How significant was the role of the European colonial powers in creating the pre-genocidal conditions in Rwanda?
In order to understand the harrowing drama of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, it is essential to ascertain the dynamics of Rwandan society which was dominated by ethnic exclusion and a distinct social hierarchy. The horrors of the genocide are largely reducible to the long-standing atavistic conflict between the Hutu (85% of the population) and the Tutsi (12% of the population). This social conflict has its founding roots in the colonization period and was the result of the Germans’ and especially the Belgians’ desire to govern their territory with the least administrative effort. Colonial heritage had severe repercussions on Rwandan society, which is a feature observed in many African states.1 The colonial powers’ responsibility lies in the fact that they radicalized and rigidified the division between the two fluid identity markers Hutu and Tutsi, thus implementing social boundaries which produced a caste-like segregation of society and population.2
Despite these heavy accusations, other countries display similar social structures without resorting to mass murder. Furthermore, assigning the whole responsibility to the colonial powers neglects important domestic pressures, thereby placing the culpability somewhere else. This essay will explore the colonial origins of the 1994 Rwandan genocide whilst using Ernsto Verdeja’s and Gregory Stanton’s theoretical models of genocide to determine the precise weight of the colonial powers’ responsibility in creating the preconditions for genocide.
The nature of Rwanda’s pre-colonial political system is a much-contested issue as not a great deal is known about it and the origins of the social stratification, which was so crucial to Rwanda’s history. It is largely assumed that the cattle-rearing Tutsi, fleeing famine and drought in the Horn of Africa, arrived in the regions of modern Rwanda and Burundi during...