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Rwandan Genocide
Mahmood Mamdani
Book Review with commentary

The Rwandan genocide has become a Metaphor for post-colonial political violence. It fits certain historic molds but with unique features. Genocide in our book is the extreme expression of the Authoritarian Personality.

Dynamics released in Rwanda were neither original nor confined to Rwanda. The root cause is common to many societies, more prevalent perhaps in the African Equatorial belt.

Many factors added to build tension that culminated in madness:

    German and Belgian imperialism were at the historical root of the genocide. When the Belgians took over after WWI, they labeled the Tutsi a different race by law, and even though they were not the indigent people, the Belgians put the Tutsi in charge of running the country. Economic and social benefits came with their status even as they were ruled from Europe. Their minority status only aggravated things. The Hutu majority were made subservient by law, European law. To be a Tutsi was to be of a different race and this ultimately opened the door for bigotry and worse.

    Then after WWII, a new Belgian government changed sides and thuis led to a take over by "Hutu Power." The Hutus governed the nation while actively trying to heal the cultural wounds left over by the Europeans. By banishing the Tutsi elite to the diaspora in neighboring countries, they sowed the seeds of their eventual undoing. Only Tanzania allowed the refugees to become citizens. In Uganda, the Tutsi materially aided Idi Amin in his tke over of the country. Once in power, however, Amin rewarded the heroic Rwandan Tutsi with refugee status, nothing more. Alienated by both their own countrry and Uganda, but organized and disciplined with a win under their belts, a return to Rwanda became virtually inevitable. After an initisal failure, Paul Kagame took over and remade the the Tutsi into a force to be contended with militarily. Under his leadership, the Tutsi began as new campaign in 1990 and henceforth never lost a signuficant battle. The Rwandan army was no match for his superior troops. After each advance of the Tutsi army, Hutu civilians, fearing reprisals, fled leaving their homes in "eerie silence." Meanwhile, small massacres of Tutsis occured in Hutu areas fanning the winds of war. The Rwanda Hutu government began arming the local administrations with the ultimate effect that they congealed into multiple militias, each with its own agenda. Hate proaganda flowed freely. The Rwandan army became ever more desperate as Hutu refugee camps enlarged apace.

    Add to these events a Rwandan culture that respects power; Rwandans literally did as told by authorities, even obeying commands oby the enemy. In retrospect it is easy to see the situation steadily deteriorated toward exploding. In this way, a fearful population was ripe for the killing sprees that followed in the course of 100 days beginning in April 1994.

Overview of immediate events.

Participants included the presidential guard, the army, and trained recruits, along with local leaders." These were primary instigators in Ntarama. Their mission was to kill all local Tutsi, even children. Others were trained for killing elsewhere, not just in their own villages. Most did not know what they were being trained for beyond the claimed national defense, about which leaders waved the flag.

Some political-opposition leaders were killed opportunistically. Many men were required to kill their wives to demonstrate loyalty to the movement; some went on to became devoted killers. Some juveniles were said to have been forced to kill their own fathers. Those who seemed reluctant were simply killed along with their fathers. Genocide, organized and directed from the top, quickly engulfed the whole of Rwanda. It soon seemed to develop a mind of its own. The Hutu, who had been humiliated and alienated historically, were now trained and incited to do just what they did.

Urged on by the Presidential Guards, army, and militias neighbor turned on neighbor, using machetes and the like instead of poison gas delivered by unknown executioners. Whereas only a few Nazis operated crematoriums in secret to kill huge numbers, numerous Rwandans killed Rwandans, openly. Killing with a machete is hard work, many hacks are typically needed. Often many killers hacked a single person to death. Although the elderly occasionally joined in the killing, it was mostly done by young people -- caught up in the frenzy. It happened in every locality. Hutu were killing Tutsi by the thousands daily.

Torture was common; mostly men, women and young boys were killed. Brutality knew no bounds: People were hacked, quartered, impaled and roasted to death, sometimes over a period of a week. Pregnant women had their fetuses cut out. Others died during or after an internal organ was slashed out. Forty-eight methods for killing were later formally documented nationwide. Tutsi contingents from Burundi were most often involved in the worst slaughters.

Tutsi, the minority, were slaughtered wholesale in groups. In some respects, group killing in Rwanda was identical to the Nazi Holocaust. But in other respects, it was very different. Instead of remote gas chambers and crematoria run by unknown people, it was locals slaughtering locals openly, in the streets, shops, churches, their own homes. It was far more global; at least 100,000 Hutu participated, many estimates were much higher. ~10-50,000 Hutu and between 500,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsi were ultimately killed. Hutus died mostly as individuals; the Tutsi died in groups often in churches where they sought refuge.

It took most of 100 days before the Tutsi army got the upper hand and took control. Understandably perhaps, but just as bad, Tutsi then set upon Hutu; the most notorious Hutu killers were promptly killed, selectively, but not en masse. There were atrocities, but not as widespread as in the earlier phase.

Rwandan justice was slow to deal with the fallout as it involved laborious processes involving victims and witnesses who decided what the punishment would be. A surprising amount of forgiveness occurred and leniency happened often. Individually, many Rwandans were and are trying hard to put the past behind them. But an aura of mistrust remains, more than a decade later.

A gruesome reality in Rwanda was that an agenda imposed from above, resonated with those belowas it did in Nazi Germany. Either group could have stopped the other. [This is a compelling reason to foster Internal Loci of Control ] in all world citizens.

The agenda handed down is easy to understand; history, at least, is replete with examples of conquerors and despots; they are still with us. What the German and Rwandan populace share is the Authoritarian Personality, not sufficiently tempered by society. In Rwanda the personality issue is crystal clear. Hundreds of thousands of people, who had never killed before, after some steady preparation by the country's masters, suddenly organized themselves into killing posses, hunting down friends and neighbors locally, or selected groups farther down the road. Fear of the invading Tutsi army was a major factor. Dismay over the failure of the national army to protect Rwandan citizens doubtless played a role as well. Mass slaughter became the byword, for 100 days. Those slaughtering included doctors, nurses, priests, judges and even human rights activists! These features show in stark releif, how far the world has to go to attain peace. These features also cry out for an effective world governance system to deal with events such as these in real time instead of just watching, as in the actual case for the most part.

The political backdrop is related to European imperialists who put the minority Tutsi in charge, stirring humiliation and alienation among the Hutu. When independence came, no one was prepared to defuse the hatred. Probably the leaders did not know how or cared not to.

Complicating the history of Rwandan genocide, even the intellectual community has not delved deeply enough. For example, historians themselves are complicit in a sense. Largely written by the winners, histories seem to take violence as a natural human condition rather than inquiring into the inciting political dynamics or our evolutionary heritage. In the same way, Rwandan historians, until Mamdani, tended to naturalize distinctions between Hutu and Tutsi and the resulting upheaval. Historians also err by focussing on a single cause, the one they feel most comfortable with, instead of looking more deeply. But this genocide was complex, as most are. Politics, culture, and economics all converged at once in Rwanda, and close to a million people paid with their lives.

There is much more to the Rwandan story than Rwanda itself; much of Africa was involved. Visitors are referred to another book by Mamdani: "Good Muslim, Bad Muslim" where the roots of modern terror as a political movement are laid bare as legacies of imperialism and, most immediately for the US, the Cold War.

In a sense, violence is indeed natural. But it need not be, and this site offers plenty of examples of that, even as it highlights counter-productive, even regressive, behavior in these violent times.

Mamdani is one of those rare observers of the human condition who can maintain the open and enquiring mind necessary to sort the many contributing factors into a credible and coherent history. His book is sure to become a classic. It earns five stars on total content, message for our times, and conclusions for the future. We strongly recommend it to anyone hoping to understand how the human condition can reach a condition where Bishops, priests, and nuns, along with laity such as accountants doctors, nurses and human rights workers can become bloodthirsty murderers. In this context, fear was most basic emotional driver. The Hutu government played on that feature to exploit an ingrained obedience in the Rwandan populace.

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