The first stage of early warning signs, classification, is one easy to justify and dismiss. In this stage, groups of people are classified by nationality, ethnicity, race, or religion. This provides an almost built-in conflict by dividing the society and creating tensions between the groups. Doing so creates an us versus them mentality as the groups naturally begin to claim or become assigned roles in a hierarchy and power struggles ensue. In pre-colonial Rwanda, ethnic identities did exist, including the Hutu and Tutsi clans, but they were used mainly as status terms rather than ethnic identities and not meant to create division (Hintjens, 2001). Instead, they were seen as inseparable elements of a single social structure as the state of Rwanda held strong cross-cutting allegiances within their kingdom that provided some social fluidity. Rich and powerful cattle-owners were referred to as Tutsi while others were Hutu. Despite this, Tutsi chiefs controlled only Tutsis and Hutu chiefs only controlled Hutus, meaning there was still not necessarily a distinction of an inferior or superior race. The polarization based on wealth would also allow for Hutus to climb up economically and earn the distinction of Tutsi. It was the German colonists in the 1890s that applied the European thinking of the time and defined Tutsis and Hutus as being inferior and superior races, respectively.
It was during their time under Belgian rule post-World War I that they were subjected to identity cards and entered Stanton’s second stage — symbolization (Kaufman, 2015). They distinguished between Rwandans through physical differences, comparing attributes such as nose size and height, because they held much of the same cultural aspects, including the same spoken language and the same religious beliefs. This created definitive social categories between the Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa people as they solidified Tutsi control, giving them power over Hutus and providing them with western education. After pressures from the United Nations following World War II, in a move to end feudalism and introduce democratic institutions, education and access to clerical press was offered to ambitious Hutus. This allowed for the later publication of a Hutu denouncing Tutsi rule and calling for democracy and more opportunity for the Hutu people through their emancipation. Political parties began to form in 1959 after Belgian announced plans to turn Rwanda into a constitutional monarchy and hold an election. An atmosphere of violence ensued as royalists attacked Hutu leaders and they responded in turn, and the polarization caused by this set the tone for future elections.
The success of the Hutus in the elections and their actions as people in power exacerbated the tensions between the two groups. Tutsis deemed them racist and dictatorial and launched terrorist attacks against the Hutus in 1960, but Hutu leaders took power and formed a new government (Kaufman, 2015). Extremist Tutsis increased their efforts, pledging to be as numerous and difficult to stamp out as cockroaches, but failed in their biggest efforts in December 1963. During this independence period for the Hutus, an estimated thirty thousand Tutsis were killed as another wave of Tutsis fled the country, making them even more of a minority (Kaufman, 2015). A second wave of Tutsi attacks led to the hundred thousand Hutu deaths, and retaliation pushed more Tutsis to flee. In 1972, Hutu leadership was displaced as army chief Habyarimana led a military coup to take over and create a new regime. Under Habyarimana leadership, discriminatory policies against Tutsis loosened, allowing them to act relatively freely economically, but became more systematic in other ways, barring their participation in the military, capping their acceptance into schools, enforcing intelligent agencies’ investigations on candidates for high responsibility jobs to ensure that Tutsis did not surpass Hutus, and refusing Tutsi refugees’ return to Rwanda.
This systematic approach to repressing and eliminating Tutsis under the Habyarimana government further enforced and justified psychological degradation and dehumanization, the third stage of genocide. Under this phase, the normal human revulsion against murder is overcome. Threats of economic recession and civil war under this regime allowed the redirection of stresses into ethnic hatred, reducing conflicts to this single struggle. Hutus were encouraged to believe that all the country’s problems and all their personal struggles were the fault of the Rwandese Patriotic Front and Tutsi allies as the economic crisis was blamed on the work of Tutsis. This campaign of suppression worked further to strengthen Hutu unity by emphasizing their common origin and shared race as opposed to the other, the Tutsi. Their supposed foreign origins that were onced used to defend their inherent right to rule in earlier Rwandan society was used to justify ideas to drive them out of the country. In one example and in a key hate speech, Hutu politician Leon Mugesera claimed that Tutsi should be sent back home through a river, one in which hundreds of Tutsi bodies were found to be floating during the 1994 genocide (Hintjens, 1999). In another instance of their own claims being used against them, the term cockroach, that Tutsi guerrilla fighters used to describe their stealth and strength, was used by Hutus against them as a derogatory term, equating them to vermin. One of the most prominent means of Tutsi hate propaganda was through the Radio Television Libres des Milles Collines. They released statements, claiming that the Tutsis must be taken care of, making them powerless, and that ?they will disappear’ (Abimbola, 2013). Through the radio and in the Kangura newspapers and magazines, ethnic hatred was spread to incite genocide, convincing the Hutu population that they were being threatened by Tutsi existence and their supporters. Akazu, the Rwandan ruling elite, proposed that the only way to solve Rwandan Hutu struggle was through racial purification and the elimination of the Tutsi people (Hintjens, 2001). The Rwandans’ ingrained culture and long history of obedience to authority made them especially compliant, ensuring that the killing of Tutsi people was seen as act of civic duty among the Hutus rather than an act of cruelty.
With strong hatred directed towards the Tutsi people, the Hutus organized to carry out their elimination. In this fourth stage of genocide, akazu formed a youth militia, called the Interhamwe, and fashioned them with machetes and other weapons. They were trained to exterminate Tutsis under the guise of protecting their village and given lists of Hutu opponents to slaughter. In these early 1990s, military leaders continued to try out techniques of killing also under the pretense of looking for internal enemies (Newbury, 1998). This relatively small scale of killings in comparison to the genocide following just a few years later allowed Hutu elites to understand two principles, according to Newbury’s article: 1) this violent means of mass killing was feasible and 2) their actions didn’t elicit any alarming responses from outside powers. In other words, they were in the clear. They felt safe enough to continue their attempts at ethnic cleansing without any international ramifications. Though the Hutu extremist government implemented this systematic approach to psychologically ruin the Tutsis and formed protected, organized militant groups to physically remove them, these groups and their killings and crimes committed were made up of and perpetuated by average citizens (Abimbola, 2013). Their culture of obedience and reverence towards power easily allowed the government to exploit them to carry out their notion of Hutu power.
An invasion by the Tutsi-led RPF a few years before the organization of Interhamwe resulted in a panic among the Hutus that gave way to strategy in favor of polarization and Habyarimana. With any intervention by outside forces not likely, Habyarimana chose to exaggerate Tutsi threat, justifying retaliation under the guise of self defense (Kaufman, 2015). They’d staged a fake RPF attack near the capital of Kigali and used this as an excuse to make thousands of arrests of mostly Hutu political opponents. Creating this politics of protection further divided the Hutus and Tutsis as it escalated the ideas of the physical threats the targeted group posed. This attack also motivated the Hutu elite to become more explicit and blatant in their racism and dehumanization of the Tutsis. The Kangura published the Hutu Ten Commandments that claims anyone associated with a Tutsi to be a traitor, that advocates the discrimination of Tutsis in all aspects of life, and denounces any pity for the Tutsi people. Hate propaganda intensified through the publication of ideals such as these and the use of old symbols of Hutu myth of their oppression under Tutsi rule before independence. With it, they casted the Tutsi people as inherently evil and unable to change, justifying their elimination.