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Historical studiesRwandan Imperialism/Colonialism that led to the genocide Essay Example

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Rwandan Imperialism/Colonialism That Led To the Genocide

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The process of colonising Rwanda by Europeans, specifically the Germans in 1897 and later Belgians in 1923 who supported the Tutsis, played a significant role in creating division between two Rwandese ethnic groups. This was largely attributed to bureaucratic inertia and ghastly foreign policies which were laced with imperialistic ideals as well as poor leadership. This paper offers a succinct exploration of how the Hutu-Tutsi’s local perspectives on leadership and population size were aggravated by imperialism towards the onset of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Furthermore, the works of
prominent human rights activist and American historian Alison Des Forges among others will be used to provide concrete facts and evidences in compiling the paper.

To begin with, it is imperative to note that one of the most outstanding perspectives that sparked off the genocide was ideals shared by European imperialists. The 19th century Europeans chronicled their exploration of Rwanda and Burundi and described the Twa and the Hutu as akin to monkeys alongside declaring the Tutsis to be both physically and mentally superior. According to Forges (1999, p. 158), the crisis in Rwanda was attributed to myriad of factors that included foreign policies, bureaucratic inertia and distrust among peacekeepers. After World War 1, Rwanda was claimed by Belgium who administered it via indirect rule from 1924 to 1962. Mbembe, a political scientist and philosopher, points out that administration by the Belgians was executed through the Tutsi monarchy and their chiefs (2004, p. 374). He claims that the rule was famous for its “visibility and profanity” (Mbembe 2004, p. 375). This affirms that a local perspective on poor leadership among the Hutus and Tutsis aggravated by imperialism was a powerful ingredient in the run up to the genocide.

According to a Belgian liberal reformist and politician Alain Dextexhe (1995), the intention of furthering imperialism was clearly seen in the period 1933-34 in a census conducted by the Belgians which used ethnicity criterion to classify Tutsi, Hutu and Twa, with a patrilineal determination of ethnicity regardless of where their maternal line originated (Dextexhe 1995, 136). He claimed that “genocide is a crime on a different scale to all other crimes against humanity and implies an intention to completely exterminate the chosen group” (Dextexhe 1995, p. 136), and stressed out the fact that the move by Belgians was equal to an imperialistic way of  exterminating the Hutus. Another potential perspective was the introduction of ethnic identity cards. Forges (1999, p.54) indicated that it was a ruthless way of segregating Rwandese population. These distinct, divided entities represented the taint of historical dominance versus subordination or superiority versus inferiority and the attendant exploitation that resulted.
According Mahmood Mamdani, a specialist in politics of knowledge production, was enough cause for outcry from Hutus who felt that they were being exploited (Mamdani 2001, p. 194).

The thinking that dominated the minority Tutsis who were also dominating the government was that they would enormously defeat the Hutus in the event of any war. The Hutu government responded by instituting harsh measures against local Tutsi. According to Mbembe, «for racism to acquire such power, profit and delirium had to be so closely connected as to constantly trigger the vertiginous capacity of the native to be both a thing and a metonym of something else» (2004, p.382). The latter was purely imperialistically instigated. Ten thousand Tutsis lost their lives between December 1963 and January 1964 in this attack and all Tutsi politicians were executed.

To suppress the imperialist ideas and policies, a revolt by the Hutu-led PARMEHUTU party in November 1959 resulted in an eruption of ethnic violence and King Kigri V was toppled (Mamdani, 2001, p. 95). Broadcasters in radio RTML shouted “Do not kill these inyenzi (cockroaches) with a bullet, cut them to pieces with a machete» (Forges 1999, p. 58). Such attacks continued and by 1963 there had been Tutsi deaths numbering in thousands as well as 130,000 Tutsi refugees escaping to Burundi, DRC and Uganda leaving land and cattle behind (Forges 1999, 60).

Misrule coupled brotherhood, nepotism and friendship were also noted as vital local perspectives that secluded the two ethnic divides. In July 1973, Major Juvénal Habyarimana who was a Hutu from the north overthrew Kayibanda who hailed from the south. Linda Melvern, a UN expert and investigative journalist pointed out that Habyarimana proceeded to eradicate his predecessor as well as his important allies over the next few years in a master plan to efface all serious Hutu competition (Melvern, 2000, p.73). He populated positions of high rank with relatives, supporters and those of his wife. The army, gendarmerie and particularly the Presidential Guard was dominated by his wife’s kin.

In addition, the Tutsi in Rwanda were tagged and marked as a dangerous invading force to the Hutus, in spite of their shared history (Mamdani, 2001, p. 95). Hutus declared themselves superior to the Tutsis, also known to them as inyenzi (cockroaches) during the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994 (Mamdani, 2001, p. 81). According to Melvern, these two entities were not tribes, but had very similar Bantu language origins and co-existed, not always peacefully but they did unite periodically to face a common enemy (2000, p.75).

Forges indicated that by 1994, Hutus and Tutsis refused that they were one nation (1999, p.154). In fact, those spreading propaganda on the side of Hutus “equated the Hutu-Tutsi difference with the fundamental difference between male and female» (Forges 1999, p.158). 
This prejudice was proliferated for sixty years resulting into growth of a superiority complex amongst the Tutsi and effacing of the Hutu spirit which naturally culminated in an inferiority complex coalesced around resentment and aggression (Mamdani, 2001, pp. 80-84). This was exacerbated by the political and administrative climate that favoured the Tutsi over the Hutu leading to a quietly ticking time bomb inadvertently created by colonial imperialism. Mbembe (2004, p. 350) reiterates that it was this exaggeration of stereotyping and favouring of one entity over another that caused the reinforcement, consolidation and exacerbation of such profiling which ultimately exploded in 1994, seventy years later after independence. While colonization was blamed for the 1994 Rwandese genocide, it was also presumed that western powers and advancement of imperialistic ideals were instrumental prior to the mass killings. Needless to say, there were myriad of intertwining factors here that were likely not explored. For instance, it was integral to note that the country had been under structural adjustment program for sometime courtesy of World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). There were allegations that imperialistic influence brought about by the two Breton woods institutions may have provided stable source of “money used to finance the purchase of arms” (The Socialist, 2004, p. 1)

More than twenty years after independence, during the late 1980s the shadow of these racialist colonial policies still lingered in Rwanda. In imitation of these practices, and holding to colonial perspectives, the then president, Juvenal Habyarimana increasingly marginalised the Twa and the Tutsi by such means as instituting an ethnic quota system within the civil service and education system (Mbembe, 2004, p. 380). This led to diminished Tutsi enrolment as they became increasingly disenfranchised (Mamdani, 2001, p. 138).

The Arusha Accord was signed in August of 1993 by President Habyrarimana, who, tired of war, bowed to pressure from United Nations (The Socialist, 2004, p.1). However, there was considerable doubt that the provision for increased cooperation between Hutu and Tutsi would succeed and these fears proved credible when Habyrarimana’s plane was shot down in 1994, killing him as well as the Burundian President. It was thought that he was killed by the Interahamwe who were Hutus opposed to the Arusha Accord. This, together with the aforementioned cultural heritage, fallout from colonial policies and recent acrimony sparked the genocide that took place.

The killing of President Habyarimana on 6th of April 1994 was quickly followed by slaughter of government opponents and of Tutsis. Militias were constituted and trained order to conceal their intentions (Forges, 1999, p.155). A lot of denial of killings carried out in remote areas was done, with telephone wires being cut and survivors restricted from leaving the area. This was done to conceal reports of killings from being disseminated to the world. When this strategy was overtaken by events due to reports seeping out of what was really going on, mass killings were replaced by more private and small-scale killings (Forges, 1999, p. 160).

Not an hour after the president’s plane was crashed, before any official announcement was made, the Interhamwe (Hutu Militia) were setting up road blocks within Kigali where identity cards were checked over two days in search of Tutsi opposition party members and human rights activists (Forges, 1999, p. 163). These were attacked using machetes and iron bars. This is another demonstration of how a colonial instrument, the identity card, was used to perpetuate killings.

The death of the president was attributed to the RPF and some UN soldiers by Radio Milles Collines and revenge was urged against the Tutsi (Forges 1999, p. 167). Tutsi civilians were killed by members of the Presidential Guard around Ramera, which is an area of Kigali close to the airport. According to Forges (1999, p. 167), a hit list was compiled by extremists within the presidential circle who constituted democrats and Hutu opponents for murder. These people encouraged the Interhamwe and the other Hutu to kill Tutsis. This portrayed thinking to the Hutus that they would defeat Tutsi’s supremacy that was historically built upon cattle ownership as well as a practical means of motivating the looting of Tutsi’s property. The betrayal and killing of neighbours was thus encouraged through this means.

Rwanda, with a historical perspective of stereotyping and demonization of the Hutus and Tutsis respectively, is an example of what can result from this. The hate speech in the media was promoted by Rwandese government courtesy of RTLM station which demonised the Tutsi by spreading propaganda about the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) by claiming they were devils who were horrible to their victims and they claimed that all Tutsi were RPF (Melvern, 2000, p. 110). A faction of the Hutus formed the government and some of these promoted use of anti-Tutsi rhetoric for their own gain (Forges, 1999, p. 147). An example of such prejudice includes the ‘Hutu ten commandments’ which were published in the journal Kangura and consisted of such sentiments as “any Muhutu who marries, makes friends with, or employs a Tutsi woman as secretary or concubine will be considered a traitor”(Article 19, 1996, p. 3).

Furthermore, United Nations operations in Rwanda before and during genocide were largely controlled by both US and UK. The latter nations were always considered to be opportunists since they “endeavored to disrupt the force by depleting its numbers and not providing it with sufficient equipment, rendering it largely useless” (The Socialist, 2004, p.1)

It was also worthy to explore and investigate how colonialism and historical legacy of Rwanda shaped the 1994 genocide. As already hinted out, the Hutu/Tutsi dichotomy was coined by Belgian colonial administrators. It was apparent that there were divisions before the 1993 census. In other words, both of these two ethnic divides shared a common culture across the divide such that they were in the same social class, shared the same religion and language (The Socialist, 2004, p.1). Hence, favoring of one group and despising the other came into full force as a result of colonialism.

To recap it all, it is imperative to reiterate that local perspectives held by the wider Rwandese population aggravated the 1994 genocide in addition to the fact that colonialism and imperialistic influence were also to blame. While each ethnic divide perceived itself to be superior in one way or the other, it was also profound to note that the colonial ideals injected by Belgian administrators exacerbated the hatred between Hutus and Tutsis. There was also a strong belief that the activities of the UN in Rwanda as precipitated by both UK and US may have provided a fertile ground for the genocide since the latter parties only served selfish imperialistic interests. Finally, the structural adjustment programme by IMF and World Bank provided surplus funds which were used to purchase small arms.

Article 19. (1996). Broadcasting Genocide: Censorship, Propaganda and State- Sponsored Violence in Rwanda 1990-1994. London.

Destexhe, A. (1995). Rwanda and Genocide in the Twentieth Century. New York: New York University Press.

Forges, D. A. (1999). Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda. New York: Human Rights Watch.

International Panel of Jurists. (1999). The Preventable Genocide. The International Panel Of Eminent Personalities To Investigate The 1994 Genocide In Rwanda And The Surrounding Events. Report to the African Union.

Mamdani, M. 2001. When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Mbembe, A. 2004. Aesthetics of Superfluity. Public Culture 16 (3):373-405.

Melvern, L. 2000. A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide. London: Zed Books.

The Socialist. 2004. Rwanda’s killing fields: A legacy of imperialism. [Online]. Available from
http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/1169 [accessed 9th September, 2011].