Strong State, Weak Ethnicity and the Rwandan Genocides

The Rwandan genocide is one of the great human cataclysms of the twentieth century.  The genocide was a “systemic and coordinated attempt to physically eliminate the entire Tutsi population of Rwanda.” The most accurate figure for those who were killed in the 1959 genocide, when Hutus seized power and stripped Tutsis of their lands, was 100.00. In 1994, the mortality figures were more immense; 800,000 Rwandese, including moderate Hutu and Tutsi, were killed in the space of 100 days at the hands of Hutu militia and the army.  It was the fastest genocide in the history of humanity. This genocide cannot be explained through stereotypes; the actors are far from just “savages”, “barbaric”, mindlessly killing. Although their actions are abhorrent, they are breathing and thinking Homines sapientes who had political motives.  How can one explain the Rwandan genocide?  Some European commentators had an answer. The trigger that came in 1994 is a product of a deep history. They argue, “African tribes are possessed by ancestral hatreds and periodically slaughter each other because it is in their nature to do so.” In order to deeply grasp the human catastrophe that consumed Rwanda, this paper will analyze the complexity of the contested Rwanda histories of ethnic relationships and the role of a strong state in Rwanda. There are some factors that should be taken into account such as: the pervasive economic crisis, the politicization of both ethnicities, Hutu and Tutsi under the Belgian rule as well as in the independence era in 1959, and the strength of the Rwandan state.  I will argue that a strong state, weak ethnicity and the economic situation have led to the Rwanda genocide in 1959 and 1994.