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Was Ethnic Hatred Responsible for the Rwandan Genocide of 1994?

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Was Ethnic Hatred Responsible For The Rwandan Genocide Of 1994?

Rwanda is a small nation within Africa whose population consists of about seven million individuals. The population is made up of two ethnic groups namely the Hutus and the Tutsi.  The Hutus are farmers and constitute the majority of the population. The Tutsi are herdsmen who migrated from the northern part of Africa and made up the majority of the Rwandan aristocracy. For over 500 years the two ethnic groups divided their farmland amongst themselves, as well as their culture and language. In addition to that intermarriages took place between them. In the year 1994, Rwanda was launched into the strife of genocides that resulted in the death of at least one million citizens. The victims of the genocide were mainly the opposition members of the extremist Hutu government. Their primary goal for this event was to annihilate the Tutsi who made up only 0.25% of the total population (Fisanick, 2004).

To examine the origin of the genocide, it is essential to analyze the description of the concept so that it can be used with the objective of finding out why the genocide occurred, the time it occurred and whether ethnic differences was the key origin for the genocide. According to Glazer, Greeley, Patterson and Moynihan (2004), ethnicity refers to the identity of a group of people who share certain characteristics. These features include; language, history, religion, customs and location.

The term genocide, on the other hand, calls for a more precise description. This is because most often than not there is confusion between killing that is instigated by ethnic hatred and the intentional, premeditated attempt to eradicate a particular ethnic group. The distinction is very crucial because it defines what genocide is. The United Nations Convention on Genocide defines genocide as " acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious groups, such as: killing members of a group " (Malvern, 2006).

Over the years the media has reported ethnic hatred as the key factor that contributed to the Rwanda Genocide.  While indeed ethnic differences were present at the time of the event, the reasons attributed to the genocide are many and very complex.  When looking at the Rwandan Genocide as a result of ethnic differences, it is important that ethnicity is analyzed as it is and was impacted by many other factors (Prunier, 2008). The purpose of this essay, therefore, is to argue that the Rwandan genocide was induced by a blend of political, economic and social factors and not entirely as a result of ethnic hatred.

It is now widely accepted that the colonial rule in Africa caused adverse effects that might have otherwise not existed.  Colonialism resulted in deeply rooted ethnic tensions. The main characteristic of the 19th-century European imperialism was its organized carnage of communities outside the mother country.  Rwanda was colonized by two colonialists namely the Belgium and the German. During the German colonialism, they saw the Tutsi as the superior and privileged race different from the common black people- the Hutu- because of their physical characteristics. According to the Germans, the Tutsi physically looked more alike to the Europeans and therefore regarded as rulers (Des Forges 1999).  As a result, they were provided with education opportunities and assigned noble tasks while the Hutus, on the other hand, were assigned to millennial tasks.

Naturally, as with any group of oppressed people, this nurtured a deep hatred and resentment in the Hutu at the treatment of inequality and discrimination creating a great divide between the two ethnic groups. According to Prunier (2008), the ethnic tension between the two ethnic groups was further precipitated by the Belgium colonization. Under the Belgium colonization the two ethnic groups were provided with identity cards that contained information on which ethnic group one belonged to. This stringent categorization further increased the division between the two ethnic groups. These identities functioned as weak points along which political violence exploded.

In addition to the ethnic tensions created during colonialism, the political propaganda created after the independence further precipitated the tensions. The Hutu government through the use of propaganda campaign successfully portrayed the Tutsi as foreigners in the country. The government used mainly radio and print media in preparing for the genocide, inciting violence during the killings and false reporting of the genocide (Drott, 2014).  The Hutu administration formed a stereotype that used offensive language on national media that was meant to dehumanize the Tutsi and prompt them to take part in the genocide.

According to Malvern (2006), to the Hutu, the Tutsi were portrayed as having negative traits such as arrogant, tricky and untrustworthy while the Hutu people were portrayed as having positive attributes such as loyalty, modesty and independence. In doing this, the Hutu administration became successful in creating cumulative memories from colonialism that historically, the Tutsi had always enslaved and mistreated the Hutu. This caused the Hutu to develop resentment towards the Tutsi and consequently heighten the already existing hatred. Overemphasizing the differences the differences between the two ethnic groups can be looked at as part of the reason why the genocide occur before 1994(Adelman, 2000).  It is, therefore, clear that the genocide was not caused by hatred between the two ethnic groups but rather the aim to precipitate ethnic strain in the 1990s.

It is also important to note that the two ethnic groups had coexisted peacefully with one another despite having a positive historical background of ethnic tension.  They shared the same language, lived in the same location and even intermarried for many decades. This provides evidence that the genocide did not originate ethnic hatred as it would be necessary to provide concrete proof of serious ethnic difference prior 1994.  Also since the two ethnic groups are closely associated with one another, one has to ask whether ethnicity was the only ground for obliteration. According to Uvin (1997), the Hutu government mainly emphasized on the ethnic differences, however, counteracting the Hutu extremist administration was Tutsi sympathizers that were also massacred with the Tutsi. From the above argument, it is clear that the separation was deeply rooted in occupation and class line as it was the case before and during colonialism and not ethnic as it has always been portrayed for decades.



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