Honors English 10-Block 4
May 20, 2011
The Genocide of Rwanda
Losing a loved one has devastating effects on a person that last a lifetime. After a death, a human being goes through a range of emotions, including anguish, depression, and sorrow. Add to these emotions the experience of watching a loved one die. The trauma of helplessly witnessing a neighbor hack another person to death. Suddenly, emotions are elevated and evolve into an extreme level of fear and heartbreak. This is what happens during genocide, the systematic killing of a particular religious or ethnic group (Destexhe 42). The people of Rwanda go through these emotions everyday as a result of a 1994 genocide that began in April, ended in July, and resulted in the mass murder of over 800,000 Tutsi people. More specifically, eight thousand people died per day for one hundred days, the equivalent of five lives per minute. Five lives per minute because of ethnic competition and rising tensions between the Tutsi and Hutu groups. An ethnic competition that began with the initial separation of Rwandan citizens by European colonists and continued with destructive decisions made by political powers, resulted in a genocide that left permanent physical and mental scars on the people of Rwanda.
By exaggerating stereotypes and supporting one group over the other, the European colonists drove a wedge between the Hutus and Tutsis groups, initiating the ethnic competition that led to the genocide. For 600 years the two groups lived together and shared the business of farming, with Hutus working the land as crop-growers and the Tutsis owning land as herdsman. (Rwanda 1994). When the Germans took control of the area, they applied their racist ideology and assumed that the generally taller, lighter-skinned Tutsis were the more ‘natural’ leaders, with the Hutus destined to serve them (Rusesabagina 92). The rise of influence of the Tutsis group made them feel superior to all other classes. The Belgian colonists made it worse by instituting racist doctrines. For example, they replaced all Hutu chiefs with Tutsis and issued identity cards that noted ethnic identity (Rwanda). Missionaries came along and convinced the Hutu that there were being oppressed. Therefore, by introducing class consciousness, the European colonists created a political divide between the “aristocratic” Tutsis and the “peasant” Hutu.
The Europeans continued to contribute to the divide by using their influence to back the group that favored their political agenda. For example, in the 1950s, the Tutsis began campaigning to break from colonial rule and the Belgium colonists reacted by favoring the Hutus. After being powerless and discriminated against for so long, the Hutus took advantage of this new favoritism and began a revolution. Tutsi chiefs were replaced by Hutu chiefs and the Hutus burned down Tutsis houses and took their land (Rusesabagina 115). In 1959 to 1962, the Belgians allowed the Hutu elite to engineer a coup, seize power, and gain their independence. Anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 Tutsis were killed in the violence preceding independence, while some 120,000 to 500,000 fled the country to neighboring countries such as Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo (Rwanda 1994). The violence and divide continued with raids engineered by Tutsi resistance and guerilla groups. The Hutu rulers were so intent to drive the Tutsi to extinction that they established repressive measures, like ethnic quotas limiting Tutsi access to education and government employment. In summary, Rwanda’s tribal division was initiated and exploited by European colonists and it was one of many factors which contributed to the start of the genocide.
The start of the Rwanda Genocide was also caused by destructive and careless decisions made by powerful political leaders and the limited response by the international community. In addition to the cultural tension, an...
Cited: “Children of Rwanda’s Genocide” New York Times on the Web. 1999. The New York Times Company. 9 May 2011. .
Destexhe, Alain. Rwanda and the Genocide in the Twentieth Century. New York: New York University Press, 1995.
Hatzfeld, Jean. The Antelope’s Strategy Living in Rwanda After the Genocide. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.
Rusesabagina, Paul. An Ordinary Man. New York: Penguin Group, 2006.
“Rwanda 1994.” Peace Pledge Union Information. 9 May 2011. .
Shah, Anup. “Rwanda.” Global Issues. 25 Oct. 2006. Web. 10 May 2011. .
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