Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2018

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

History

First Advisor

Susan Kent

Second Advisor

Matthew Gerber

Third Advisor

Paul Shankman

Abstract

On the 7th of April 1994, the small east African country of Rwanda erupted into one of the most deadly and intimate genocides the modern world had ever witnessed. Whilst the western world stood by and watched in just 100 days over 800,000 Rwandans out of a total population of 7 million, were systematically murdered in the most brutal and violent of ways. Those who were targeted made up the country’s minority ethnic group the Tutsis, and moderates from the majority group, the Hutus. For many, the legacy of Rwanda is a monstrous example of extreme pent up ethnic tensions that has its roots in European colonialism. In contrast, I will argue that the events not just of 1994 but also the unrest that proceeded it, arose from a highly complex culmination of long-standing historical tensions between ethnic groups that long pre-dated colonialism. In conjunction, a set of short-term triggers including foreign intervention, civil war, famine, state terrorism and ultimately the assassination of President Habyarimana also contributed to the outburst of genocide in 1994. Whilst it would be easy to place sole responsibility on European colonists for implementing a policy of divide and rule and therefore exacerbating ethnic tensions, it seems to me that genocide is never that cut and dried: it can never be explained by one factor. There is no doubt that colonial policies played into certain dynamics of Rwandan culture, but distinctions between the Hutus and Tutsis were already in place long before the first Europeans arrived.

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