Resistance’s Role in the Rwandan Genocide
First sentence? “Exactly fifty years after the discovery of the Nazi death camps, the world witnessed genocide in Rwanda” (Hintjens 241). The Hutu majority carried out a systematic campaign; its goal was the complete extermination of the Tutsis. While the genocide ended before the last Tutsi survivors could be eliminated, their population still underwent “one of the highest casualty rates of any population in history from non-natural causes” (Hintjens 241). The killing was so widespread that “333 deaths occurred every hour (White 472). That means, on average, over 5 people were killed every minute, or one person every eleven seconds. And this went on for over three months. Even today, “there is still a sense of disbelief at the enormity of the killings” (Hintjens 276).
While “it is impossible to determine the exact number of people that died, it is estimated that the genocide left “as many 1 million people dead in 100 days” (Hintjens 276). Before it is possible to discuss the role of resistance, it is important to first understand that what happened in Rwanda was indeed genocide. According to Dominic, Olaifa, “The word, genocide, was coined by a Polish-Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) in 1944 from the word geno meaning “race” and the Latin word cide meaning “killing” He formed this word to describe “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves” (34-35). This was the objective in Rwanda. The justification for beginning the genocide, or at least the event that sparked it was when “the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and President Cyprien Ntayamira of Burundi was shot down as it descended” (Dominic, Olaifa 36). So, a minor conflict, or at least something that would be a relatively minor event under ordinary circumstances, was used to justify the killings, and according to Dominic, Olaifa, “Genocide often uses minor conflict as a trigger” (36). Furthermore, “One of the common motives often exhibited by genocide perpetrators is to destroy a group perceived to be a threat to the ruling power” (Dominic, Olaifa 36). Because “All the Rwandans interviewed agreed on the fact that the Tutsis in exile had become a threat to the government of Juvenal Habyarimana,” (Dominic, Olaifa 36) it is apparent the Hutus in power determined that the Tutsis were a threat to their own power, and made it their goal to exterminate the Tutsi people. Although it is important to understand that genocide occurred, it is more important to attempt to determine how the genocide was able to happen, if anything helped minimize the carnage, and how the genocide came to an end; how else would it be possible to prevent future genocides? In Rwanda, although resistance to the Rwandan Genocide was minimal, nonviolent resistance mitigated the genocide and violent resistance ended the genocide. Resistance is the only way to prevent genocides from happening in the future.
There is no easy way to determine what allowed the Hutu people to justify to themselves killing the Tutsis. In Hoex, Smeulers, though, they manage two identify ten distinct types of perpetrators: “(1) The criminal mastermind (defined as the supreme authority), (2) The fanatic (driven by hate and resentment), (3) The sadist (driven by a pleasure to induce pain), (4) The criminal (who was already involved in serious crime), (5), The professional (who has gone through extremely coercive military training in which he was trained to become a torturer or killer), (6) The devoted warrior (driven by a sincere belief in the ideology and the need to obey and conform to an authority), (7) The careerist (driven by careerism), (8) The profiteer (driven by pure self-interest or material gain), (9) The compromised perpetrator (driven by fear), (10) The conformist and follower (who follow the flow)” (435). All of these were present in Rwanda, but some were more prevalent. On the surface, it might seem like “(6) The devoted warrior” was the most common reason; perhaps it’s even comforting in a way to believe that. It’s easier to believe that the genocide happened because people thought that what they were doing was right because then it becomes possible to place distance between how a normal person thinks and how the killers thought. It’s easier to be confident in one’s ability to remain steadfast in one’s morals and ideology and hold the belief that “I would never become a devoted warrior, like the Hutus were” than to consider how you might behave if you were in the same, or a similar environment to the Hutu people when the genocide began in Rwanda. In reality, the most common reasons for killing were (8) greed, (9) fear, and (10) the herd mentality. One Hutu main, “Some of my friends became killers. What made them change was greed. To get something from the killings. Their main motivation was greed” (Hoex, Smeulers 444). This idea is further supported by the assertion made in “Verwimp (2005), [that] greed was actually the most important motivating factor…. Normal Hutus who had no wealth went to the houses of rich Tutsis and killed the rich Tutsis” (Hoex, Smeulers 444). Fear was also a reason for killing: “There was always someone from the Interahamwe around. They came and said ‘you have to kill or you will be killed’. Many people were killed because they resisted or hesitated” (Hoex, Smeulers 442). Some killers were drawn to the strength they felt in large numbers: “It felt secure in the group, and that was a reason to join” (Hoex, Smeulers 444). There’s safety in a group, even comfort in a group. Even if the group is murdering massive numbers of people, those features of participating in a group still apply, and drove many people to kill. Fundamentally, the majority of the killers were driven by fear of what would happen if they refused to kill, the chance to become better off themselves by killing, or just the comfort in being part of a group.
Of course, propaganda played also a role; “the RTLM,” a prominent radio station, “repeatedly referred to the Simusiga, or hurricane, portraying the genocide as a quasi-natural event which it was futile to resist” (Hintjens 267). This was part of an attempt to try to discourage resistance, and while it did. One Hutu man when interviewed, recounted, “ ‘There was always someone from the Interahamwe around… They came and said, “You have to kill or you will be killed.”Many people were killed because they resisted or hesitated’ ” (Hoex, Smeulers 442). So, even hesitation to kill was enough of a reason to get killed yourself. This again creates conditions where it’s hard for the killers to even stop and think, to question their actions, and to think about if what they or doing is right. It was hard for the Tutsis to resist because it meant almost certain death, and it was hard for the Hutus to resist because they knew resisting will quite probably get them killed. Essentially, anyone who got caught resisting would often be tortured and then killed, which made it almost impossible for people to resist.
Yet, people resisted. One Hutu man shared his powerful story: “I filled every hiding place with a person. Some were in the ceiling. Some were in the cupboards. Some were under the floor… They demanded to come inside and search the property. I stood in the doorway and told them that they’d have to kill me first. ‘We’ll be back,’ they said. ‘And thanks for gathering the cockroaches into one place. Because it will be easier to kill them. I told the news to my wife, and we both agreed that we were ready to die. The next time the killers came, there were fifty of them. All of them had guns or machetes. They pushed straight past me and entered the pastor’s residence. They began pulling people out of the ceiling. They were kicking us and dragging us along the floor. I knew this was the end. I could see our death clearly. Some people were shivering and wailing and screaming for mercy. Others were completely silent. They’d already lost so many loved ones and they were ready to die themselves. We were dragged to this very spot and put in three lines. We began to say our last prayers. I scanned the mob of killers for recognizable faces. Many of them were Christians. Some were even from my congregation. Every time I recognized a face, I called to him by name. I said: ‘When I die, I am going to heaven. Where will you go?’ Then I pointed to the next man, and asked him the same question. Then the next. Then the next. Some of the killers grew nervous. They began to argue amongst themselves. Nobody wanted to be the first to kill. Soon they were threatening to shoot each other. And they began to leave, one by one, until all of them had run off. We didn’t lose a single person. After hiding out for three weeks, we were rescued by the Rwandan Patriotic Front.”
Dominic, Danjibo Nathaniel, and Olaifa Temitope Abimbola. “THE 1994 RWANDAN CONFLICT: GENOCIDE OR WAR?” International Journal on World Peace, vol. 30, no. 3, Sept. 2013, pp. 31–54. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24543759.
Hintjens, Helen M. “Explaining the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda.” The Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 37, no. 2, June 1999, pp. 241–286. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/161847.
Hoex, Lotte, and Alette Smeulers. “Studying the Microdynamics of the Rwandan Genocide.”
British Journal of Criminology, vol. 50, no. 3, May 2010, pp. 435–454. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43612863.
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White, Kenneth R. “Scourge of Racism: Genocide in Rwanda.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 39, no. 3, Jan. 2009, pp. 471–481. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40282573.