Arusha, 31October 2008 (FH) - The execution of 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda was possible thanks to the massive participation of the population, points out and demonstrates Rwandan historian Jean-Paul Kimonyo, in a book titled: "Rwanda, A Popular Genocide (Rwanda, un génocide populaire)" published a few months ago through Karthala publishing.

5 min 35Approximate reading time

Whether it is to denounce runaways, take part in road blocks or beatings, help to gather the Tutsi population or kill at the side of the militias and armed forces, "A Popular Genocide", from a theory supported in Montreal in 2003, confirms the participation of most of the Hutu population in the massacres.

"In an exiguous country which nine of the ten rural prefectures shared a long border with a foreign country, in a context of logistical deficiency and infrastructures for slaughters, the question of physical control of the victims dispersed on the territory was of major importance for the success of the total genocide of Rwandan Tutsis", considers Kimonyo.

Based often on fresh archives and field work, Kimonyo analyzes in detail the socio-political evolution of two southern prefectures, Butare and Kibuye, and of two communes within these prefectures: Kigembe and Gitesi. Thirty percent of the Tutsi population of Rwanda lived in these two prefectures far away from the war, which made it possible for the historian to have "a better apprehension of the political and social dynamics subjacent to the execution of the genocide".

Kimonyo initially reminds of the major economic and social crisis which affected Rwanda at the end of the 1980's: considerable population growth, exhaustion and rarefaction of the lands, lack of currency following the fall of tea and coffee prices, devaluations, repetitive food shortages ... Which led to a "spectacular" rise of crime. The author qualifies these frustrations and this structural violence as a "furtive rebellion", "low intensity", not openly political but connected to the promises of development not held by the regime in power.

However, according to Kimonyo, "the roughness" of the social relations in Rwanda was a historic phenomenon. Since the end of the XIXth and the beginning of the XXth century, land pressure was important, and "a climate of rapacity of the social relations ended up emptying the sense of the traditional institutions of [...] social regulation". The Catholic Church and the colonial powers, while radicalizing the political identities, Hutu/Tutsi in the process of crystallization, failed to impose ethical standards of substitution. Moreover, since the revolution of 1959 repeats itself regularly, it became a "popular feature of political culture": "predatory violence against Tutsis", he adds.

Also, Kimonyo considers insufficient the analyses explaining the popular participation in the genocide by "the alleged profound culture of obedience of the Rwandan peasants to the official authority". This "social anomia" would, on the contrary, show a deep will to change the local backwards peasantry. This desire was "initially invested in the multi-party system before trying to find its way in the realization of the genocide, while offering a formidable potential of mobilization for the political elites". It is on this privileged ground that are grafted political factors able to explain the mobilization of the peasantry "in the narrow road towards total genocide".

The opposition parties, primarily the MDR, heir of the MDR-Parmehutu (1959-1963), to the virulent ethnic discourse, played a big role. Confronted with them, the MRND is radicalized, pushed by four factors: the war carried out by the Tutsi-majority RPF, its own dispute with the opposition parties, the Arusha Accords and the assassination by Tutsi officers of the Burundian Hutu President Melchior Ndadaye in 1993.

But, observes Kimonyo, the former single party is in loss of influence in the center, the south and parts of the west, area where the majority of the Tutsi population lived. To itself, it cannot sufficiently mobilize. These last areas, and in particular the prefectures considered by the author, are rather favourable to the MDR, in continuity with a traditional support for the MDR-Parmehutu, in the era lead by the preceding president, Gregoire Kayibanda, a native of the south whereas Habyarimana came from the north. By keeping the same name, the MDR, after internal debates between "reformers" and "conservatives", retook its "policy of violence and division".

Chronologically, Kymonio raises an important fact: ethnic violence in these areas developed after the democratization of 1991, before the RPF offensive of 8 February 1993, before the appearance of the Hutu-Power coalition and the assassination of Ndadaye. What enabled it to push aside the theories explaining the radicalization of the Hutu population by these events. The mobilization by the political parties seemed, on the other hand, essential.

This violence, which revived the war and the massacres of Tutsis in the areas controlled by the MRND, occurred before the genocide in the communes where the MDR was most active. After 6 April, in continuity with the first period of the multi-party system, Kymonio notes, in the two prefectures, differences in the behaviour related to political affiliations: "The fast entry in the genocide (MDR/MDR-Parmehutu), the later entry under the pressure from the elite of the country (PSD/Aprosoma) and a behaviour of organized resistance gathering Hutus and Tutsis (PL/UNAR and PSD/Aprosoma)."

With the elimination of the political leaders opposed to the Hutu-Power coalition, a "political unanimity constraint for the genocide" was created. The way was then free so that all the means of the country could be put at the service of the genocide project. At the local level, "this cognitive cohesion in favour of the policy of massacres [discouraged] individual or localized inclinations of resistance".

The historian ponders the role of the media and the theory of manipulation of populations by the elites. If the media were "guides of action", their impact was relative. For example, in the Kigembe commune, the social climate worsened after 6 April, "not under the effect of the radio propaganda which explained why the RPF and the Tutsis of the interior were a threat, but rather under the effect of the advertisement of massacres which had begun in the neighbouring commune of Nyakizu and of the example which was given".

For Kimonyo, it is at this stage that intervene, "in a relationship of complex causal interactions", the social factors - hunger, lack of land, impeded professional horizons for the most educated... - being able to determine to act in the hope of profits and take-overs, or even of simple social survival. In this context, under the pressure of the first killers (belonging to the MDR or coming from zones controlled by the MRND), these opportunities of "looting and land grabs" would have further determined the change of attitude of communities up to that point peaceful than a fear specifically linked to the RPF and its association with neighbouring Tutsis.

The theory of a fear and an anger of Hutus in general following the death of Habyarimana, which would have led to a "spontaneous" popular mobilization, is besides to relativize for the areas far away from the engagements: the feeling of fear (seldom expressed in the first weeks of the genocide at the height of the massacres, however, took place) depended a lot on the political affiliations, i.e. of the receptivity of partisans of certain formations to local propaganda. This assassination was exploited for dramatization purposes, "according to the alternative `it is them or us": was also less important, to determine the responsibilities in the genocide, to know the authors of this attack as those who manipulated this event, estimates Kimonyo, who is on par on this point with Human Rights Watch.

Finally, the historian minimizes, among the motivations of the actors, the sentiment of ethnic membership. This cultural factor, according to his entire study, appears second after the political and ideological motivations. "We suggest that the designation of the Tutsi community of the interior as the enemy and its subsequent destruction derives a lot from the ideological bases of the republican regime resulting from the social revolution of 1959 which had indicated as a illegitimate political community", he concludes.

He reminds, inter alia, that until 1990, many communities still knew a strong dynamic of Hutu/Tutsi integration (matrimonial unions, conviviality governed by traditional practices...). What would explain the relative resistance of some of them at the beginning of the genocide, and contradicts the "essentialist" interpretations. To see the Rwandan conflict as an ethnic war between two entities in secular conflict also permits to "reduce the moral and political responsibility of the leaders who led the genocide", adds Jean-Paul Kimonyo - to which are added those who let it occur.


© Hirondelle News Agency