Both Tutsis and Hutus have committed racial violence in Rwanda. Following the death of President Habyarimana, Hutus initiated widespread killings throughout Rwanda against Tutsis. The Tutsi-dominated RPF committed serious war crimes against Hutus in its attempt to gain control of Rwanda in its invasion from neighboring Uganda. (Reyntjens, 2004: 178).

Genocide: Why Did It Happen?

Significant scholarly debate characterizes the question of why exactly the genocide occurred. Uvin makes a distinction between the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi (a neighboring country with the same racial composition). He argues that in Burundi, racial violence was motivated by class grievances and differential access to scarce resources. In Rwanda, however, class differences were along regional lines, not racial ones. (Uvin, 1999: 253.). Instead, Uvin argues that genocide was the result of longstanding racial hatred between the two groups. Hutu leaders used racial prejudice of gaining and maintaining power after independence from Belgium, and these prejudices set the stage for the genocide decades later (Ibid., 253.).

Magnarella, on the other hand, argues that Rwanda’s genocide was caused by circumstances that heightened competition for resources between race groups. In the two decades leading up to the genocide, famines made food scarce; rapid population growth led to decrease in available farm land (which Hutus depend on for livelihood); and the export price of coffee, Rwanda’s main cash crop, dropped precipitously (Mangarella, 2005: 818). Economic stresses led to increased competition for resources, initially between Hutus, but this competition was later shrewdly manipulated by political leaders to spark Hutu violence against Tutsis.

Strauss takes an entirely different view. In his interviews with former perpetrators of genocide, he found little evidence for racial hatred or perceived competition for resources as a source for participation in violence (perpetrators cohabited with Tutsis, and they did not suffer from any visible lack of resources prior to their participation). Instead, he found that perpetrators were simply acting out on a desire for self-survival: they faced coercion from fellow Hutus to participate in the violence, and threatened with violence upon refusal;  they also feared war at the invasion of the RPF. He did find that, although racial hatred did not explain the decision to participate, it did explain the level participation once that decision was made. Those who acknowledged having racial hatred were more likely to have committed more violent acts (Strauss, 2006: 122-152).

Leave a Reply