What really caused the Rwandan genocide? Scott Straus’ answer


Have begun reading Scott Straus’ The Order of Genocide: Race, Power, and War in Rwanda (2006, Cornell University Press) [HT to Carol for the copy]. Not sure how many books this makes about Rwanda but I am appreciating his attempt to take a dispassionate approach to answering the question about why the 1994 genocide happened, how it happened, how/why ordinary civilians participated in the killings. Right away, Straus focuses on the methods of data collection and why he avoids the sensationalized approach to describing the gore. Within his introduction, Straus makes this assertion and then spends the rest of the book showing his basis:

I find that the Rwandan genocide happened in the following way. After President Juvenal Habyarimana was assassinated on April 6, 1994, and in the midst of a defensive civil war against Tutsi-led rebels, Hutu hardliners declared all Tutsis to be “the enemy.” In a context of intense crisis and war, the declaration that Tutsis were the enemy functioned as a de facto policy–in effect, an authoritative order and a basis for authority–around which coalitions of actors could mobilize to take control of their communities. Once local actors who subscribed to the hardliners’ position had secured enough power, they made killing Tutsis the new order of the day and demanded compliance from the Hutu civilian population. In the Rwandan context, where state institutions are dense at the local level, where civilian mobilization is a common state practice, where the idea of state power is resonant, and where geography provides little opportunity for exit, large-scale civilian mobilization to kill was rapid, and the violence was extraordinarily intense and devastating. (p. 7)

In reviewing data that he can “triangulate”, Straus helps work through a number of hypotheses that may have explanatory power but lack the data to support them. If you want to gain an experience of the genocide, Jean Hatzfeld’s books are great introductions to the stories of surviving victims and perpetrators. But, this book moves beyond story to fuller explanations of how the violence spread so quickly and slaughtered so many in so few days.

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Filed under conflicts, Rwanda, trauma

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