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Introduction The mass killings of hundreds of thousands of Rwanda’s Tutsis and Hutu moderates by Hutus that occurred in 1994—also referred to as the Rwandan Genocide— was originally (and at times still) blamed on ancient tribal hatreds that have persisted, but more reflective analysis elucidates the significance of the social construction of ethnicity. The Tutsi victims were systematically targeted based solely on ethnic identity, forcing the consideration of exactly how and within what contexts ethnicity is constructed. Human beings are born without any information about themselves or others and acquire sets of attitudes, values, and beliefs—including those of race or ethnicity—through the process of social interaction. Therefore, ethnicity is a social construct that divides people into smaller social groups based on a shared commonality such as a shared sense of group membership, values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic interests, history, and geography. This paper will examine the construction, manipulation, and perpetuation of ethnicity and ethnic or “tribal” divisions and stereotypes during German and Belgian colonial rule and how this furthered ethnic fissures and led indirectly to the mass killings in 1994. This paper will also examine historical and sociological factors leading up to the violence, explore the role of the state as regulator of society at the national level in terms of management of conflict, and analyze the extent to which the construction of ethnicity is able to be negotiated and its boundaries manipulated in order to serve political or social needs. Essentially, the ultimate goal of this paper will be to illustrate the social construction and subsequent malleability and fluidity of ethnicity, and in doing so, shall elucidate the ludicrousness of the mass killings—as based on such fabricated, faulty
A Note on the Inclusion of Burundi in an Analysis of the Rwandan Genocide Although I set out to examine the causes of ethnic conflict in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, it quickly became apparent that a thorough analysis of the history of Rwanda must also include a study of Burundi. Because the boundaries of African countries were arbitrarily constructed by European powers during colonialization, the boundaries did not reflect the positioning of ethnic groups. Thus, the people of Rwanda hold the same ethnic heritage and share a common history with the people of Burundi. Prior to colonization, they “owed allegiance to the same monarch, Umwami, believed in the same god, Imana, had the same culture and the same language, Kirundi, and lived together in the same territory.”1 Even after independence, the “ethnic oppositions in the two states were so similar; people in each of them watched events in the other, and were influenced by what was happening on the other side of the border.”2
Organization of Pre-Colonial Society The current ethnic differentiations in the area of present-day Rwanda and Burundi originated with the migration of various groups in the Fifteenth Century. According to oral tradition, there began a “gradual encroachment of Bantu speaking agriculturalists from Mali and the Central African Republic (the Hutus) on the indigenous hunter gather societies that originated in the Congo Basin (the Twas),” which “was overlaid by waves of conquest by a cattle herding culture of Nilo-ethiopian origin (the Tutsis).”3 Then, by the Sixteenth Century, the multitude of monarchies that covered the area, and arose
4 through conquest, were consolidated into ever fewer and larger states. By the time of European colonization, it had been successfully consolidated into a single kingdom that possessed a “complex integrated social structure” that was bound not only by a common loyalty to its monarchy, but also “by the extensive system of government and administration that had been developed and by the elaborate bonds of personal clientpatron relations that tied the people of various strata of society to one another.”4 Generally, Western scholars are divided on the origins of the three ethnic groups of Rwanda and Burundi—Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa. However, most agree that prior to colonialization, the people used clan affiliations and class distinctions to identify each other, not ethnicity. Since the economy of pre-colonial Rwandan society consisted predominantly of cattle keeping and farming, individual and familial status within society was based on these activities. Cows were considered of immense importance in the economy; thus, the more cows an individual or family owned, the more affluent they were considered. The terms Hutu and Tutsi existed and were used pre-colonization, but the term Tutsi was used to refer to an affluent cattle keeper and Hutu meant a less affluent farmer. Because of their standing in society as the least fortunate members of the society, the Twa were often marginalized and discriminated against by both Hutus and Tutsis.5 When compared with the Twa, “Hutu and Tutsi were less sharply distinct, and individuals could and did move from one category to the other on the basis of accumulated wealth.”6 Therefore, Hutu and Tutsi were originally class distinctions that were not at all based on race, language, or culture. In addition, Rwanda was a predominantly peaceful area where the people lived under a system of “ubuhake”—“a clientilist kind of relationship between the landed
”10 It is only because of first colonizers to Rwanda and Burundi—the Germans and Belgians—that we now assume the population were divided into three groups: Hutus. “Ethnicity was highly . As a result. and used this determination to institute a system of indirect rule in which they favored the Tutsi as the political elite. This institution harmonized Rwanda by providing interdependence among society. religion.5 gentry and the less landed and the ordinary subjects. or the like. the colonizers determined that these groups were ethnic-based classes.”9 “In pre-colonial Burundi and Rwanda…there were no differences of an ethnic nature between the populations… they constituted one homogeneous ethnic bloc divided into clans.”8 Ubuhake was an economic system in which the Hutu produced food for the Tutsi and the Tutsi provided protection and loaned cattle in return. In order to subdue and subjugate the native peoples.”7 These clientilist relationships were “a form of ‘instrumental friendship’ between two persons of relatively unequal socioeconomic status” and would “usually involve the exchange of protection and/or benefits from the person of higher status (the patron) for general loyalty and service from the lower-status person (the client). and Twas. Rwanda remained relatively peaceful until the invasion of the colonizers.mandating and securing personal relationships between individuals with unequal social status. Tutsis. language. then “the Hutu and Tutsi cannot even correctly be described as ethnic groups for they both speak the same language and respect the same traditions and taboos. Colonial Influences and the Manufacturing of Ethnicity Provided we accept the term ethnic group to be defined as a group of people sharing a common and distinctive culture.
obedient” and the Tutsi were believed to be “intelligent (in the sense of astute in political intrigues). offering validity to and further legitimizing the arbitrary divisions that had been purported since initial colonization. in terms of beauty and intelligence. not very clever. Unfortunately. extrovert. In the end. “colonizers established a distinction between those who did not correspond to the stereotype of a negro. the classification of the natives was extremely subjective.6 politicized” and “was a weapon that the colonial regime used to justify its presence in the country. The Hutu were thought to be “hardworking. After World War II. these arbitrary distinctions were perpetuated until they eventually became the commonly accepted norms within society. the colonizers succeeded in manipulating the existing social classes—economic or occupational distinctions—and transforming them into ethnic groups in order to further their imperialistic goals. unmannerly. the League of Nations mandated the colonies of Rwanda and Burundi to Belgium as the territory of Ruanda-Urundi. Ruanda-Urundi continued to be administered by Belgium as a United Nations (UN) Trust Territory.”13 This European racism against the negro race resulted in a favoring of the Tutsi. ethnic identification cards were initially instituted. Under Belgian administrative authority. as they were considered to be more Caucasian. courageous. the colonizers propagated personality stereotypes for each group. and cruel. The Belgians . refined. and therefore superior. over the course of generations.”11 However. irascible. capable of command. A History. (the Tutsi) and those who did (the Hutu). Essentially.”12 In addition.From World War I Through the 1990s Following Germany’s loss in World War I.
more than 160. under the leadership of Hutu Major General Juvenal Habyarimana. Then on April 27. after .”14 During this revolt. Burundi’s first elections after independence—held in May of 1965— were a landslide victory for the Hutus. under public and international political pressure. despite the many achievements of Rwanda’s Hutu-supremacist. Habyarimana declared himself president and formed the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND). However. In 1975. until the “Hutu population. Ultimately the full independence of Rwanda and Burundi was granted on July 1. Rwanda remained a one-party state until July 1990 when. inefficiency and corruption began to flourish.7 sought to promote democratic political institutions through various reforms in the 1950s. single-party PARMEHUTU government by the mid-1960s. a first for the territory. and abolished all political activity within Rwanda. but the Tutsi traditionalist rulers resisted challenges to their power. Two years later in 1961. Rwandans voted in 1978 to confirm President Habyarimana and endorse his new constitution. the military seized power. 1972. dissolved the government. 1962. Then. As a result. an UN-supervised vote saw the election of the Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement (PARMEHUTU) by an overwhelming majority.16 In addition. in July of 1973. sparked a revolt in November 1959. the king fled the country. but the coup ultimately failed and the Tutsi remained in power. which angered the Hutu to the point of a coup.000 Tutsis fled the country.15 Unfortunately. resulting in the overthrow of the Tutsi monarchy. encouraged by the Belgian military. the Tutsi king that had established the constitutional monarchy appointed one of his Tutsi comrades to serve as prime minister. President Habyarimana announced that the country would work towards becoming a multi-party democracy.
Tutsi exiles in Uganda formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and invaded Rwanda. Although the negotiations were to form a sharing of power between the rebels and the Rwandan government. The army systematically targeted the Hutu elite and any that had military training.000 Hutus and several hundred thousand fled to Zaire. The cease-fire authorized a neutral military observer from the Organization for African Unity into the country to monitor the situation. Tanzania. It also led to peace talks. the major opposition party. Rwanda. It is estimated that the army killed between 80. In total. between 800 and 1200 people were slaughtered. and Tanzania during the genocide.”18 This war continued until July 12. Tutsi President Michel Micombero. This peace agreement established a transitional government in which power was to be shared between the former ruling party. as well as any Hutu that would not join their rebellion. In retribution. and the RPF.000 Tutsi refugees living in the diaspora around the world.8 several attacks from Tutsi rebel groups that had formed among the exiled masses. President Habyarimana repeatedly vetoed the delegation’s decisions and showed a lack of concern with the entirety of the peace process since he and Hutu racial nationalists strongly opposed a . a band of Hutu began killing every Tutsi they could find. The RPF “blamed the government for failing to democratize and resolve the problems of some 500.17 The Rwandan Civil War In October of 1990. they produced an agreement that favored the RPF. declared martial law in order to systematically slaughter Hutus in masse. which ultimately resulted in the signing of the Arusha Accords in 1993.000 and 210. 1992 when a cease-fire was signed in Arusha.
The Rwandan Genocide of 1994 On April 6. The killings began in Kigali where the prime minister and her Belgian bodyguards were among the first victims. the Hutu elite believed they had been duped by the Tutsi. the assassination immediately sparked ethnic tensions and.000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates had been put to death at the hands of the Hutu militia and ordinary citizens that were called on to kill their neighbors by their local officials and the government-sponsored radio. As a result. close to 800. 1994. was . and began cultivating a plan to remove the Tutsi from power.21 The State as a Perpetrator of Genocide “Ethnicity. the plane carrying President Habyarimana of Rwanda and President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi was shot down as it descended to land at Kigali International Airport. the presidency was stripped of many of its powers and the former ruling party lost control of the army and most of the government to the Tutsis without adequate compensation.19 Consequently. This plan ultimately resulted in genocide.the Rwandan Genocide had begun.”20 The murdering spree of the Hutus majority killing rival Tutsis and any moderate Hutus that had opposed the government. military and militia groups began rounding up and killing all Tutsis and political moderates. “as though the shooting down was a signal. the killing rapidly spread across the country and between April and July. With the collective memory of the genocide of 1972 in Burundi. However. which the colonial masters had used to suit their convenience.9 sharing of power. regardless of their ethnic background. and from the country.
Juvenal Habyarimana. nor was it merely a repercussion of the assassination. she told ministers. who led the country until his assassination in 1994.”22 In Rwanda.”23 In order to spread this propaganda. as if this action set off some ancient ‘tribal’ hatred that had always existed and suddenly chose to manifest itself in retribution for Habyarimana’s death. the Hutu and Tutsi are not ‘tribes. without the Tutsi. Propaganda Following the invasion of the RPF.’ and do not constitute two distinct ethnic groups. One of the first was a . that changed during the country’s independence with the election of a Hutu president. Yet. President Habyarimana’s assassination has often been cited for prompting the mass-killings in Rwanda. “one cabinet minister said she was personally in favor of getting rid of all Tutsi. although a minority of the population. However. According to Jean Kambanda. the Rwandan prime minister during the genocide. government officials employed various media outlets. the genocide that occurred cannot be the result of deep-rooted. all of Rwanda's problems would be over. constituted the majority of the ruling class and maintained control of the central government prior to and throughout the era of colonialism.10 also used by the post-colonial leaders. ancient ethnic hatreds. relentlessly inciting ethnic hatred and promoting violence. The genocide had been carefully planned and orchestrated by the Hutu government because they saw the Tutsi and the RPF as a threat to their power and to their way of life should they seek retribution for having been exiled. This systematic killing of Tutsis and Hutu moderates was not a random act of violence. who politicized and later militarized an ethnic ideology. the Tutsis. the Hutu government instituted a campaign against the Tutsi. Therefore.
Thus the real Hutu should seek these people out and destroy them. Those posing as Hutu were supposedly easily recognizable because they “lacked commitment to the Hutu cause. most Hutus feared enslavement and were ready to take up arms against the Tutsi once their president had been killed.11 journal called Kanguara.’”24 Many columns were devoted to anti-Tutsi propaganda and “was financed by military officers.”25 Although literacy rates in Rwanda were low (less than 30%). the news in Kanguara was sensationalized and spread by word of mouth through the country like wildfire. which instilled a sense of fear and urgency within the majority.”26 Kanguara also referred to the Tutsi as cockroaches and called for their extermination. hence why the genocide targeted both Tutsis and Hutu moderates.”27 In other words. “the propaganda taught that the RPF had launched its invasion of Rwanda to re-establish the Tutsi monarchy and enslave the Hutu. extremism formed around the ideas that Kanguara propounded. Also. One of the issues included what is referred to as “the Hutu ten commandments. “A traitor is anyone who befriends. the government was establishing a dichotomy in which you were either supported the Hutu government or were its enemy.”28 As a result. MRND members and an intelligence agency of the government. and reported that many Tutsis claimed they were Hutu. employs or marries a Tutsi. provoking hatred for the minority group and was especially slanderous and degrading to Tutsi women.” which served as a manifesto against the Tutsi. “a word in Kinyarwanda meaning ‘wake others up. The publication also perpetually hinted about plans for extermination such as lists of those that had fought the Hutu government and threats to any accomplices that chose to support or defend the Tutsi. According to the publication. Naturally. and the .
”29 A new radio station was also formed to broadcast the message of hate to the general public. False stories were broadcasted to incite fear and hatred. The CDR was able to advance many positions that President Habyarimana and the ruling party could not publicly endorse. no one . the station began broadcasting just as the Arusha talks were concluding. It rejected the idea that Rwandans were a single people. and suddenly hundreds of inexpensive portable radios were made available in the street markets.’”30 Ironically. and use of the vernacular. phone-ins. It soon became apparent. Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTML). considering the idea a form of Tutsi trickery. This new station “had been created by a so-called free and independent broadcasting company set up. RTML immediately became popular by appealing to the younger generation with popular music. The only other station was the national broadcaster. according to its documents of incorporation. However. was the second station within the country. and “was essentially a platform to incite people to understand the evil within the Tutsis. Radio Rwanda. ‘to create harmonious development in Rwandese society. One news item claimed a secret RPF document had been discovered that contained a list of names of all the people that the RPF intended to kill. however. the station’s management was even called before the minister of information for defamation and public slandering of Tutsis. that this new radio station was part of the greater campaign to promote extremist Hutu propaganda. The station.12 publication quickly became a mouthpiece for a new political party. the Coalition for the Defense of the Republic (CDR). This extremist Hutu coalition hoped to establish a purely Hutu nation ruled by the majority. Within two months of operation.
munitions were distributed throughout the country and “militias were set up in order to spread terror. The Ludicrousness of Ethnic Hatred and Ethnic Violence “Do not forget that genocide is unknown to our history and culture.”35 Militia leaders were able to acquire AK-47 assault rifles by completing requisite forms. pincers.13 was ever formally accused. and shears. “By the end of 1993 there were hidden stockpiles of brand-new tools in most communities. And when President Habyarimana was asked to take RTML off the air. hammers. hoes and axes.”33 and “there was an estimated one new machete for every third male in the country.”32 “They came into the country under government import licenses and were distributed across the nation to the supporters of the Hutu government. How can it be . nails. scissors. During 1993. but other weapons.”34 In addition. spades. pliers. the Rwandan government had set into motion plans to exterminate the Tutsi population living by perpetuating and facilitating ethnic hatred and promoting ethnic violence in the form of genocide. such as grenades. Before the assassination of President Habyarimana had even taken place. as the Arusha Accords were being negotiated. scythes. screw drivers. the Rwandan government purchased and imported large quantities of machetes and other agricultural tools.31 Finally. knives. were widely distributed and required no such paperwork. he responded that the West had pressured him to make Rwanda more democratic and that he could not control the airwaves since that would limit the democratic right to free speech. The Fluidity of Ethnicity. saws. “As well as machetes they imported razor blades. and even the word is inexistent [sic] in our language. the government of Rwanda helped arm its citizens prior to the conflict.
000 Hutus in retribution for their attempted rebellion. this benefited the colonizers since it aided imperial rule by means of divide and conquer. lived side by side with each other without any ‘Hutuland’ or ‘Tutsiland’ and often intermarried. European racism not only introduced this concept to these Africans. but there was no construct of ethnicity between them because they shared a common language and culture. this quote delivers an important point that the social constructions of ‘tribalism’ or ‘ethnicity’ did not exist to differentiate the people of the area of Rwanda and Burundi.”38 They divided themselves by their economic and social class status. Naturally. our society had reached a degree of cohesion and national unity that many European countries lacked.” –Government of Burundi. 197236 Ironically. “Africans focused on relations among themselves. These people “had none of the characteristics of tribes…they shared the same Bantu language.000 and 210. It was not until the colonial institutions that the people of Rwanda and Burundi came to see themselves as distinct ethnic groups. Before colonialisation.14 differently? Tribalism was unknown before the arrival of the whites. question your ethnologists and historians. it ultimately led to the ethnic tensions and hatred that culminated in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. this statement was made in the same year that the Tutsi-controlled government of Burundi declared martial law and ordered the Tutsi-controlled army to slaughter between 80. However.”39 They accepted the stereotypes prescribed to them by the colonizers. and aligned themselves accordingly. interpreting them to be inherently conflictual [sic] because of the assumed differences. “The Hutu radicals are inheritors of the colonial lunacy of . The colonizers were able to project the peoples’ hatred and disdain for the colonizer and imperialist institutions onto ‘rival’ ethnic groups.37 Yet. If you have any doubts.
“sometimes the ethnic hostility is so intense that in order to survive. In post-colonial African societies. many of the organizers and perpetrators of the genocide have yet to tried.”42 The fact that these cases have yet to come to trial some fifteen years after the genocide illustrates Rwanda’s hesitance to confront the legacies of its past and begin the immense task of recovery. the survivors of the massacres— those that witnessed and experienced unspeakable horrors as well as the children that were forced to commit horrifying atrocities—are unable to find closure or begin to recover from their psychological traumas. the concept of ethnicity remains a subjective and fluid construct. awaiting trial by community courts” while “the 200 most serious cases awail trial by the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal.15 classifying and grading different ethnic groups in a racial hierarchy.”41 Even today. both the colonizer and the post-colonial governments have been able to continuously manipulate and perpetuate ethnic stereotypes in order to promote their political goals through ethnic tension and conflict. Further. as well as the postcolonial leaders.000 genocide suspects languish in prison in Rwanda. although there have been no massacres in Rwanda itself since 1994. Based on this malleable social construct.”40 Rwanda and Burundi Having been constructed and manipulated by the colonizers. At present. Much of the continued fighting is directly related to the genocide in Rwanda. members of some ethnic groups decide to ‘pass’ for others. . “80. and the current death toll has been estimated at more than three million. Without these trials. ethnic militias continue to operate within Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
and even kill their fellow human beings? .”44 Yet.16 Additionally. Thus. these same constructs off ethnicity that are malleable and indiscernible can be inflamed to incite the divisive hatred that resulted in the Rwandan genocide. even in the present day. “A Tutsi who has no cows is a Hutu. and one cannot adequately determine another’s ethnicity because they appear identical to oneself. if the boundaries of ethnicity are so mobile that one may merely ‘pass’ as a different ethnicity or switch ethnicities through obtaining or losing wealth. why is it that human beings allow such a fluid. socially constructed concept to provoke them to hate. “it is worth noting that…most Burundians claim that they cannot distinguish an individual as Hutu or Tutsi dependably on appearance alone.”43 Also. ethnic tensions continue to pose a treat as many of the Hutus that fled Rwanda during the genocide return to their communities to live side-byside with individuals that butchered their family members and friends. An elderly Hutu woman that had been born Tutsi revealed in an interview. the ethnic divisions between Hutu and Tutsi have not been solidified. Ironically.
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