Political Science 352i
Analysis of the Ethnic Conflict Leading to and During the Rwandan Genocide
The people of Rwanda, and indeed Africa as a whole, have a long and troubled history of systematic subjugation at the hands of European powers. Though many parts of modern African conflict are fueled by the tribalism for which the continent is often (arguably unrightfully) known, the scars of colonialism are ever-present and unmistakable. As stated by Professor Straus at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, CITATION Str13 \n \t \l 1033 (2013) “the notion that ancient tribal hatred drove the Rwandan genocide is deeply misleading, and a range of informed commentators-scholars, high-level international commissioners, human rights advocates, and international courts-have spent a great deal of energy debunking the notion” (p. 17). He goes on to say that the issue cannot be tribal because the dominant groups in the region, the Hutu and the Tutsi, were the same in almost every discernable way. However, upon colonization, Europeans brought with them the notions of race. Though the categories of Hutu and Tutsi existed before, the newcomers codified it and had it embedded into the legal fabric of the region. “Europeans wrote that Tutsis had migrated with their cattle from-northern Africa at some earlier time and had come to dominate the more lowly Hutus, which the Europeans considered an inferior ‘race’ of Bantu ‘negroids’” CITATION Str13 \p 20 \t \l 1033 (Straus, 2013, p. 20). The introduction of a racial hierarchy into a previously equal system created a host of problems. These problems became very obvious after the colonies gained independence, and in the spring of 1994 they finally reached a breaking point. The before unheard of country collapsed into a massive civil war that would claim the lives of between half of a million and a million noncombatants CITATION Yan12 \p 4 \l 1033 (Yanagizawa-Drott, 2012, p. 4). The conflict had been bubbling below the surface for a long time, but it exploded into public view after the airplane carrying both Rwandan and Burundian presidents was shot down. Because of the actions performed and the targeted nature of the attacks, the conflict in Rwanda can be described as both racial conflict and rioting. I am careful to say race here instead of ethnic as that was the incendiary element of the conflict. The groups were essentially identical except for the label on their identity cards that listed their race.
The most appropriate perspectives to have in mind when analyzing the issues in Rwanda are the constructivist and structural ones. The reason I feel these fit best is because, as emphasized in the above paragraph, the conflicts are between races, and those races were constructed rather than the result of natural differences in the people. If the Hutu and Tutsi people had always been distinct and viewed themselves as different, the primordial approach would have been appropriate. However, they were not seen as particularly different groups until after colonization. Another reason is the heavy involvement of the government and media in the conflict. One study looked specifically at the effects of radio-based propaganda on the violence, and “radio coverage in a village increased total participation in violence in by 12-13 percent. A counterfactual estimate of the aggregate effects suggests that 10 percent of the total participation in the genocide was caused by RTLM propaganda” CITATION Yan12 \p 5 \l 1033 (Yanagizawa-Drott, 2012, p. 5). As for the government’s involvement, it had already been a long-established trend by the time the genocide actually took place. “Rwanda's first president, Gregoire Kayibanda, who ruled from 1962 to 1973, was more discriminatory towards Tutsis than his successor. Under Kayibanda, there was a series of anti-Tutsi massacres in the early 1960s and in 1973”CITATION Str13 \p 23 \t \l 1033 (Straus, 2013, p. 23). The government and media