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Literature Discussion -


Critical factors & Emergency of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda

By Dr. Claude Shema Rutagengwa
Great Lakes Peace Network Foundation
Founder & Chairman


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The foremost of the factors that led to the genocide would be the imbalance in terms of power and lack of enough resources for the two major ethnic groups: Hutus vs. Tutsis. Regardless the origin and reasons of  Hutu and Tutsi ethnic label, the fact that there was imbalance between Tutsi elites vs. Hutus before 1959, it was clear that without any change there was  conflict and related violence escalation on the horizon in one way or another.


The big mistake made by the monarchy regime is that they missed or ignored the sign of division made by Belgian colonial masters when these ones introduced the ethnic based identity in 1930's. The King also failed to prevent the escalation of the conflict between Hutus and Tutsis, because no change was made to change the oppression and power system until the 1959 "social revolution" as the only way for Hutus to overcome the monarchial oppression and continuous ethno-political pogrom. The power was in hands of few people "Akazu" or “small house” in other words (Newbury & Newbury: A catholic mass in Kigali, p.295)


Ethnicity in Rwanda vs. Real Citizenship as Failure


The question still in my mind would be, do we have (did we ever have) ethnic groups in reality? The answer would be probably yes. But the opposite is true. Because, if we look at the close of the different definition (or in Karuna's wonderful analytical teaching stool on the "causes of ethno-political conflict"), there should be at least 6 criteria for a group to be ethnic:


1. Shared culture (the same culture among Rwandese)

2. Language (one mother language – Kinyarwanda - while we learn French and English or so from school or business)

3 Belief in shared historical experience (the same for all Rwandese)

4 Belief in common ancestry (the same ancestry- Gihanga and God)

5 Identified by name (no specific name based on ethnic background)

6 Attachment to a specific territory (we are intermarried and mixed in our neighborhoods)

(See Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, Inc, By Conley, S., Dreier O., and Green, P-2008)

So then?


Thus it was another failure as well, even to consider Tutsi and Hutus as different or distinct people. In fact, finding a solution to the endless conflict to that country should not be based on matters of ethnicity, but instead on the basic needs of the formerly labeled Hutus and Tutsis. For a sustainable prevention and durable peace, we need to take account of the underlying social, economic, and political conditions which interacted to create a volatile situation (Newbury & Newbury…p.295).


However, despite the official propaganda, this cannot easily be reduced to a simple conflict of "Hutus" versus "Tutsis". In fact, the first victims were political opponents… (Newbury & Newbury: A Catholic Mass in Kigali, p.295)


Clientelism vs. Transparency as another Failure 


The so called "social revolution" of 1959 resulted in a negative impact against the Tutsi, because the anger of oppressed Hutus reached far into exclusion and mass killing. More than 20.000 Tutsis were reported to be killed during that revolution, while others fled the country to stay in exile for more than 3 decades. Despite the  root cause of all of that was the identity established by Belgians in 30's and the power imbalance among the Rwandese Hutus and Tutsis themselves, there is another factor also based on the shortage of mineral resources, the mono-sources of country's economy - Agriculture, the scarcity of land, etc…


That means that the power became the source of wealth and privilege.

Another missed or ignored sign and opportunity was the 1950 revolution that put Hutus (a previously oppressed ethnic group) in power. President Kayibanda Gregoire became the first Hutu president. But then began the “north vs. south" conflict between Hutus themselves. Hutus from the south (Butare, Gitarama mainly) gained power, and oppressed others especially from the northern region (like Ruhengeri, Gisenyi, Byumba etc…) at that time.

And then, after the long years of battle against the Tutsi monarchy, the Hutus from the south oppressed their Hutu-mates from the north. I personally consider this as a missed opportunity for Hutus to be united against any thing else, or better to reunite all Rwandese regardless of their ethnic background. And then, like the Tutsi monarchy, the Hutu regime from the south failed to maintain power and reunite Rwandese, and fell due to that failure.


After a military coup, (Hutu against Hutu) Hutus from the north led by General Habyarimana Juvenal took power. That military officer, who was the right hand of his former friend President Kayibanda, developed a strong friendship and connection to France and former Zaire (now DRC-Congo).


The October 1990 War vs. Negotiations - Another Failure


As Hutus did in 1959, the Tutsi who were oppressed and forced into exile for more than 3 decades decided to go back home. Basically, whatsoever their hidden reasons, it was their right to have access to their mother land-Rwanda. (Even though the so called "specialists" concluded that Tutsi are incarnated “black Jews" who flocked to Rwanda via Ethiopia-Somalia and through the Nile River or basin.


The Habyarimana tenure really performed well in terms of the development of the country, with good programs to alleviate poverty etc…, and the skirmishes among few Tutsis vs. Hutus were linear. But still, the Tutsi were oppressed and had no access to power, and even worse, no access to education after elementary schools. The so called "equilibre ethnique et regionale" was used as an excluding policy to give lower quotas to Tutsi students in access to schools. And the same lower quotas for Hutus from the South were used to keep them away from any political privileges (See Dr. Claude Shema Rutagengwa in " Iryo nabonye" -The cruel genocide I experienced, Editions CLE Yaounde Cameroun, 2008).


This was another, greater, failure as well.

The ultimate missed signal and opportunity was the negotiation failure in 80's, when President Museveni of Uganda proposed to Habyarimana to share power with Tutsis who were mainly in Museveni's government. Some of them had high profiles in Museveni's regime, like Paul Kagame (who became the first Tutsi president in the republic political era) and who was the director of the security and intelligence office.


Therefore, Habyarimana refused to share power with the Tutsis who were in exile, saying that “Rwanda is a glass full of water; we cannot add any more….”


Instead, Habyarimana proposed settlement in other countries like Gabon, Zaire, and Central African Republic etc …


For Tutsi who considered themselves as Rwandese, this idea was like an insult. And the fact that Habyarimana was a dictator and wanted to decide whatever he wanted without discussing the issue with all involved parties, including Tutsi refugees themselves, provoked  anger and more motivation leading to take weapons and go back home by gun power.


Then, the unprivileged Hutus had nothing else to do than wait and get the leftovers (if any), while Tutsis in exile decided to launch an attack in the early morning on October the 1st 1990.

The unspeakable failure and desperate regime planned for the genocide.

After another couple of failures in terms of negotiations after the October war (1990), the Hutu power decided to exterminate the Hutu opponents and Tutsis at large as a solution and strategy to win the war. The creation of militias like Interahamwe, Impuzamugambi, etc…, became the tool to speed up the killing machine, and the genocide started. Within 3 months, between April-July, (800,000-1,250,000) innocent people perished. Despite this ghastly effort, the Hutu government’s strategy to win the war did not succeed. They had to run and leave the country to become refugees mainly in Zaire, while the former oppressed Tutsi refugees became leaders after July 19th 1994. Life’s journey had turned upside down!


Reconciliation and challenges

The new regime did a lot in terms of economic recovery, development, social and health care and other related matters and, incredibly, in education. But still there was (if not still is) the fear of the past. The leaders fear the repeat of any attacks and mass massacres. The country became a traumatized society on both sides (The life after:  A starling Exercise in Reconciliation, by Gourevitch Philip -2009). There is no trust. No strong hope for tomorrow. Mistrust among former Hutus and Tutsis, while Twas are claiming to be the native ones and the owners of the country. But despite the fact that they are so few, their claims seem to be meaningless.


The reconciliation should focus on the basic needs of Rwandese in general for a peaceful future, not only to focus on a "Nose" or Tutsi and Hutu label, because experience shows that Tutsis have political problems among themselves despite their victory in July 1994. It is he same failure mentioned before among Hutus themselves.


The labels Tutsi and Hutu should be seen as changing social identity instead of taking it as ethnic label, since there is a proof that the "trio" of them existed before the era of colonial masters (Klaas De Jonge, Ethnicity in Rwanda: A history of Essentialization of identities, 2002) . But it has to be seen in the lens of changing meanings, as it was that time without context of ethnicity. Just keep the words the way they are, not blaming the use of them, unless it hurts. And the last but not least thing to do, learned from the past, is to avoid repeating the same mistakes, so we can avoid any other acts of genocide, mass killing or serious human rights violations.

-By Dr. Claude Shema Rutagengwa

Great lakes peace Network Foundation

Founder & Chairman

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