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Historic ethnic conflict between Hutus and Tutsis - Real cause of Rwandan Genocide

In a span of 100 days during April to June in 1994, Rwanda was confronted with an organized

obliteration of a section of its population. The revolutionaries belonging to the Hutu tribe,

consisting about 85% of Rwandan population, exterminated quite an overwhelming number of

the Tutsis, the minorities in Rwanda, and those Hutus who supported or sympathized with them.

Many scholars in the international community viewed these killings as a part of the ongoing civil

war in Rwanda while others claimed that such genocidal conditions arose because of the long

existing conflict between the two ethnic tribes- Hutus and Tutsis. The latter set of intellectuals

alleged that the Rwandan crisis was similar to those existing in Africa stemming from the ethnic

hatred between the tribes. There were other historians who strongly believed that the social

divide was not the sole motivation behind the 1994 genocide in Rwanda; but the slumping

economy and collapsing political structure were also equally responsible for such disastrous

developments. In this paper, I will discuss three different theories elucidating the cause of

genocide in Rwanda and analyze the evidences presented to conclude how effectively each

theory has dealt with the issue and how justifying they are.

Stuart J. Kaufman

Dr. Stuart J. Kaufman is a political science scholar currently working as a professor in the

Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware.

Previously, he used to teach at the University of Kentucky and also served on the US National

Security Council staff. He takes interests in subjects like US foreign policy, Russian politics,

ethnic conflicts and global security affairs. He wrote a book called Modern Hatreds: The

folklores of Hutus and Tutsis justified hostility in case the group fears extinction at the hands of the other group or foreigners which produced emotional responses leading to bigot mobilization of one community against the other. He has based his research on the works of some of the known historians and political scientists like Crawford Young. Marshall.Symbolic Politics of Ethnic War for which he was awarded the 2003 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving the World Order (“Director of Graduate Studies”. 2006. Furnival. . According to Kaufman. p. Monty G. In his paper. International Studies Review. The symbolist political theory focuses upon the incorporeal aspects related to ethnic conflicts that play an imperative role in shaping the reasons that could lead to violence (Kaufman. The prevalence of such myths and emotion-laden allegories made it easier for the proponents of violence to incite the feeling of hatred between the tribes and further their political interests by popularizing their extremist policies (Kaufman. p. He has written a lot of articles that were published in numerous journals like International Security. J. if exploited prudently. M. Ted Robert Gurr. 46). Nationalities papers etc. can lead to extremely pugnacious events like genocide. 2006. 2014). “Symbolic politics or rational choice.G. published in International Security. One of the crucial aspects is the emotional state of the groups involved in the conflict centered on the myths associated with their shared history which.47). Journal of Peace Research.testing theories of extreme ethnic violence”. that add credibility to his work and analysis. Smith and etc. S. he gave us insights into his theory based on symbolic politics which presents a social and psychological view of the incidents of ethnic violence.

including Kaufman. it is believed by Kaufman that ethnic divide and clashes between the two tribes had always existed which became the prime cause for the abhorrent genocide. The advocates of the symbolist political theory. as per another myth. 2006. Additionally. p. He believes that such legends are found in the core subject of the tribes’ history and culture and cannot be ignored in the contemporary times as easily as the tribesmen are still attached with their ancestral past (Kaufman. Tutsis were considered outsiders in Rwanda who came from the North-east Africa and thus. Furthermore. p. After the 1959 revolution in Rwanda. they allege that rational behavior of people takes a backseat in such circumstances and violence of a level of genocide is motivated mostly on emotional grounds which are exploited cautiously by the elite class. and chauvinist mobilization based on manipulating ethnic symbols—all resulting in a predation-driven security dilemma” (Kaufman. . 2006. did not belong to Rwanda. 70). Stories. myths and legends were widely held in belief amongst the Rwandan populace and were even exploited by the Europeans who favored Tutsis over Hutus and justified the former’s superiority over the latter. eliminationist Hutu mythology aimed against the Tutsi … extreme mass hostility against Tutsi. Tutsis came to power which further fuelled Hutus’ hatred for them because. played the ethnic card when they faced revolution by the Tutsis led Rwanda Patriotic Front to topple the government. out rightly reject the concept of ethnicity being just a social paradigm and believe that it is as important at an individual level as it is for the politicians to assert their rule on the masses. impishly. “Rwanda's genocide must have been motivated by an exceptionally hostile.50).According to Kaufman. Rwanda had not been stabilized completely since it gained independence in 1962 leaving it entirely in the hands of the government who. Thus.

The Habyarimana . Juvénal Habyarimana propagandized Ten Commandments of Hutus in 1990 based on his symbolic politics. Fearon and Laitin firmly believed that in case of Rwanda. 846).According to Kaufman. Laitin James D. Homans. “they want to impose their hegemony on Rwandan people” and “Hutus must stop taking pity on the Tutsis (Moise. Laitin has also worked with Alan Krueger and Eli Berman to conduct research on terrorism. James D. sources of civil war. Fearon and David D. p. Both have worked with eminent scholars in their field and base their ideologies in congruence with those of the rational choice theorists like George C. On the other hand. 2006. He manipulated the historic ethnic conflict between the two communities and presented ideas like “Tutsis are blood and power thirsty”. Laitin are the professors of political science at Stanford University with the former being the Chair of the Department of Political Science. 5). ethnic hatred was used as scapegoat by the government to disguise the existing economic and political problems in the country which were the real causes of civil war culminating in genocide. 2000. The rational choice theory was propounded prior to the symbolist political theory and was founded upon the notion that ethnicity was a concept developed and expended by the political class to rule and manipulate the masses in order to remain in power (Fearon & Laitin. Fearon has been a member of the Peace Research Endowment since 2011 and has been remarked as the “leading rationalist” by Marc Lynch. Both have published a number of articles and papers on ethnic conflicts and cooperation. Fearon and David D. when Tutsis revolted against the government. international bargaining and policies to settle civil wars while working in collaboration. the Hutu President. In addition. p.

The Rwandan authorities took advantage of “constitutional and other institutional rules and norms that allow them to centralize or arrogate power if they can claim that the group faces a security threat” (Fearon & Laitin.government maneuvered the Hutus by playing them against their historic conflict with Tutsis to enhance authoritative control in the country and also. 2000. they knew that this peace agreement would not be acceptable to the Hutus. The calculated step taken by the government was to sign a peace treaty with the Tutsis called Arusha Accords which would bring them in good light at the global front but. As per this treaty. The Habyarimana government feared deposition at the hands of the Tutsis led Rwanda Patriotic Front who was demanding democracy and representation of Tutsis in Rwandan government. ultimately resulting in genocide (Fearon & Laitin. chose to incite the flames of hatred among the Hutus for Tutsis so that the government’s opposition can be eliminated in disguise of ethnic cleansing. mobilized military to suppress the revolt. The authorities wanted to crush the rising wave of revolution and thus. 855) to seed the idea in Hutus’ minds that they face . Hutus resorted to violence and gave the entire scenario an ethnic rivalry appearance. economic crisis and building international pressure to convert Rwanda into a democracy. the Tutsis were to gain some political power in the country undermining the Hutus’ domination and thus. to conceal snags like resources depletion. p. p. But. 853). They fomented differences by developing the construct of the preexistence of ethnic hatred between Hutus and Tutsis which resulted in the formation of more antagonistic identities. 2000. on the other hand. Habyarimana did not want to project his rule as an autocratic one and therefore. Fearon and Laitin emphasize that it was the ruling class who stimulated the feeling of ethnicity amongst the masses to remain in power.

“The public notices the violence. This implies that leaders. 855). argue that masses are never in favor of violence as it disrupts their social fabric and it’s the rulers who propagate it in order to maintain a firm grip over a country’s political structure. who face opposition or are afraid of losing power. books. each person is a rational being responsible for his own actions and thus. ethnic annihilation and genocide to change the nature of the problems in the area and to turn the tide of events in the direction that favors their stay in power. so even if they are unsure about which side provoked it. the state is not the only one to be blamed for the genocide. Thus. She has written quite a number of articles. She is known for her condemnation of the international community that failed in intervening and . abuse the existing cultural and ethnic differences in their favor by propagating the idea that no other leadership can save them from their doomed future except them (Fearon & Laitin. The public may therefore rationally support policies leading to war or even genocide.extinction at the hands of the Tutsis. Linda Melvern Linda Melvern is a British investigative journalist and an expert on United Nations. 2000. the officials first put the Hutu community in a false security dilemma and then. resort to such tactics like violence. 2006. Fearon and Laitin also. calculating that the costs of violence are lower than the costs of facing threatened violence unprepared. p. p. But. essays and papers on the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. 50) Therefore. the political leaders deliberately employ policies of violence under the masquerade of risk-aversion. they do point out that no matter whether the state proposes peace or violence. they can rationally increase their concern that the opposing group might be dangerous.” (Kaufman.

It led to declining growth in economy. 70). water and money. The relief funds. Since its independence in 1962. Melvern says that it was the western and southern Rwandans (consisting mostly of Twa and Tutsi tribes people) who were kept deprived of the basic necessities while the northern Hutus (most of them related to the elite class) were taken proper care of. p. She has presented a firsthand account of some of the events and also interviewed political elites of Rwanda and some UN officials. Juvenal Habyarimana took over the Rwandan politics. She asserts that the calamitous situation of the 1994 Rwanda was founded more upon its economic despondency than on its social divisions and ethnic differences between various communities. The Habyarimana government improved the economy and social conditions of the country but in late 1980s several areas in the country were affected with drought. never reached the common people and were distributed amongst the Hutu officials who were in power. As people were forced to live in drastic conditions with no food. they felt marginalized and challenged the credibility of the authorities to run the . Their prime focus was on maintaining their living standards at the expense of worsening economic conditions in the country. 2004. Moreover.preventing the Rwandan genocide. malnourishment and sky rocketing poverty. the state played a very crucial role in exploiting the bad socio-economic conditions of the Rwandans and propagating dehumanization of the Tutsis leading to their extermination (Melvern. The Hutu elites were corrupt and profligate rendering them incapable of eradicating the miseries of the Rwandan population. increasing unemployment. provided by the UN and other international communities in the wake of drought. Melvern’s research was based on the understanding and analysis of evidences presented in recently produced documentaries and not so much on Rwanda’s historical account. Rwanda had been under the control of the Hutus and in 1973 the Hutu military leader.

a different view on this by stating that more than cultural and ethnic differences. the duo. 2004. chose to kill those challenging their survival. Laitin assert that it’s the inherent desire of the masses to preserve their own community and culture which makes them commit such a heinous crime.nation. 70). The government accused the Tutsis of attempting to steal the limited resources from the Hutus. and the elimination of a system that generated refugees. democratization of the security force. Kaufman staunchly believes in the notion of ethnic hatred being the prime motivation for genocide while on the other hand. the Hutus believed the government’s propaganda and in order to ensure their own survival. p. a stop to the misuse of public offices. it’s the desire to survive that motivates people to resort to ethnic cleansing. 13).” (Melvern.“[an] end to the ethnic divide and the system of compulsory identity cards. Fearon and David D. altogether. Think Piece Stuart J. I believe that it is a conglomeration of most of . alike.James D. 20004. One of the most noteworthy consequences of their dissent was the invasion of Rwanda by the Tutsis led Rwandan Patriotic Front. it was the deteriorating economic conditions and prevalence of stark poverty that led to civil war like conditions which were then abused by the ruling class to transform it into a full-fledged genocide. p. Since both the communities were in dire circumstances. a self-sustaining economy. to suppress the Tutsi revolution (Melvern. While Linda Mervin presents an. the establishment of social services. The RPF demanded. Several tactics were used to incite the Hutus like spreading the propaganda through Hutu controlled radio station and journal Kangura to provoke the unemployed and gang thugs in militia. According to Melvern.

the state actors would not have been able to manipulate them and instill fear in them against each other. In my opinion. Kaufman says that had there been no historic ethnic conflict existing between the Hutus and Tutsis. But. they would not find a Hutu’s blood different from that of a Tutsi’s. I believe that in a nation like Rwanda where Hutus and Tutsis shared the battlegrounds while fighting against the foreign forces. It is all the more true in case of Rwandan genocide because the Hutus and the Tutsis are not really that different from each other as they have shared history of same languages and same religions. he fails to provide any evidence or example justifying his theory and moreover. The most plausible theory providing evidence for the . especially in those cases where there is a history of co-existence of culturally different tribes. This is reflected in the fact that there were some Hutus who refused to be a part of the carnage and rather supported the Tutsis promoting the feeling of Rwandan nationalism. it looks more like a hypothetical situation. every human being is a rational person who can think and act for himself.these effects that act cumulatively in such a fashion that committing genocide appears as the sole solution to the people. the real consequences of which can hardly be predicted. Kaufman and Mervin seem to project a common view that the government used the ethnic divide as propaganda to further their political interests in the region which is contrasted by Fearon and Laitin who state that despite what the government only partially true as the government was the one under a true threat of losing power and not the Hutus.the Rwandan government maneuvered the Hutu population on the basis of creating a fear among them that they would be rendered powerless by the Tutsis which forced them in the direction of systematic extermination of the latter. it is not prudent to blame ethnic hatred for such incidents. Fearon’s claim that.

Hutus were misled to believe that they were fighting for themselves but rather they were used as pawns in a battle of the elites with the masses demanding democracy. they let the two factions kill each other. Furthermore. All these factors along with the prevailing economic crisis in the beginning of 1990s contributed to some extent to the other in fuelling the flame that burnt hundreds of thousands of Tutsis. Kaufman’s view of ethnic conflict rooted in history. in order to protect their own concerns in the country. Fearon’s belief in Hutus’ security dilemma and Melvern’s assertion of government’s political mobilization and depressing socio-economic conditions of the masses are all contributors in developing the theory of real motivation to genocide. I believe this is true to some extent on the basis of evidence provided by Kaufman that justifies why the Europeans were able to create differences between them. Furthermore. . Kaufman placed a huge deal of importance on the myths associated with the ancestors of Hutus and Tutsis in inciting the feeling of hatred among them.propagandizing activities of the government is the one proposed by Mervin. Overall. They took advantage of the predicament to advance their personal interests and emerged successful for some time leading to mass killing of so many belonging to the opposing Tutsis group. They were the ones who were in a security dilemma and thus. I agree with her on the point that the elite class acted in their self-interest compromising the desires and the rights of the population that they were supposed to serve. it was the greed of the ruling leaders who were cunning enough to have molded the situation in their favor.

Laitin. and David D." STUART J.” International Security 30.p.udel. Web.. 4. <http:// www. Stuart J. (2000): 845–877. n.d. Fearon. . “Symbolic Politics or Rational Choice? Testing Theories of Extreme Ethnic Violence. “Violence and the Social Construction of Ethnic Identity” International Organization 54. 2014. Kaufman. James D.References: "Director ofGraduate Studies”. 29 Mar. 7/01-12/02.htm>.4 (2006) 45-86.

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