Example IA: The Rwandan Genocide

 The Rwandan Genocide- Who was to Blame?

The Rwandan Genocide- Who was to Blame?

History SL

IBDP History Internal Assessment

 May 2019 Exam Session


Word count: 2195




Part A:

A generation after the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, the matter of blame has been considered resolved, with the idea of a State-led Hutu offensive. However, seventeen years later, a new theory emerged, shifting blame towards the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), who supposedly took the majority of lives during the genocide. To analyze and evaluate the question “Who were the true perpetrators during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994?”, two sources have been selected; Scott Straus’ The Order of Genocide provides a comprehensive account of the micro-political factors which motivated the Hutu-aggressors. The Politics of Genocide details the antithesis, delineating the inconsistencies of the genocidal documentation, explained only by a Tutsi-led assault.


Straus, Scott. “The Order of Genocide” (2006)


Straus, political science professor and Pulitzer prize-winning journalist based in east Africa, is valuable for his analysis of recent developments within Rwanda, presenting an authoritative understanding of “comparative politics” and “theories of violence” , whilst retaining a “lucid” style of writing, granting accessibility to students.  Nevertheless, Straus was described as “intellectually immoral” by limiting his focus of competing theories to those in which he can find merit.  Published twelve years after the event, Straus had time for an holistic assessment of genocidal causes. His stated purpose was to “assess competing theories about the dynamics of the genocide” which have “outpaced the evidence,”  offering comparison with current theories and providing parallels to the Holocaust. Nevertheless, some argue that African studies remain limited due to comparisons with the West, instead of individual study . Straus argues that the classical explanation of “ethnic antipathy, nationalist beliefs, or radio propaganda” is oversimplified, focusing rather on a socio-political approach, emphasizing the “ongoing civil war, high levels of state power and ethnic classification”.  His 230 original interviews with perpetrators provide a unique insight into the mobilization of the masses, presenting primary confessions shifting guilt towards the Hutu perpetrators, provided one recognizes the bias from such “self-serving and self-exculpatory”  sources. Strikingly, no Tutsi survivors were interviewed, neglecting a crucial perspective.  Therefore, whilst aiding the examination of power dynamics behind the Hutu-aggression, the book doesn’t account for motivations unmentioned within Straus’ interviews.

Edward S. Herman. David Peterson. “The Politics of Genocide.” (2010)


Described by John PiIger as a “brilliant exposé”  on the genocide, questioning the “favoured narratives”   behind it, Herman, professor emeritus, and Peterson, journalist, are particularly valuable in their controversial examination of the Rwandan Genocide. “Relocat[ing]” the responsibility away from the “Hutu Power”” , they allow for an alternative theory of aggression, arguing the Hutus as victims and thus upturning the unanimous verdict of history. Others argue the authors used the genocide to blame the West. . Their neglect of Tutsi witnesses has found them accused of having “sunken to the level of genocide deniers”  and of intentionally “downplay[ing]… the genocide of Tutsis committed by Hutu militias”.   However, through the letter evaluations composed by witnesses, accompanied by the analysis of previously unseen confessions, the authors created a “riveting and penetrating study”  of the manipulation of genocide accounts, to conform to the accepted norm. Yet, “sweeping assertions”, “selective quotations” and ignorance of “most contending sources”  challenge the controversial and possibly deliberately provocative perspective that might be justified through selective ignorance of inconvenient facts.

Part B:


On  April 6th 1994, President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down by an unknown group, triggering one of the most brutal genocides in history, costing the lives of 500 000  to 800 000  civilians. Subsequently, the blame was assigned to the Hutu élite, who was reputed to have mobilized civilians through fear and propaganda, to eradicate the Tutsi population. However, it is disputed to what extent this theory corresponds to reality, as contemporary historians hypothesise that the Tutsi RPF were the true perpetrators of the genocide.

Herman and Peterson argue the classical theory of Hutu-led aggression, to have ‘no basis in any facts beyond the early claims by Kegame’s RPF’ . The evidence for this claim is twofold: The RPF’s supposedly confessed responsibility for the assassination of President Habyarimana and the Hutu élite’s inability to ‘conspire to commit genocide’. The authors believe the slaughter of Hutus commenced four years prior to the assassination of President Habyarimana, with the invasion of the RPF on the 1st of October 1990 . Rather than a “civil war” , this was a case of aggression, as by 1993, the RPF had displaced or killed over one hundred thousand farmers from northern Rwanda. In fact, every advancement of the RPF correlated to a multiplication of refugees ; Whilst there were only 80 000 displaced in 1990, there were over 350 000 by 1992.  However, this did not fulfill the presumed aim of the genocidaires, who ultimately wanted to cleanse Rwanda of the majority of Hutu males in order to provide living spaces for Burundi Tutsis to return to. Therefore, and to avoid inevitably losing the election decided upon in the Ashura peace settlements, the RPF assassinated President Habyarimana triggering a genocide, which would allow them to break the ceasefire and launch a more radical counteroffensive. This is supported by the RPF commencing its first strike only 60-120 minutes after the assassination, moving over “50 000 RPF soldiers  on two fronts in a coordinated fashion”, which could not have been organised, had the RPF been unaware of the strike.

Whilst this argument relies on the impossibility of disproving a negative, others have supported this idea, citing the confessions of three Hutu associates, who claimed direct involvement in the assassination of Habyarimana.  The authors argue the suppression of this information was vital to the creation of the traditional narrative without offering examples to support such a ‘conspiracy of silence’ involving the media, whilst basing their argument on three supposed confessions by accused murderers.


Such a perspective challenges the classical narrative which holds that the planning and coordination of the genocide was initiated by the Hutu élite, which at the time dominated the government.  Alison des Forges’ report, on behalf of the Paris’ Human Rights Watch, supports this as she states that “[b]y late march 1994, Hutu Power leaders were determined to slaughter massive numbers of Tutsis” . However, Des Forges previously contradicted this statement, indicating her recent account to be a yield to media pressure rather than the truth . At the trial of four high-ranking Hutu members following the genocide, Des Forges admitted that by April 1992, a multiparty government, including Tutsi representatives, had been already been implemented and “that it is [therefore] impossible to conclude that there was planning of the genocide by that government” . The authors accordingly argue that Des Forge’s testimony was a concession to the ‘western perspective’, rather than a holistic account of her findings. This however ignores the fact that between the implementation of the multiparty government and the genocide, two years transpired, allowing for sufficient time for governmental restructuring or other conspiracies to genocide. Furthermore, the authors claim a singular reason for Des Forges’ retraction: concession to the pressure of western governments and neglect the possibility of Des Forges realizing the falsehood of her previous report. Therefore, whilst Des Forges might have manipulated her statement, this does not provide conclusive evidence for the Hutu élites’ innocence. Yet, the authors also cite a judgement made by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, in which the charge of “conspiracy to commit genocide” against four high-ranking Hutu government members was acquitted; It was established that the alleged genocide preparations were regarding the power struggle of the civil war. Therefore, whilst the Hutu government might have had opportunity to conspire, the evidence, which has been examined was judged to be non-condemning.


However, whilst this supports the theory of a Tutsi-led aggression within the Rwandan Civil war to some extent, it fails to account for the mass eyewitness accounts, who testified for Hutu aggression and military-led extinction of the Tutsi population. In fact, Scott Straus provides the antithesis to Herman and Peterson, basing his thesis on two pillars of argument: the security of the civil war and the colonial history of Rwanda. Through these factors, the Hutu population was vulnerable to manipulation and mobilisation by the élite. The civil war, which broke out due to the RPF’s invasion of Rwanda, granted security to the aggressors and allowed for the involvement of soldiers, under the guise of providing protection from the RPF.   Straus himself describes the war as “defensive” and “intense”, creating a high pressure situation. Due to the Hutus’ ‘kill or be killed’ policy, many chose murder over death, leading to an exponential increase in assailants. These motivations are reflected within the words of one of the interviewed murders, who states:

    “The war was because of politicians. One day we were told to kill but never got an explanation why”

highlighting that the Hutu aggression was caused by fear rather than hatred. Yet, one should consider that these are the words of a convicted murderer who had time and opportunity to consider the answer, which was most lenient to news’ representation of the genocide .

Secondly, Straus argues that the reason for Hutu aggression and the manipulation of the masses is linked to the colonial history of Rwanda. Through the racist notions introduced by the European settlers, Tutsis were initially elevated over Hutus and the Hutu peasants condemned  into harsh state work or “ubohake” . A failure to complete this work, which took up 50% – 60%  resulted in harsh physical punishments, creating a strong hatred between the classes. After the return of Rwanda to its people, the Tutsi government was overthrown and the Hutu peasants revenged themselves on their former dictators, leading to violent outbreaks and even murder, over the next decades.  Straus argues that through this bitterness, the masses were increasingly susceptible to the manipulation of the élite, which classified the Tutsis as “cockroaches” which must be “crushed” . However, Straus neglects the equal hatred on the side of the Tutsi, who were receptive to the propaganda of the RPF, after years of suppression, abuse and displacement. Furthermore, he ignores that predating the civil war, most Tutsi and Hutu coexisted peacefully , which destabilizes the argument of colonial racial hatred. However, Straus also argues that through “collective ethnic categorization” the Hutu élite was able to manipulate the masses into automatically associating the Tutsi race with the evil picture created through propaganda. Therefore, the sole existence of classifications allowed manipulation of the masses.

Straus’ perspective holds a higher merit, as the interviews of people present in the country during the genocide, provide first-hand accounts, allowing for a primary-evidence based analysis of the events, which furthermore draws on several tangible secondary sources . Herman and Peterson lose credibility as they manipulate, rather than interpret evidence in order to indict the west. The method through which the witnesses cited in The Politics of Genocide were swayed into confession is further unknown, as the small number of witnesses makes manipulation of confessions more likely. Therefore, the true perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide were the Hutu élite, who mobilised the masses through propaganda and fear.

Part C:

During his Third Reich studies, Richard J. Evans reflected that the study of Nazism and fascist Germany has been “invaded by the concept and approach derived from morality” , emphasising historical bias created through social considerations. Attempting to objectively evaluate the perspective of Hermann and Peterson, who have been accused of genocide denial, was difficult, as I had to methodically evaluate a perspective so drastically different to my own.


Furthermore, Straus’ explanations of the Rwandan Genocide through holocaust metaphors were very helpful. As a student writing in Germany, my understanding of the Rwandan Genocide increased considerably through parallels drawn to a topic I was closely familiar with. However, this confronted me with the question of whether I was losing track of the uniqueness of genocide and attempting to find patterns where they don’t exist for the sole reason of my personal understanding.


Moreover, I became increasingly aware of the importance of purpose in the manipulation of history. If a book, like The Politics of Genocide is solely written to argue a point, the objectivity of information will suffer, as the perspective is adjusted and correspondingly will be biased. Therefore, depending on the purpose of a given work, one has to compensate for the resulting bias, highlighting the importance of the evaluation of a source’s purpose prior to its usage.

Studying the DP program, I was adjusted to the idea of linear history, where causes and effects were closely and mostly locally related, such as the blank check to the involvement of Germany in the First World War. Now considering African history, the understanding of causation was far more challenging, as most of the continent’s recent developments were consequences of European actions. This creates the challenge of interlinear history, which is widely excluded from the DP course, which only considers Africa through Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia. This demonstrated the difficulty of understanding a continent, which lacked the documentation of its history for hundreds of years to me, and reiterated the racist focus of history. In Germany, I am currently experiencing the rise of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. If it is possible to deny the biggest genocide in recent history, it is shocking to consider the ease with which one can manipulate and refute a genocide in a “far-away country of which we know little.”



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