Skip to main content.

Back to: >> Genocide

Gerard Prunier

Book Review

Prunier does a marvelous job of bringing the actors in the genocide to life. Their fears and base aspirations appear in full relief. At root, the most common factor in all the violence from murder, through slaughter to genocide, had to do with land, the primary resource in this tiny over-populated world. Population pressure built to the bursting point.

Almost as important was the meddling of the Europeans: German, Belgians and French. The Imperial Europeans set the Tutsi apart from Hutu in such ways that only alienation and humiliation could result among the Hutus. With the exit of Belgium, the Hutus were given power.

With the arrival of Hutu power, a siginificant number of Tutsi had become a diaspora. They worked and trained hard and eventually invaded Rwanda to regain lost lands and power. They drew upon exiled Tusti from Uganda, Tanzania, Zaire, and Burundi. They began operatiions from Uganda and after an initial fiasco in 2002. They reorganized and did better under a new leader, Paul Kagame, enough better to pose a threat to the Hutu government. Kagame occupied and held a small part of Northern Rwanda.

Beginning in 2003, extremists elements among the Hutus in power began preparing for the future. They were able consolidate their "shadow power" and prepare for the elimination of all Tutsi. Propaganda via hate radio was the primary tool for inciting the Hutu populace. Training Hutu militia to kill efficiently provided the means. Not only Tutsi were targeted, moderate Hutus had to go as well. Men, women, children, all were targets conveniently identified by identity cards defining their "race."

Until then, all had gone fairly well for the regime until the price of coffee and tin collapsed. Deprived of export earnings, the economy began to collapse. With that event, and a civil war to contend with, increasing political pressures drove president Habyarimana to become more oppressive. This only increased his political problems. His power eroded and was near its nadir when his plane was shot down; he died literally in his own back-yard garden. This event was almost certainly the work of the extremists. The event immediately triggered murders and roadblocks that rapidly spread throughout the provinces -- enabled by intensive propaganda and carried out by previously prepared militias. Few read the tea leaves soon enough to avoid the death traps.

That small clique within the Habyarimana government had prepared well for just this day. Execution was coordinated, quick, well organized, and worked efficiently, attesting to the thoroughness of its planners. This cabal, led by colonel Bagasora at the helm, immediately completed a coup by killing all the moderates in the government. They discarded the constitution and assumed power as a "Crisis Committee." The UN was hamstrung by its charter even though a few insiders recognized what was happening. Its mission, UNAMIR, saved many thousands, but its rules of engagement forced it to stand by and watch as slaughter piled on slaughter all over Rwanda. Neither was UNAMIR equipped to do anything effective toward preventing genocide.

For its part, the Rwandan culture revered power; it was easy for ordinary Hutus to believe the anti-Tutsi propaganda if it came from the government. Because of their reverence for power, Hutu peasants did as instructed by the militia, army, Interhamwe youth movement, or bourgmestres. They took up machetes against their neighbors. Equally astonishing, victims knelt before the machete when told to. In this way "innocents" were turned into avid killers. Even Catholic Church officials on occasion aided and abetted the genocidaires. The Crisis Committee had an easy time of it. Rwanda was not the first time; Hitler was equally adept with propaganda. But the Hutu cabal were vastly more efficient and more open about it than Hitler ever was.


Population pressure world-wide today is even higher than it was in 1994. This episode in Rwanda is a serious harbinger for the world. Genocide is an invention of recent times -- since the conquering of the new world and the American disposal of the Indians. It has steadily become more historically common ever since. Later this century, if we stay the present course, the world could well undergo genocidal convulsions more extreme than any seen so far. Tipper Gore had something to say about this:

"Rwanda is a tragedy and warning. It is a warning about the way in which extremists can manipulate the fears of a population threatened by its own numbers and by its massive poverty."

Advanced societies are not immune to propaganda. Hitler's Germany and Bush's America have both responded to the propaganda spell. Fortunately, democracy has the ability to roll with the punch, realize danger, even fight back.

Unless there are dramatic changes soon, look for more Rwandas. Look also for the rest of the world to stand by.

What we do about all this depends on us. Religion alone does not work; at least it hasn't for over two millennia. Neither are nations with market economies up to it -- they are too individualistic, concerned only with their own national interests and resources. The UN Security Council, with veto power vested in the few, was designed for impotence in the face of genocide.

The ills of humanity demand a new order.
Where is the movement?


No comments yet

To be able to post comments, please register on the site.