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The Rwandan War 1990 – 1994: Interrogating the dominant narrative

By Barrie Munro Collins


This thesis interrogates a well-established consensus that the mass killings that erupted in Rwanda in 1994 upon the aerial assassination of President Habyarimana were the result of a planned and controlled genocide of Tutsis by Hutu extremists. It concludes that this dominant narrative is flawed and argues instead that the killings had a ‘bottomup’ character, were neither planned nor controlled, and were conducted in anarchic conditions. An historical background addresses the question of how ethnic identity formation relates to the 1990-1994 war. The war is reconstructed by means of a logical chronological narrative. Interviews of key individuals involved, checks of court records, and a critical survey of English and French literature has yielded, it is hoped, a more rigorous, reflective and nuanced approach toward the dynamics of the war. Claims for genocide planning and implementation are shown to be problematic. In place of a conspiracy of Hutu extremists, the thesis emphasises linkages between RPF strategy and conduct with various forms of Western intervention as salient forces generating conditions conducive to civilian slaughter. The material and ideological links between the protagonists of the Rwandan war and regional and international actors are situated within the context of the immediate post-Cold War period. A comparative study of genocide concludes that the number of genocides in the twentieth century should be restricted to three: the Nazi holocaust, the genocide of the Armenians, and the genocide of the Herero and Nama peoples in German South-West Africa. As a critique of the normative approach toward international relations, this thesis demystifies the dynamics of the tragedy and challenges the moral certainties that the dominant narrative seeks to establish in relation to the Rwandan war and its tragic outcome. This has important implications concerning the legitimacy of the current Rwandan regime and the international support that sustains it.

Year: 2010
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