcisse Renzaho, the prefect of Kigali-ville, toured road blocks to ensure their effectiveness and used his position at the top of the Kigali provincial government to issue orders and dismiss officials who were not active in the killings (Melvern, 2004).

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In rural areas, the local government hierarchy was also the chain of command for the execution of the genocide. The majority of killings in the countryside were carried out by ordinary civilians, under orders from the leaders. Tutsi and Hutu lived side by side in their villages making it easy for Hutu to identify and target their Tutsi neighbours. (Prunier, 1999, p. 247) ascribes this mass complicity of the population to a combination of the “democratic majority” ideology, in which Hutu had been taught to think of Tutsi as dangerous enemies, the culture of obedience to authority, and the fact that villagers who refused to carry out orders to kill were often killed themselves, branded as Tutsi sympathisers.

The crisis committee appointed an interim government on 8 April; using the terms of the 1991 constitution instead of the Arusha Accords (Melvern, 2004). All political parties were represented in the government, but most members were from the “Hutu Power” wings of their parties (Prunier, 1999). The interim government was sworn in on 9 April, but relocated from Kigali to Gitarama on the 12th April, fleeing the RPF advance on the capital (Guichaoua, 2015). The crisis committee was dissolved, but Bagosora and the senior officers remained the de facto rulers of the country (Melvern, 2004). The government worked on population mobilisation, appearing to give legitimacy to the regime, however this government had no real power to halt the army or the Interahamwe’s activities (Dallaire, 2005).

In conclusion, it is clear to see that the Government of Rwanda was able to commit genocide in 1994 for a number of reasons. Deeply engrained bias against Hutu Rwandans dating back to 1884 lead to 100 years of sectarian political policies and social unrest, a clear factor which enabled ordinary Hutu civilians to gain arms against their Tutsi neighbours. The publication of the Bahutu Manifesto in 1957 separated Hutu and Tutsi by race for the first time, and further fuelled calls for a change in the distribution of power. Extremism in politics also allowed people to mobilise against Tutsi after Habyarimana’s death, along with extreme organisation through militia groups.


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