Reading the Rwandan Genocide

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<ul><li><p>Reading the Rwandan Genocide</p><p>Peter Uvin</p><p>In 1994, genocide took place in Rwanda and up to one million defenselesspeople were slaughtered during a three-month period. The victims weremostly Tutsi, but there were also tens of thousands of Hutu, who were eitheropponents of the regime or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thisgenocide followed a four-year civil war, during which war-related violence hadkilled thousands and turned hundreds of thousands moremainly Hutuintorefugees. Government-instigated mob violence had killed thousands more Tutsi.</p><p>Since the genocide, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR)the new power inKigali, largely controlled by a small group of Ugandan-born Tutsiis said tohave killed tens of thousands of primarily Hutu people. The violence is partlyan attempt to secure its rule and to fend off continued attacks from the remnantsof the genocidal militia.1 In addition, attacks by the FPR and its Congoleseallies on refugee camps in Zaire (now Congo) may well have killed tens ofthousands more Hutu and have devastated the economy of the region.2 Recently,Uganda and Rwanda even began fighting each other in the Congolese city ofKisangani.</p><p>The numbers, though probably inaccurate, are still devastating, numbing intheir size, and beyond comprehension. Yet the numbers beg two crucial ques-tions: What brought this country to that point? What has been the role of theinternational community in all this? This essay reviews recent scholarship onthese two questions.</p><p>1Data are from Alison Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda(New York: Human Rights Watch and Fdration Internationale des Ligues des Droitsde lHomme, 1999). The first exhaustive analysis, still relevant, was Alex de Waal andRakiya Omaar, Rwanda: Death and Despair (London: African Rights, 1995).</p><p>2 Kisangani N.F. Emizet, The Massacre of Refugees in Congo: A Case of UNPeacekeeping Failure and International Law, Journal of Modern African Studies 38,No. 2 (2000), pp. 163202.</p><p> 2001 International Studies AssociationPublished by Blackwell Publishers, 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK.</p></li><li><p>Since 1994, there has been an explosion of writing on this hitherto almostunknown country. It is interesting to see all the young Ph.D. candidates fromgood American and European universities running around eagerly in this remoteand traumatized country to advance their academic careersinterviewing, mea-suring, and theorizing, while surrounded by some of the worlds most extremepoverty and gross human rights violations. Yet the academic pursuit, odd as itmay be, is also necessary. The genocide stands as a defining moment for every-one concerned with Rwanda and Africa, as well as development issues, humanrights, and the international communitys capacity to enforce basic shared val-ues. It needs to be analyzed, discussed, and remembered. Regrettably, Rwan-dans themselves have played almost no role in this scientific inquiry: the issuesare too fresh, the society too divided, the community of scholars too small, andthe political situation too tense.</p><p>Not surprisingly, there is an intense degree of politicization of even themost basic concepts and research questions. Every concept, research question,methodological approach, or choice of research site is subject to dispute andbound to have political connotations, making scholarship more difficult. Thisstarts with basic notions of the Hutu and the Tutsi. Profoundly incommen-surable interpretations exist on these definitions. What could be called the offi-cial Hutu discourse (the one that was employed in the genocide and is widelyaccepted by Hutu radicals until now) is what Western scientists would call anessentialist one. The Hutu and the Tutsi are radically different people (in localparlance, races), with different origins, different histories, andthis is whereprejudice comes indifferent moral and ethical features.3 The counterdis-course (which is the official one of the current Tutsi-dominated, postgenocidalgovernment) is purely social-constructivist. It asserts that the distinctions betweenHutu and Tutsi are the products of the colonial imagination and associateddivide-and-rule policies. There is no place in the world where such radicallyopposed views of ethnicity confront each other in such a bloody manner in thepolitical arena.</p><p>Schematically, the scholarly world can be divided into two categories: adozen or so old scholars from Belgium, France, and the United States, whoworked on Rwanda, often for decades before the genocide; and a rapidly grow-ing number of new scholars and serious journalists from a larger number ofcountries, who began their work after the genocide and usually because of it.The older scholars are deeply divided. Their division follows lines of personal</p><p>3 Excellent descriptions of this discourse can be found in Liisa Malkki, Purity andExile: Violence, Memory, and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), and Jean-Pierre Chrtien, ed., Rwanda.Les mdias du gnocide (Paris: Karthala, 1995).</p><p>76 Peter Uvin</p></li><li><p>animosity, political ideology, and often ethnicity.4 The newer scholars and theserious journalists are much less divided on this matter (but not on others).Almost all of them have adopted the strong social-constructivist interpretation.We may suppose that a sense of moral decency brings these authors to thisunquestioning acceptance of what is a hotly contested matter. Because the pre-vious genocidal regime adhered to an essentialist version of ethnicity, thusprofoundly discrediting it, many authors are inclined to spontaneously opt forthe other version.</p><p>In additionand this holds especially true for the journalists, for whomoral sources are often more important than written onesthe permissible dis-course of ethnicity inside postgenocide Rwanda is entirely limited to the offi-cial social-constructivist view. Moreover, the popularity of social-constructivistapproaches to ethnicity in academiaas popular and uncontested as the essen-tialist view was during the colonial periodcreates an intellectual climate infavor of it. Finally, the radical constructivist position, in which bad colonizerscreated ethnic divides out of social harmony, has a spontaneous appeal: it pro-duces a comfortable sense of understanding where evil and ignorance, andconsequently goodness and knowledge, lie.</p><p>The upshot is that there is serious and long-standing disagreement on thismatter among scholars. Do the differences in stature between Hutu and Tutsireflect the fact that they are from very different genetic stock? Or can they beexplained by differences in diet, with Tutsi cattle herders living on an almostexclusive diet of milk products? Or are they the result of biased sampling (every-one who was tall was categorized as Tutsi, thus proving that all Tutsi aretall)? 5 Is the practice of ubuhake, or cattle clientship, the central traditionalpractice tying Hutu and Tutsi into solid relations of deep exploitation and inequal-</p><p>4 The Flemish, for example, were closer to the Habyarimana-Hutu regime, and theirforemost scholars reflect this position. Historically, they identified with the oppressedHutu masses, seeing a parallel between Hutu and Flemish disenfranchisement fromruling aristocracies. Flanders has remained dominated by the Catholic Party, whichwas very close to the Rwandan church, a church itself close to President JuvnalHabyarimanas regime. The Walloon part of Belgium has had for decades a muchstronger socialist party, which usually has opposed the Catholic Party on domestic andforeign policy issues, including Rwanda. For discussions of these matters among Frenchand Belgian authors, see Florence Bernault, La communaut africaniste franaise aucible de la crise rwandaise, Africa Today 45, No. 1 (1998), pp. 45 62, and GauthierDe Villers, Lafricanisme belge et le Rwanda, Politique Africaine, No. 59 (1995),pp. 121126. This same Belgian ethnic conflict is also sometimes regarded as behindthe entire decolonization process; see, for example, Helen M. Hintjens, Explainingthe 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, Journal of Modern African Studies 37, No. 2 (1999),p. 254.</p><p>5 See Christopher C. Taylor, Sacrifice as Terror: The Rwandan Genocide of 1994(Oxford, U.K.: Berg, 1999), ch. 2.</p><p>Reading the Rwandan Genocide 77</p></li><li><p>ity? Were they merely temporary exchange contracts? Or were they little morethan occasional practices, mistakenly and dramatically spread by the coloniz-ers?6 The list goes on.</p><p>From the work of some of the most important scholars of the region comesa nuanced reading that seems to be well grounded scientifically and falls nei-ther in the essentialist nor in the social-constructivist camp. Such work includesbrilliant books by Danielle de Lame and Catharine Newbury, based on lengthystays in the field; important review articles written by David and CatharineNewbury and Jean-Paul Kimonyo; and the anthropological work of Christo-pher Taylor.7 Although the work still leaves many questions open, it allows fora nonpolarizing interpretation of the history of ethnicity in Rwanda.</p><p>According to this reading, Hutu and Tutsi do have different historical ori-gins, as is the case in many neighboring regions. People were conscious ofthese differences. The colonizer did not invent them from nothing.8 The precisemeaning of the categories of Hutu and Tutsi differed over time and betweenregions, a function of power and ideological struggles, as well as interactionswith other social divisions. As David and Catharine Newbury write, The socialgroups did not arrive as corporate groups, or with their current labels; instead,more recent social identities emerged as part of the large processes of socialflux, individual action, and political power. 9</p><p>During the colonial period, these distinctions became more rigid. Theyacquired a racist connotation and became linked to great inequalities of power</p><p>6 For very different answers to this question, see Luc de Heusch, Le Rwanda et lacivilisation interlacustre (Brussels: Universit Libre de Bruxelles, 1966); JacquesMaquet, The Premise of Inequality in Ruanda: A Study of Political Relations in aCentral African Kingdom (London: Oxford University Press, 1961); Claudine Vidal,Le Rwanda des anthropologues et le fticishme de la vache, Cahiers dEtudes Afric-aines 9, No. 3 (1969), pp. 384 400.</p><p>7 Danielle de Lame, Une colline entre mille ou le calme avant la tempte. Transfor-mations et blocages au Rwanda rural (Tervuren: Muse Royal de lAfrique Centrale,1996); Catharine Newbury, The Cohesion of Oppression: Clientship and Ethnicity inRwanda 18601960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988); David and CatharineNewbury, Bringing the Peasants Back In: Agrarian Themes in the Construction andCorrosion of Statist Historiography in Rwanda, American Historical Review 105, No.3 (2000), pp. 832877; Jean-Paul Kimonyo, Revue critique des interprtations duconflict rwandais, cahier no. 1 (Butare: Univerisit Nationale du Rwanda, 2000); andTaylor, Sacrifice as Terror. The first two works, researched before the genocide, arebrilliant treatments of ethnicity in Rwanda. The third is an excellent general historicalreview. The final two focus specifically on the genocide, with the Kimonyo text by farthe best document produced by a Rwandan in Rwanda.</p><p>8 Peter Uvin, Prejudice, Crisis, and Genocide in Rwanda, African Studies Review40, No. 2 (1997), pp. 91115; Taylor, Sacrifice as Terror, ch. 2.</p><p>9 Newbury and Newbury, Bringing the Peasants Back In, p. 840.</p><p>78 Peter Uvin</p></li><li><p>and opportunity as Tutsi became part of the indirect rule governance system.10This process was not just imposed by the colonizer, but also operated conjointlybetween the colonizers and the Tutsi power holders.11 Nor was the substanceand the lived reality of ethnicity fixed once and for all by the 1940s or even byindependence; it kept on changing until the genocide, influenced by changingstate ideologies, popular memories of violence, and the rise and tide of ruraland urban discontent.12 The 1994 genocide certainly has added more to a deeplyessential, conflictual, painfully lived form of ethnicity.</p><p>Explaining the Genocide: Three ParadigmsFrom the literature, we can distinguish three fundamentally different paradigmsfor explaining the genocide. Yet many variations exist within each and someauthors play on more than one. Nonetheless, there is value in presenting themseparately because it permits critical analysis.</p><p>The paradigms explain the genocide, in the order of how frequently theyappear, by elite manipulation, by ecological resource scarcity, and by the socio-psychological features of the perpetrators. They focus respectively on politicalleaders and macrolevel political trends, on macrolevel ecological and demo-graphic trends, and on macrolevel sociocultural features of Rwandan society.</p><p>Elite ManipulationThe most common explanation of the genocide in Rwanda is the desire ofRwandas elite to stay in power. Analyses along these lines point to a series ofpolitical and economic factors. These include the economic crisis since the late1980s, followed by structural adjustment programs; the birth of domestic polit-ical opposition, also since the late 1980s; the FPR invasion in 1990 and sub-sequent civil war; and internationally sponsored peace negotiations that led topower-sharing and democratization agreements. Taken together, these factorsthreatened the power and privileges of Rwandas elite. As a result, a smallgroup of powerful people around President Habyarimanathe famous akazu</p><p>10 Mahmood Mamdani, From Conquest to Consent as the Basis of State Forma-tion: Reflections on Rwanda, New Left Review No. 216 (1996), pp. 336.</p><p>11 Catharine Newbury, Ethnicity and the Politics of History in Rwanda, AfricaToday 45, No. 1 (1998), pp. 724.</p><p>12 Taylor, Sacrifice as Terror, p. 77, for example, argues that until 1958, most Tutsiintellectuals claimed separate origins while Hutu claimed a single origin for the twoethnic groups. By the 1990s, this position had fully reversed. See also Kimonyo, Revuecritique, and Catharine Newbury, Rwanda: Recent Debates over Governance andRural Development, in Goran B. Hyden, ed., Governance and Politics in Africa (Boul-der, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1992).</p><p>Reading the Rwandan Genocide 79</p></li><li><p>consisting of his wifes family, as well as other cronies in the administrationand the armyused all means at its disposal, including racism and violence, tofend off threats to its survival and privileges.</p><p>This is the core argument adopted by most scholars from different disci-plinary perspectives.13 At heart, this is a traditional political science analysis,although the list of scholars in footnote 13 includes a few historians, a legalscholar, an anthropologist, a human rights organization, and a few journalists.Note also that a serious division exists within this category of authors. Somefavor political factors, such as the RPF invasion and the forced democratizationat the end of the Cold War. Others hi...</p></li></ul>