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Origins of Rwandan Genocide.


It has been stated that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. During two weeks in April 1994, up to an estimated million and a half people were murdered, while the world did nothing as it has done many times before regardless of the factors in question. In his book, Origins of Rwandan Genocide, Josias Semujanga analyzes social order, historical factors, political factors, hate speech, and ineffectiveness of humanitarian mechanisms that led to this genocide. He notes that Rwanda is a small island-like country composed of three ethnic groups--Hutus, Tutsis, and Twas--that cannot be adequately categorized by social constructs. Although Hutus and Tutsis share many similarities, there is such a severe conflict between them that the former Rwandan President, Gregore Kayibanda, proposed a two-country solution under which both Hutus and Tutsis would each have their own country upon independence from Belgian colonial rule. As he sees it, the genocide planned two years in advance, was aided by an illusion by the Tutsis that the United Nations forces in Kigali would or could protect them, their reliance on President Juvenal Habyarimana not to commit political suicide by killing them, and on the assumption that President Habyarimana would not be killed.

Semujanga suggests that the introduction of Christianity during colonization of Rwanda changed the Rwandan culture and helped to shape the mental culture that led to genocide. Rwandans have traditionally viewed people as family, friends, and third parties; but, as the influence of the bipolar Christian social identity increased, Christianity replaced the traditional religions as well as the traditional Rwandan view. Christianity led Rwandans to identify people as either friend or foe, especially when the people in question were Hutus or Tutsis. Semujanga suggests this gave rise to stereotypes and prejudices against Tutsis that labeled them as "power-hungry," "dishonest," and "the absolute enemy."

The Belgians recognized the Tutsis as being the most capable of the tribes to rule Rwanda. During the Belgian rule, Tutsis found a niche and advanced their position in Rwanda economically and educationally as feudalists. Hutus, however, were subordinate to both Whites and Tutsis under the same regime, being thought of as merely agricultural workers, and, consequently, they suffered from the Morethan Law that separated Hutu chieftaincies. This situation gave rise to Hutu propaganda demonizing Tutsis and characterizing them as the cause of all their problems.

After independence, Hutus gained control of Rwanda. Semujanga asserts that Hutus used this as an opportunity to undermine Tutsis and they continued to use "false propaganda" of the Tutsis having "usurped Hutu[s] in secondary and higher teaching institutions and in employment, public administration, and the private sector to advance their cause." The actions of Hutus against the Tutsis were not limited to the spreading of mere propaganda, the Hutus used it to legitimate murdering and marginalizing them by forbidding them to educate themselves and play a role in the government, especially the military. This led to the displacement of many Tutsis trying to avoid these measures.

Semujanga recounts how the Rwandan media's promotion of hatred for Tutsis amplified the idea that genocide of Tutsis would be the cure-all for the ethnic problems in Rwanda. Hutus who were victims of the colonization in effect attempted to liberate themselves by becoming oppressors themselves. Hutu propaganda is much more than mere stories about the past. It is an essential part of the Hutu's ideology. Take the case of the Ten Commandments for the Hutu, which rhetoric later adopted by the media that preyed on the fear of Hutus by portraying Tutsis as planning to reenslave them to help cultivate the movement from mere hate speech to genocide. The Ten Commandments call for the segregation of Rwanda by prohibiting members of the military from being a Tutsi, marrying Tutsi women, and even engaging in business deals with Tutsis. Anyone who violates these Commandments is considered a "traitor" to Hutus.

There were many causes of the Rwandan genocide: though, without the failure of international humanitarian mechanisms, it would not have come to fruition. Hutus tested to see if there would be any reaction from the international community from their oppression of Tutsis, but nothing happened. Not even the Belgians attempted to prevent their oppression of Tutsis. This cleared the way for more oppressive actions. Once the genocide began, Tutsis could not escape because they were trapped as Hutus closed off all passages to and from Rwanda. Americans, the French, and their dogs, however, escaped as the international community refused to use its military force to prevent or limit the effects of the genocide which it could done.

Semujanga shows how many factors contributed to the genocide of the Tutsis. He does not, however, mention the apparent elastic relationship between Hutus and Tutsis in which their relations improve as Rwanda prospers economically, but wanes as their economy worsens. Nor does he explain the details surrounding the murder of President Habyarimana and Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana. Nevertheless, this book besides enriching the reader's knowledge of the causes of the Rwandan genocide, provides an explanation of how colonialism and its lasting effects changed the Rwandan culture into a culture capable of carrying out the genocide of the Tutsis.

As Semujanga asserts, genocide, though the term genocide is not easily definable did occur in Rwanda and this occurrence is not unique to Rwanda. Part of the solution to preventing genocides like the Rwandan genocide may be found in the text of the Analects which suggests that, "[w]hen we see men of worth, we should think of equaling them: when we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves."

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Author:Ogletree, Aaron Peron
Publication:The Western Journal of Black Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2004
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