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Has Rwanda addressed the root causes of a genocide?

Has Rwanda addressed the root causes of a genocide?

This opinion piece was submitted by Teta Sineyase


On the occasion of the 25thcommemoration of the genocide against the Tutsi, many Rwandans as well as citizens of the world in general have once again repeated “never again”.

However, one wonders what is being done to prevent and avoid another genocide or another mass atrocity in which a group of Rwandans could be the target of extermination.

Many Rwandan and non-Rwandan academics, politicians, and writers have attempted to analyze the causes of the genocide against the Tutsi. Most of the analyzes focus on the politics that characterized Rwanda before 1994. Others address the issue based solely on the political and geopolitical realities of the colonial era, and during the first and second republics.

However, not enough analysis has been done on the social dimensions before, during and after the colonial era, which may have lead Rwanda to the genocide against the Tutsi.

This article focuses on the historical and psycho-social causes of the genocide against the Tutsi and tries to analyze how they can be treated to prevent another genocide against any group of Rwandans.

In order to give an explanation of what happened in 1994, the current Tutsi-dominated government tends to simplify its story by the fact that the leaders of former Hutu-majority governments incited Hutu to hate against their Tutsi compatriots, and points out that these leaders had a Tutsi extermination plan, which they eventually executed in 1994. This official narrative by the current government seems to be incomplete and misleading.

On the other hand, supporters of former Hutu-majority governments argue that there was never a plan to exterminate Tutsi. However, they fail to explain what led Hutu extremists, mainly civilians, to massacre their Tutsi neighbors, relatives and friends. What was happening in the minds of the killers?

I believe that we, Rwandans and all those who wish to understand what really happened in 1994, still have some work to do.

It is probable that many Rwandans still suffer from the same syndromes that caused the genocide against the Tutsi, and that they are afraid to look at themselves in a mirror, to objectively analyze their society and resist the simplification suggesting that the evil is no other than the others.

I know I cannot cover everything in one article. So, I will try to briefly analyze the psycho-social causes of the Genocide against the Tutsi, in my opinion, and conclude by indicating what politicians should do to tackle the real causes of the genocide instead of focusing solely on the symptoms.

It is only by eliminating these root causes that we can avoid the repetition of a new genocide against the Tutsi or any other group of Rwandans.

1)   Group history or the ‘Them’ and ‘Us’ dogmata

The way people think about themselves and those around them can influence the risk of violence against people perceived as members of the other group. The group they identify with becomes an important part of their social identity.

These groups do not have to be based on ancestors or lineages. Even citizens of the same country who speak the same language or who have similar cultures can see themselves as distinct groups depending on their history.

For example, Tutsis, Hutus and Twas, whether as myths, social classes or ethnicities, they existed even before the colonial era. What happened during and after the colonial period was simply the fact that these rather social groups became political groups, fighting for power.

Before the politicization of these groups by the Belgian colonizers, Tutsis and Hutus had never fought for power. Apart from wars aimed at invading other kingdoms and conquering other communities, there had never been a war between Hutus, Twas and / or Tutsis.

However, this does not mean that there was no group history. In the following paragraphs, we will understand why and how Tutsis considered themselves superior (not necessarily oppressive) and Hutus and Twas considered themselves inferior (not necessarily oppressed). Tutsis taught their children how to be good masters and the Hutus taught their children how to be good servants and gain the sympathy of Tutsis.

When the Belgian colonizers introduced the identification booklets ‘Ibuku‘ in 1933, grouping Rwandans according to these social groups, they relied on social stereotypes (based on the number of cows) and on morphological stereotypes (measuring height, skull and nose). This is probably because there were no other concrete ways to differentiate between Tutsi, Hutu and Twa, either by language or by geographical location.

The introduction of an identification based on social status and morphology made Tutsis, Hutus and Twas distinct groups and led to the politicization of these identities as racial groups, and later as ethnic groups despite the fact that Rwandans shared the same language, same religion and same traditions.

The period leading up to the 1959 revolution, the 1961 referendum and the 1962 independence accentuated the gap between those groups. They were clearly political groups fighting for power. The associations that had originally registered as civil society organizations fighting for the civil rights of their members eventually became political parties with political ideologies and ambitions.

There was a political party that defended the rights of Hutus. There was a political party that defended the rights of Twas. There were political parties, which did not explicitly indicate whose rights they defended, but which supported either the monarchy, an idea that was mainly supported by the Tutsi elites, or the Republic, an idea that was mainly supported by the Hutu elites.

The politics of the 1950s widened the gap between Rwandan groups. It accentuated the spirit of “Them” and “Us”.

The social revolution of 1959, which initially had legitimate causes, turned out to be bloody and smoky. Many Rwandans have been killed by their compatriots. Many houses were burned. It was a war between the supporters of the monarchy and those who wanted Rwanda to be a republic. This ended in the victory of those who wanted the republic, while hundreds of thousands of those who supported the monarchy, mainly Tutsis, were sent into exile.

The years following the social revolution were characterized by political unrests, which continued to oppose Hutus against Tutsis and then gave birth to other subgroups of Abakigaand Abanyenduga.

These unrests include:

  • The attacks of the 1960s by the rebel groups formed by Rwandans in exile, mainly Tutsis. These attacks were always followed by massacres of Tutsis who had remained in Rwanda by supporters of the new republic.
  • The 1973 coup, in which a Hutu from the north overthrew from power a southern Hutu and killed many members of his government, mainly from Nduga (Gitarama). This created the Hutu subgroups of Abakiga(North) and Abanyenduga(South).
  • The civil war of the years 1990-1994, which was launched by the RPF Inkotanyi, a rebel group formed mostly by exiled Tutsis. After the start of this war, the Hutu-majority government turned to Tutsis in Rwanda, accusing them of being allies of their Tutsi kinsfolks in exile. Many Tutsis were arrested and put in prison. This led more and more Hutu to consider them as enemies wishing to restore the monarchy.

Although there were political and geopolitical factors that motivated these attacks, aggression and wars, my goal is to highlight how these wars further tore the Rwandan social fabric and accentuated the spirit of “them” and “us”. Each war always ended with one group of Rwandans labeled as winners celebrating the victory and the other group as losers in search of a new opportunity to regain power.

For example, on September 25, 1961, after the social revolution of 1959, the song of Parmehutu (mainly of Hutus) repeated “Turatsinze ga ye“, translated as “The victory is finally ours,” despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, as well as some Hutu and Twa loyal to the monarchy had left Rwanda for exile.

In the same logic, thirty years after the revolution, when the RPF Inkotanyi (mainly Tutsis) started the civil war of 1990-1994, they sang ‘Instinzi bana b’u Rwanda‘, translated as’ Victory, children of Rwanda‘and which became a popular song after the RPF Inkotanyi’s victory in 1994, despite the fact that more than two million Rwandans (mainly Hutus) had left Rwanda for exile.

In 1973, when Habyarimana took power and created the MRND party, he proposed the slogan “Amahoro, Ubumwe n’Amajyambere”, translated as “Peace, unity and development,” but kept divisive politics.

Today, the current government not only preaches “unity,”it has even proposed a slogan entitled “Ndi Umunyarwanda,”to promote a national identity to the detriment of those ethnic identities, Tutsi, Hutu and Twa. These words are no longer mentioned in the identification cards.

However, we all know that slogans are not enough.

If we want Rwandans to be prouder of being Rwandan than Tutsi, Hutu or Twa, politicians should ensure that all Rwandans exercise equal rights and have access to equal opportunities.

As long as some groups act as if they have more rights in Rwanda while others feel marginalized in their own country, Rwanda will never be able to fight the dogma “them” and “us”.

2)   Supremacism, stigmatization and dehumanization

The social relations between Rwandans before and during the colonial era were not characterized solely by the relations of “master” and “servant”. There was also the spirit of supremacism among different social groups, Tutsis, Hutus and Twas.

To understand this supremacism, one can probably look at the different aphorisms of the Kinyarwanda language, which tend to contain stereotypes about Tutsis or Hutus.

Examples of aphorisms about Hutus are mainly related to shame, lack of morals and frivolity. They included:

  • Inkunguzi y’Umuhutu yivuga mu Batutsi: This could literally be translated as “A Hutu daredevil sings his own praises when surrounded by Tutsis,” because it would cause his own death or the death of his family members.
  • Umuhutu agira inzara ntagira inzika: This suggested that a Hutu may be hungry but he is not resentful.
  • Utuma Abahutu atuma benshi, which meant that if someone wanted to send a message somewhere, in order to make sure that the message reached its destination, he might have to send more than one Hutu. Thus, if a Hutu does not convey the message, others could, because Hutus are not effective.

On the other hand, Tutsis, although perceived as superior, had aphorisms related to hypocrisy and cunning. They included:

  • Umututsi umusembereza mu kirambi akagutera ku buriri: This literally meant that when you invite a Tutsi into your living room, sooner or later, he replaces you even on the bed. That is, he will later take control of your whole house and win your wife.
  • Umutusi umuvura amenyo ejo akayaguhekenyera: which meant that when you treat a Tutsi’s teeth today, he uses them to bite you tomorrow. This suggested that Tutsis could betray even someone who would have done them good.

There were other aphorisms that did not mention the words “Hutu”or “Tutsi”, but “noble people”and “lower class people”.

These aphorisms were used by all Rwandans to designate those whom they considered to be superior or inferior to themselves in their own groups or outside their groups.

According to their status in society, some Tutsis considered themselves nobler than other Tutsis, and some Hutus considered themselves superior to other Hutus.

However, it may be important to note that no Hutu would be considered nobler than a Tutsi. Thus, “noble” or “imfura” would generally be used to refer to Tutsis and “lower class” to generally refer to Hutus, although there were exceptions.

The aphorisms about “nobles” include, for example:

  • Aho imfura zisezeraniye niho zihurira: which means that “the nobles always honor their promises.”
  • Imfura zisangira amata ntizisangira amaraso: as the saying goes, “There is no permanent ally or permanent enemy, but permanent interests”, which suggests that a noble person can even betray a loved one for his own interests.

In addition, the aphorisms concerning “Rwandans of the lower class” can include, for example:

  • Umutindi ntakira n’iyo akize ntakira uko yabaye: This is comparable to “once poor, always poor”.

In addition to social status stereotypes, some scholars continue to argue that there are morphological differences between Tutsis and Hutus based on their origin.

I would not have enough time to discuss the limitations of this theory. However, I can only say that Tutsis, Twas and Hutus, either as social, legendary groups, or ethnic groups, have lived geographically mixed for thousands of years, and I like to consider them as the same people.

It is probably important to note that Rwandans, in their songs and poems, have never linked their morphological differences to Tutsi and Hutu identities, but to diet and lifestyle. For example, in the song “Nyiratunga” of Byumvuhore, it is written that “Uwanyoye inka ntayoberana, umubwirwa n’imbavu ndende”, which means that people fed on milk tend to be taller and slender.

It should be noted that although the Hutus did not have many cows, they also appreciated the cows and included milk in their diet, either from their own cows or cows of their masters.

On the other hand, some Tutsis could be “aboro”, which meant poor Tutsis without cows.

Another interesting reality is that a Hutu, after having proven to be as noble as Tutsis, could become a Tutsi in a process commonly known as “Kwihutura”.

The morphological difference is therefore a myth, but simply a way of assessing how the living conditions of the past may have affected the body structure and appearance of some Rwandans.

In a society where the majority of affluent families were Tutsi and where the majority of poor families were Hutus and Twas, the morphology could be affected, although for reasons I have already explained, there could be exceptions.

Are these stereotypes about Tutsis, Hutus, nobles and low-class people true? My answer is no.

However, we can note that what we, ordinary people, call stereotypes, scientists call them “empirical generalizations” because they are conclusions based on samples.

In any society, people invent stereotypes associated with certain groups as marks that summarize how they feel when interacting with members of these groups.

So, as an analyst, the stereotypes do not give me anything other than a simple idea of ​​what Tutsis and Hutus felt about their interactions.

It should be noted that even when interactions and experiences change because of the new circumstances and conditions of life, stereotypes sometimes remain. So today these social differences between Tutsis and Hutus are no longer obvious, but there are a lot of Rwandans, Hutus, Tutsis, or Twas, who still believe in those old stereotypes.

For example, even after Rwanda became a more “civilized” society, some Rwandans continued to base their judgment of others on these stereotypes.

When some groups feel superior to others or worthier than others, they tend to dehumanize and stigmatize those who are considered inferior. The manners of groups considered “inferior” are always described as vile or lowly.

Tutsi elites treated their Hutu compatriots as their servants. Hutus always had to serve, respect and obey Tutsis. On the other hand, Hutus, who eventually came to believe that they belonged to the lower class, honored and respected Tutsi elites as their masters.

Some Hutus were very loyal to their Tutsi masters: they even took their names, could be adopted by their clans and obeyed their orders without resistance.

For some, this was fruitful, as some Tutsi masters rewarded the loyalty of their Tutsi and Hutu servants with many cows. They could also eventually give the Hutu servant the opportunity to change his social status from a Hutu to a Tutsi, in what was called “Kwihutura”, that is, to get rid of his Hutu identity. So those who remained Hutu felt as if they had not done enough to deserve the Tutsi identity.

With this relationship between Hutus and Tutsis, being a Hutu became a source of shame and stigmatization. A Hutu was considered a person of the lower class, a poorly educated man or a servant who had not been loyal enough to gain the Tutsi identity (kwihutura).

It is probably worth noting that, over time, the word “Hutu” took on a different meaning. Some Tutsis treated other Tutsis as their “Hutus”, although in society these people were generally recognized as Tutsi. With this new meaning, when a person could say, “Mr. X is Mr. Y’s Hutu,” it could mean that Mr. X was under the control or guardianship of Mr. Y.

Before the colonial era, with the exception of the stigmatization of Hutus by linking their identity to that of abatindi(people of the lower class) or abanyamusozi(people with barbaric manners), no group equalized the other to animals or objects.

In any society, when some people feel inferior, any opportunity to rise sometimes leads to some sort of detrimental superiority complex. Psychologists may want to deepen their research about whether after fighting for their emancipation in what is called the 1959 social revolution, instead of restoring equal civil rights for all Rwandans, Hutus eventually created powerful and dictatorial regimes, marginalizing other groups of Rwandans, especially Tutsis.

After the 1959 revolution and the independence of 1962, Tutsis were stigmatized for all the misdeeds of the monarchy. History was selectively taught to make the monarchy and the Tutsi elites look bad. Whereas, on the other hand, the Hutus who fought for the revolution and who ruled Rwanda after the independence were presented as heroes who liberated the Rwandan people from the Tutsi supremacy.

Dehumanizing Tutsis by calling them cockroaches and snakes did not start in the 1990s.

According to this article published in The New Times on March 13, 2014, the term “Inyenzi” was invented by Tutsi themselves to designate rebel groups (Tutsi majority) that attacked Rwanda in the 1960s. It might have been to suggest that these rebels infiltrated the country in the same way cockroaches infiltrate a place.

However, over the years, all Tutsis were called “Inyenzi”, first to suggest that they were all accomplices of the rebels, and later as a derogatory word to dehumanize them.

Dehumanizing Tutsis by calling them snakes was the result of the stereotypes already explained. In the minds of Hutu extremists, Tutsis were as sneaky as snakes.

Specialists in genocide and other mass atrocities testify that this type of dehumanization of human beings, by equating them with animals or objects, always precedes any ethnic cleansing or genocide.

It is not only Tutsis who have been dehumanized by their compatriots.

After the 1990-1994 civil war and the genocide against the Tutsi, Hutus have suffered and suffer until today different kinds of stigmatization and dehumanization.

In the aftermath of the genocide, Hutus were called “ibipinga” (stubborn) or “abaginga” (ignorant). In the media and social media, Hutus are dehumanized by equating them with animals in general, or with chimpanzees or gorillas, or sometimes with pigs.

Worst of all, some call all Hutus, without any distinction, killers and genocidaires. We hear or read “The Hutus killed the Tutsis” speeches without trying to add a qualifier, extremist or militia, to those who participated in the genocide of Tutsis, with the aim to avoid the stigmatization of all Hutus, including those who were also threatened during the genocide because they were suspected of being Tutsis, or their relatives, allies or simply tried to protect them.

It is not only in the social sphere that Hutus are dehumanized and stigmatized. We also hear politicians calling upon Hutu children to apologize for the supposed actions of their parents or grandparents when these children were either very young or even not yet of this world in 1994.

We also find that only Hutus are accused of the genocide ideology, but we wonder why Tutsis who are brought to justice for uttering the same hate speech, or committing actions deemed to be motivated by hatred, are accused of sectarianism or divisionism, but never of the genocide ideology. Does this suggest that only Hutus can have genocidal ideas or plans?

In conclusion, Rwanda must put an end to the stigmatization of Hutus and / or Tutsis for the mistakes of the past, as well as the dehumanization of some Rwandans by equating them with animals or objects or calling them natural villains.

Rwanda should also end the promotion of one group as being culturally more dignified than the other or morphologically superior to the other.

3)   Institutionalized marginalization, hegemony and subjugation

Before the colonial era, Hutus and Twas were not only socially stigmatized, but also economically marginalized. It did not start with the colonizers, as some politicians want to make believe in today’s Rwanda.

Rwanda was neither civilized nor industrialized. Land was the only source of wealth. Rwandans needed land for their agricultural or pastoral activities or for their hunting adventures. There were Rwandans who were welders, poets, dancers, but no one could earn a living from these professions, especially since these services were offered free to the masters.

Ubukondemeant land owned collectively by a group of Rwandans of the same lineage or ancestry.

However, towards the end of the 18th century, King Yuhi IV Gahindiro introduced ibikingi as areas reserved for Tutsi elites or cattle ranchers. Rwandans who lived in an area designated igikingi(ibikingi in the plural form) to a Tutsi chief were immediately subjected to the custodianship of that Tutsi elite to whom they offered services and dues of all kinds.

It would probably be important to note that the Tutsi elite or the cattle farmer to whom Igikingiwas given was not necessarily a member of that clan or lineage. A Tutsi elite from the east could be awarded igikingiin the west of the country and vice versa, and he was to become the ruler of those who lived in his igikingi. The introduction of ibikingifurther widened the gap between the poor Hutu and Tutsi and their Tutsi chiefs.

Besides ibikingi, there was also a Ubuhakesystem. This can be defined as an unwritten contract between a lower status individual (Servant) and a higher status individual (Master), the former offering his services to the latter in exchange for cows and protection.

Although all masters were Tutsi elites, the servants could be Tutsis (of lower rank), Hutus or Twas.

What differentiates Ubuhakefrom what is nowadays called employment are the conditions, which included the fact that when a servant did something that did not please his master, in addition to terminating the contract, the master could take back all the cows he had previously given to the servant and retain his promise of protection.

According to the status of the Tutsi master in the society or his proximity to the king, the servant could even be forced to go into exile or be killed.

The worst of all these systems was uburetwa, which means ‘forced labor’. In the history of Rwanda as written by the National Commission for Unity and Reconciliation (NURC), we read that even though it is not known when uburetwawas introduced in Rwanda as a system in which all Rwandans served their country, it was at the end of the nineteenth century that it was imposed only on Hutus by King Kigeli IV Rwabugiri, to punish them for his defeat in Ankole.

Unlikeubuhake, which was rewarded with cows and protection, uburetwawas imposed on Hutus, forcing them to offer labor services to Tutsi chiefs. These services were generally of common interest; for example, building bridges or roads.

Due to the proliferation of projects of common interest during the colonial era, the colonizers did not just keep the uburetwasystem, they also made it even more unbearable. Hutu families who were subjected to uburetwano longer had the time to cultivate their own lands and take care of their families.

To punish those who tried to avoid uburetwa, the colonizers introduced the cane or chicotte, commonly called in Swahili ‘Ikiboko‘. They asked the Tutsi chiefs, and some other Tutsis and Hutus who were loyal to them, to beat their Hutu compatriots with the chicotte ‘Ikiboko‘. This became a source of great conflict between Hutus and Tutsis. Uburetwawas more unbearable and unforgivable than ubuhakeand ibikingi.

After the colonial era, trade rules were established. To acquire more land, a person had to either receive it as part of his inheritance, or buy them from another Rwandan.

After the 1959 social revolution, Tutsis were in turn marginalized both economically and politically by the post-independence Hutu-majority regimes. It was as if some Hutu politicians wanted to impose a kind of hegemony over their Tutsi compatriots.

On the political front, less than three years after the independence, the ruling Parmehutu party led by President Kayibanda had already banned the opposition and made Rwanda a one-party State. This was the first sign that Tutsis were marginalized from Rwanda’s politics.

With the aim of increasing the number of Hutus in schools and the civil service, the first Republic led by Kayibanda introduced a quota system. When Habyarimana took power in 1973, he was initially reluctant to implement some of the policies of the previous government, including the quota system. However, it did not last long. In less than two years, the quotas were again applied.

Although the objective of the quotas was to achieve ethnic proportionality in schools and jobs, the system disadvantaged Tutsis, who were allowed to occupy only 9% of the seats in schools and jobs in the civil service.

In a country with so-called ethnic tensions, it is perhaps not entirely wrong to think that even the 9% of school seats or jobs in the civil service that were attributed to Tutsis could rarely belong to the best specializations or at the highest managerial levels.

During the first and second republics, preaching that Hutus were the majority and in power, some politicians supported their superiority and dominance. What was originally an inferiority complex gradually turned into an attitude of superiority that hid feelings of inferiority and failure.

Although in the villages, some Tutsi families continued to be respected (not necessarily loved) by their Hutu compatriots, in towns where Hutus dominated political and professional arenas, some Hutus recalled that they had seized power. Some people remember “Uzi ico ndi co?” Which literally meant “Do you know who I am?” a saying attributed to Hutus from the north, the birthplace of former President Habyarimana. The Hutus used to remind other groups that they were the dominant majority. This is perhaps why at a political rally, one of the politicians of the opposition party, MDR, used the slogan “Hutu power” in his speech to remind his comrades that they should not betray the hegemony of Hutus.

The outbreak of a civil war in 1990 by the predominantly Tutsi RPF Inkotanyi was received by some Hutus as a signal that the Tutsis wanted to regain power and reaffirm their supremacy. The government and/or journalists also reported that RPF Inkotanyi soldiers were massacring civilians, mainly Hutus, in the northern provinces of Rwanda. This was also confirmed by the war displaced Rwandans who were in Nyacyonga camps, not far from Kigali city. Politicians used that panic to persuade Hutu to consider Tutsi as their enemies.

On the other hand, when the RPF Inkotanyi won the civil war and took power in 1994, it set up a transitional government that claimed unity. This government consisted not only of Hutus and Tutsis, but also members of different political parties. Although the new army was predominantly Tutsi, the central government had a good number of Hutus. A Hutu president was appointed and assisted by a Tutsi vice president.

Less than two years later, several Hutu politicians had already been forced to leave the transitional government and exile themselves out of the country. In 2000, the Hutu President, too, was forced to resign, and when he later tried to form an opposition, he was arrested and imprisoned for five years.

After sidelining prominent Hutu politicians, other Hutus, often with a lower political aura, are sometimes appointed to a few positions in the central government. However, key positions in the central and the local government continue to be occupied by Tutsis.

Twenty-five years after the 1990-1994 war, the national army remains essentially Tutsi, both in the higher category and in the non-commissioned officer category.

In conclusion, Rwandans have always fought for power for decades and each time one group gains power, it sets itself the goal of marginalizing, and even oppressing the other group.

Hutus were marginalized and subjugated during the Tutsi monarchy. Tutsis were marginalized and oppressed in the first and second Hutu-led republics. Even today, despite the propaganda about unity and reconciliation, Hutus are marginalized by the current predominantly Tutsi regime.

Rwandans must put an end to this vicious circle.

4)   Hate crimes, impunity and abuse of human rights

When certain groups of citizens are marginalized and oppressed, they lose not only their civil rights, but also their fundamental rights. Hate crimes and abuses go unpunished. This later affects the psychology of future perpetrators and victims of the genocide.

In Rwanda, different groups of Rwandans have not only been subjected to dehumanization, stigmatization, marginalization and subjugation, they have also been victims of hate crimes and violence, and the worst reality is that total impunity has always reigned.

The social revolution of 1959 was characterized by blood and smoke. Houses, mainly huts, were set on fire. Human lives were lost.

However, the Hutu victors of this revolution put in prison only those who were partisans or supporters of the Tutsi monarchy. The young Tutsi or some young Hutu supporters of the monarchy who were involved in those riots, at least those who had not gone into exile, were imprisoned. Some Tutsi-dominated political party leaders were also imprisoned, others went into exile, and few others became members of the first parliament before being completely sidelined around 1963.

On the other hand, partisans of the Hutu-led political parties involved in the riots, who burned houses and killed supporters of the Tutsi monarchy were never punished.

That impunity reigned during all the years following the 1959 social revolution.

During the 1960s, whenever Tutsi-majority rebel groups (who were in exile) attacked from the North or the South, they killed prominent Hutus, either politicians or businessmen. Former members of these rebel groups have never paid for their crimes. In fact, in today’s Rwanda, these atrocities are neither denounced nor condemned.

On the other hand, whenever those rebel groups attacked, the majority Hutu leaders and soldiers stormed the villages inhabited mainly by Tutsis, and killed thousands of Tutsi civilians who had nothing to do with the rebels. The killers have never been brought to justice.

It was not just about killing Tutsis; insulting a Tutsi, breaking a labor contract with a Tutsi, dismissing a Tutsi from school and all other hate crimes were always unpunished by the predominantly Hutu governments.

In the same way Hutus felt as though their lives mattered little at the time of the Tutsi monarchy, Tutsis also felt as though they did not have the right to live under the predominantly Hutu regimes. What is even more discouraging is that the Tutsis who abused their Hutu compatriots during the time of the monarchy or the Hutus who abused their Tutsi compatriots at the time of the Republic all felt that they were perfectly entitled to it.

In 1994, when militias and civilians, most of them Hutus, massacred their Tutsi compatriots, they did so knowing that they had the support of their political leaders and military forces. They might have not thought they could be punished for those crimes.

After the 1990-1994 civil war and the genocide against the Tutsi, many genocide suspects were arrested and imprisoned, including politicians, members of the former Hutu-majority governments, who were tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

The Gacaca courts, despite their many limitations and imperfections, at least provided justice to some victims and survivors of the Genocide against the Tutsi. This should have sent a message to all Rwandans that if one of them engaged in a similar crime, he could sooner or later face justice.

However, many other Rwandans, especially former members of the predominantly Tutsi-led RPF Inkotanyi rebel group, who killed their Hutu or Tutsi compatriots for various reasons; retaliation, illicit appropriation, revenge, war crimes or plans to exterminate part of the Hutu population, have never been brought to justice. Many of them walk freely. Survivors of these crimes or afflicted families are not even allowed to tell their stories. The perpetrators of these crimes feel as if they have the green light to kill. They did it before and they can do it again and again without being bothered.

Today, we often read or hear news of Rwandans being shot by the police or soldiers for various reasons. This happens almost every week or two weeks. We have never heard of when these police or soldiers are brought to justice.

We should all understand that when violence is not punished, it becomes an acceptable solution to any problem and any misunderstanding among different groups of Rwandans could lead to mass atrocities similar to the genocide perpetrated against Tutsi.

5)   Resistance, insurrection and rebellion

When citizens of a country are physically assaulted and murdered and no justice is rendered to them, oppressed groups reach a point where they feel as if they have nothing left to lose. They decide to rise up against their oppressors. They do this by resisting behaving according to the instructions of their oppressors, by protesting, by organizing riots, or by launching a rebellion.

People in power often retaliate with more aggression and violence, which can lead to what Rwanda experienced in the 1990s.

What some sympathizers of the old Hutu regimes do not understand is that the leaders of the first and second republics could have avoided the 1990-1994 civil war if they had ended everything above-explained.

For example, they should have:

  • Put an end to the supremacism and condemned the dehumanization and stigmatization of every Rwandan or group of Rwandans, Tutsis, Hutus Twas;
  • Ensured that all Rwandans, Tutsis, Hutus and Twas, can exercise equal rights and have access to equal opportunities;
  • Condemned and punished hate crimes, assaults and assassinations without distinction of any kind;
  • Created a conducive and safe environment for the return of Rwandans who were in exile and facilitated their return to the country.

If the Hutu-led regimes had done what was necessary, the RPF Inkotanyi rebel group might not have existed, and if, despite the efforts of those governments, the rebellion had been launched, it might not have succeeded to gain the support of many other Rwandans inside the country and in exile, who felt that finally they were about to be liberated from the oppression.

The first reaction of the Habyarimana regime (Hutu-majority) to the 1990 attack by the predominantly Tutsi RPF Inkotanyi was to arrest many, if not all, eminent Tutsis, their wives and children. Among the prisoners, there were young adults in their twenties. They spent months in unconventional prisons, most of them in stadiums. When they were released, even though many of them continued to live in fear and stayed out of politics, others felt like they had nothing left to lose. This is the moment when some young Tutsis decided to join the rebellion.

When Habyarimana finally adopted the multi-party system in 1991, some Tutsis and Hutus who were fed up with his dictatorship joined the opposition political parties and the scene became that of rallies, demonstrations and sometimes riots.

Some Hutu politicians who were against Habyarimana, but not necessarily for the RPF Inkotanyi rebellion, blamed some of their political comrades for wanting to use the opposition inside the country to weaken the Hutu regime and give way to predominantly Tutsi rebellion.

I would like to remind you that some Hutus had even joined the RPF Inkotanyi rebellion thinking that they all had the same enemy: Habyarimana and his entourage.

If Rwanda was a unified society, despite the civil war between the national army and the RPF Inkotanyi rebellion, the massacres of millions of civilians might not have been possible.

But unfortunately, Rwanda was not a unified society. The 1990 civil war and the political rallies awoke all the demons of the past. Ethnic tensions became violent. Hate against Tutsis was expressed openly and publicly. The radios sang and preached hatred. The newspapers published articles full of hate speech. Populism was at its peak. Some Hutu politicians of the opposition were eventually labeled as supporters of the Hutu power and others as traitors, who were to be condemned to the same fate as Tutsis.

The Genocide against the Tutsi and Hutus treated as traitors, commonly called “moderate Hutus”, was knocking on the doors of Rwanda.

Today, Rwanda faces an opposition that is becoming stronger. There are about thirty opposition political parties, not officially registered, most of whose leaders operate outside the country.

In the same way, the Habyarimana regime, in the 1990s, treated its opponents as enemies of the country, who wanted to reinstate the Tutsi monarchy and subjugate the Hutus to their dominance, the current regime says that the goal of its opponents is to promote the genocide ideology, despite the fact that many of those opponents are rather the former members of the RPF Inkotanyi, identified as Tutsis. The Hutus who oppose the current regime are often treated as genocide perpetrators and the Tutsi opponents are treated as traitors who collaborate with those perpetrators.

As a result, anyone who dares to speak up is murdered or put in prison. This solves no problem but rather creates more dissidents who may be ready to seize any opportunity to get rid of the current dictatorial regime.

It would be desirable for the current government not to make the same mistakes of the past. They will need to engage with all these political opponents and members of the civil society, in order to find peaceful and lasting solutions to the nation’s problems.

6)   Mob or Crowd psychology

A phenomenon that many people do not understand is why and how many Hutu civilians took part in the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. Where were the Rwandans of good virtues? Where were the impartial politicians? What about good gendarmes and soldiers who were supposed to protect the population against the military and the militia? What led the masses to participate in the Genocide against the Tutsi and “moderate Hutus”?

The answer may come from crowd psychologists who analyze how a person’s behavior can be influenced by the behavior of the crowd, and vice versa.

Crowd psychologists suggest that a group of people can rationalize much more heinous crimes than any other member of that group can do individually. They teach us that a crowd behavior can be strongly influenced by the loss of responsibility of the individual and / or the impression of universality of behavior, two facts that rise with the size of the crowd.

In what circumstances does the loss of responsibility of the individual influence the behavior of the crowd? Or, under what circumstances does the individual develop the impression of the universality of behavior? What really happened in Rwanda in 1994?

Psychologists could again find their answers in what is known as “social panic”, defined as a state in which a social or community group reacts negatively and irrationally to unforeseen or unexpected changes in its environment.

My aim is not to justify the acts of those who committed the genocide against the Tutsi, but to show that, for reasons of uncertainty already explained above, the populations were already in a state where any unexpected and emergent situation could trigger extremely irrational reactions from the crowds.

Unfortunately, the people who had the power to stop the massacres had either lost their responsibilities or chose not to assume them.

Everything gave an impression of the universality of the decision to exterminate Tutsis and all those suspected of being allies of the RPF Inkotanyi and, with time, more and more Hutu extremists joined the crowds. In the minds of many Hutu extremists, it was as if Tutsis and “moderate Hutu” had been sentenced to death and everyone was called to participate in the massacres, otherwise he could be suspected of being a traitor. It took heroism and bravery to resist the behavior of the crowd.

Another even more important reason why many Hutu extremists participated in the massacres was that they consciously or unconsciously concluded that killing Tutsis and RPF supporters had been approved by the political leaders. Politicians and community leaders described all Tutsis as enemies. The media broadcast hate speech against Tutsis.

We could probably note that crowd psychology applied not only to the perpetrators of the genocide, but also to the victims.

Many Tutsis reacted to the social panic by taking refuge in churches. Others were going to hide in bushes. But the biggest effect it had on them is that they did not even resist or fight back, because their first reaction was to accept death. In their subconscious or unconscious minds, they thought they had been sentenced to death.

That is how Rwandans massacred their compatriots in an unprecedented genocide.

The attack on the plane carrying President Habyarimana, his death and that of those who were with him on the plane are not among the ingredients that allowed the genocide against the Tutsi to take place. However, the incident and the chaos it caused by decapitating the Rwandan State increased the level of the social panic and pushed individuals and crowds to the highest level of madness necessary to commit a genocide of that magnitude.

I am sure that if the political, military, social and religious leaders had assumed their responsibility to prevent those massacres or stop them when they started, Rwanda would not have lost all those innocent lives.

We know Hutus who tried to act either by condemning hatred or by hiding at their homes those targeted by the assassins. However, we have not heard or read stories of leaders who collectively tried not only to condemn, but also to stop the massacres.

Would the current Rwanda be able to control any eventual social panic if something was about to happen today or tomorrow?

In my opinion, the current government, led by the RPF Inkotanyi, is committing the same mistakes of the past.

All those who dare to criticize the government are not only treated as enemies of the state, but also either as genocide perpetrators or ideologues, or as terrorists who aim only to shed the blood of Rwandans once again.

The politicians of the current regime, make hate speeches and urge young Rwandans to be always ready to defend their country against the enemy, if necessary. Many Rwandans, especially extremists and fanatics, literally take to heart this rhetoric and pledge never to allow the genocide ideologues (referring to political opponents, identified as Hutu) and their allies (referring to political opponents, identified as being Tutsi, or the former members of the RPF Inkotanyi, often called ibigarasha, i.e. worthless cards) any place in the political or social life of the country.

Many young Rwandans participated in “Ingando”, where they received basic military training, including the use of firearms. In addition to the national army and the police, there are several paramilitary groups in Rwanda, for example: Inyeragutabara,DASSOand Abanyerondo, and all these groups are ready to attack or counter-attack anyone who is considered the enemy.

The media help alert the public by publishing articles about Rwandan terrorist groups that might be attacking Rwanda from neighboring countries. They stress that these groups work with the perpetrators of the genocide and that they only want to finish the genocide.

It is difficult to predict how Rwandans, who are already alerted, would react if something happened, God forbid. Would they be able to control their panic? Would somebody be able to handle the reactions of all those who have already been fueled by hate speech and trained in violence?

In conclusion, leaders must avoid hate speech and everything that puts people in a state of fear. No Rwandan should be treated as the enemy of the state. We must teach young people that violence is bad and that they should never use it to solve their problems.


To conclude, if politicians, those in power and those aspiring to seize power, wish to vow “Never Again”, they must start by eliminating all the root causes of genocide and / or similar atrocities.

  • The history of the group or the dogmas “Them” and “Us”:in addition to promoting the national identity by the suppression of the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa references in identity cards, and by the introduction of the slogan “Ndi Umunyarwanda,” more concrete efforts should be made to ensure that all Rwandans in similar circumstances, regardless of their family backgrounds, exercise equal rights and have access to equal opportunities. For example, the needs of families, mostly Hutus, who survived the war in Rwanda or the Congo wars, where they had gone as refugees, have been ignored. These Rwandans believe that their Tutsi neighbors, who survived the genocide, have more privileges than them, and conclude that they are probably not considered simply because they are Hutu. On the other hand, some Tutsis may also think that they are privileged simply because they are Tutsi. This reinforces the marks “them” and “us”.
  • Ideology of supremacy, stigmatization and dehumanization: in addition to making certain words and aphorisms taboo, Rwanda should ensure that no innocent Rwandans are stigmatized for the mistakes of the past, those attributed to the groups with which they identify, or those who were supposedly committed by their ancestors. No Rwandan should feel inferior because of his/her physical appearance or his/her cultural behavior. The promotion of certain standards of beauty, similar to the morphological characteristics on which the colonizers based themselves to divide Rwandans, should be avoided. No Rwandan should be dehumanized. Rwandans should never be called names that equate them with animals or objects, for example, snakes, cockroaches, pigs, gorillas, ibipinga, abaginga or ibigarasha. Although the identity of those who were mainly targeted by the genocide were Tutsis, it is very wrong to say that Hutus killed Tutsis with the aim of stigmatizing all Hutus as essentially bad. Laws against divisionism, sectarianism or the ideology of genocide should be applicable to all Rwandans who commit hate crimes without distinction of any kind.
  • Hegemony, subjugation, and institutionalized marginalization : Even though the Tutsi, Hutu and Twa mentions no longer appear in identity cards, we cannot yet claim that no group of Rwandans is marginalized. The current government should ensure that all Rwandans are taken into account and have the opportunity to serve their country in all sectors and at all levels. As long as the Rwandan army continues to be predominantly Tutsi, it will always be labeled Tutsi. Despite the number of Hutus in parliament and the central government, it will continue to be asserted that the current regime is predominantly Tutsi, because the key positions are mainly occupied by Tutsis, and the local government continues to be heavily in the hands of Tutsis. To achieve the necessary parity in the military and civil service, the government may not need to reinvent the quota system, but to put in place transparent, fair and competitive processes through which every qualified Rwandan can be elected or recruited to positions at different levels and in different sectors.
  • Hate crimes, impunity and violation of human rights: The current government has the responsibility to protect all Rwandans. In a society that has been weakened by its past, hate crimes or attacks against any Rwandan, Tutsi, Hutu or Twa should not only be condemned, but punished. When a few Rwandans are killed and others disappear and the government shows no interest in rendering justice, family members who are left behind conclude that it may be because their lives do not matter. These Rwandans live in fear and this fear can lead them to resistance and insurgency.
  • Resistance, insurrection and rebellion: The appeal is made to all Rwandans. We should all understand that violence breeds only violence. Rwanda is fed up with troubles, aggression and wars. We do not need rebel groups anymore. Rwandans can solve their problems and achieve full reconciliation peacefully. I also call on the current government to listen to the grievances of some Rwandans and to respond to them before they reach a point where they feel as if the only way to make their voices heard would be with shots.
  • Psychology of crowds: Many Rwandans tend to reason in groups. Apparently, politicians, whether in power or in opposition, like that. They tell us that we have one common enemy, i.e. the “other group”. They teach us to hate and attack those we consider “the enemy”. They tell us that the enemy is preparing for something bad. Before the Genocide against the Tutsi, the old regime told Rwandans that the RPF Inkotanyi wanted to restore the Tutsi monarchy. Today, whenever a Rwandan opposes all or part of the policy of the current regime, if he is Hutu, he is said to want to finish the genocide, and if he is Tutsi, he is treated as a traitor who collaborates with Hutu genocide perpetrators. This puts ordinary Rwandans, especially young people who have not experienced the genocide, on the alert. They write on social media that they are ready to fight anyone who opposes the current government. I can only say, I hope nothing will happen to change the status quo. Otherwise, I am afraid that any emergent situation, whether natural or provoked, could lead to a tragedy similar to the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

Finally, let me conclude by saying once again that if we want to vow “Never again” to the Genocide against the Tutsi or against any other group of Rwandans, we should address all these root causes of a genocide or any other mass atrocity.

Further readings:



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