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Comparing the Rwandan Genocide to the Nazi Holocaust- Mahmood Mamdani


Of all the material I’ve read concerning the Rwandan Genocide, this passage written by Mahmood Mamdani in “When Victims Become Killers” remains one of the most chilling.

“In the history of genocide, the Rwandan genocide raises a difficult political question. Unlike the Nazi Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide was not carried out from a distance, in remote concentration camps beyond national borders, in industrial killing camps operated by agents who often did no more than drop Zyklon B crystals into gas chambers from above. The Rwandan genocide was executed with the slash of machetes rather than the drop of crystals, with all the gruesome detail of a street murder from than the bureaucratic efficiency of a mass extermination. The difference in technology is indicative of a more significant social difference. The technology of the holocaust allowed a few to kill many, but the machete had to be wielded by a single pair of hands. It required not one but many hacks of a machete to kill even one person. With a machete, killing was hard work, that is why there were often several killers for every single victim. Whereas Nazis made every attempt to separate victims from perpetrators, the Rwandan genocide was very much an intimate affair. It was carried out by hundreds of thousands, perhaps even more, and witnessed by millions. In a private conversation in 1997, a minister in the Rwanda Patriotic Front-led government contrasted the two horrors: ‘In Germany, the Jews were taken out of their residences, moved to distant far away locations, and killed there, almost anonymously. In Rwanda, the government did not kill. It prepared the population, enraged it and enticed it. Your neighbours killed you.” And then he added, “In Germany if the population participated in the killing, it was not directly but indirectly. If the neighbour’s son killed, it is because he joined the army.’

….the Rwandan genocide poses a set of deeply troubling questions. Why did hundreds of thousands, those who had never before killed, take part in mass slaughter? Why did such a disproportionate number of the educated–not just members of the political elite but civic leaders such as doctors, nurses, judges, human rights activists, and so on–play a leading role in the genocide? Similarly, why did places of shelter where victims expected sanctuary–churches, hospitals, and schools–turn into slaughterhouses where innocents were murdered in the tens and hundreds, sometimes even thousands?”

  1. James Nachtwey for TIME

    James Nachtwey for TIME

    What happened during the genocide was a tribal conflict

There are NO TRIBES in Rwanda. Tutsi and Hutu are socio-economic terms- Hutu being the working class and the Tutsi being the wealthier elites.

2. International community did not know until it was too late

Besides the 7 international human rights reports that were issued between 1990-1994, the ‘genocide fax’ sent by Romeo Dallaire to UN Headquarters on January 11, 1994 contained specific information provided by an informant. Approval to put down the threat never came.

3.   Spontaneous rage over the shooting down of Rwandan President Habyarimana’s plane started the genocide. Hutu attacked Tutsi in retaliation.

There were various rumblings from Hutu Extremists against the President for agreeing to the Arusha Accords, which would have been signed had he not been murdered. Among Hutu and Tutsi, the killing of the president sent a fearful signal that the killing would start. The first victims of the genocide were Hutu Moderates (political opposition to Hutu Power).

4.  800,000 people died within 100 days

The killing took place at such a fast pace that getting an accurate number of those killed was not the priority, and yet many still claim 800,000 is ‘The’ number. Three weeks into the genocide, the Red Cross in Kigali estimated 250,000 had been killed. A week later, they said at least 500,000 had been killed. When BBC asked for numbers the following week, an overwrought Philippe Gaillard, head of the Red Cross’s delegation in Rwanda answered, “After half a million, sir, we stopped counting.”

5.   Rape was a by-product during the genocide

Raping Tutsi women was part of the genocide- to brutally inflict suffering before killing them. If they lived, they experienced a social death within their community, or worse, bore the child of their attacker.

Preparing for genocide….


Reading Jean Haztfeld’s “The Antelope’s Strategy: Living in Rwanda After the Genocide” and came across an excerpt that is so fitting… So many people believe that genocide is a spontaneous act committed by the insane, enraged and disenfranchised lower echelons of a society. Viewing the Rwandan genocide as such, or as an ‘African problem’ does nothing to help understand what really took place. The more we understand the careful planning, the deliberateness of killing, the intelligence and motivation behind the killing, the more chilling it becomes.. And maybe it goes to say that dehumanizing the killers and labelling them as ‘monsters’ or ‘demons’ makes it a little safer for us to distance ourselves from what took place. Being human, and seeing others as human, requires us to understand that intelligent people at the highest levels of their government, community, military, people with families chose to orchestrate the best way they knew how to deal with the ‘Tutsi problem’ and influenced, persuaded, and poisoned others to carry out their plan.

In Rwanda, the killing was carried out by next door neighbours, a trusted mayor, a priest, a family member. They once trusted the people who killed them- You wouldn’t have your baby baptized by a demon, and You wouldn’t have your neighbour over for dinner if you thought one day he would murder you and your young children…

Back to that passage I first mentioned before my rant- It is a quote from one of the survivors

“A genocide must be photographed before the killings–to show clearly the preparation, the faces of the leaders, the stockpiled machetes, the complicity of the French soldiers or the Belgian priests, the careful organization of the hunting expeditions. In my opinion, pictures of the preambles and the premeditation are the only important ones for allowing foreigners to understand the mechanics of the thing.

“And the genocide can be photographed afterward–to show the corpses, the survivors’ haggard faces, the arrogance or shame of the killers, the churches piled high with bones, the events in Congo and Canada, the penitentiaries, the ceremonious foreigners visiting the memorials.”

The question that comes to mind–If there had been photographed evidence that genocide was being planned, would the international community have stopped it? (I feel another rant coming on…). I say no. Not with the mountain of evidence that many knew and were forewarned. One example- Between 1990 and when the genocide began on April 7 1994, 7 international human rights reports on Rwanda detailing what was being planned. Read Linda Melvern’s “Conspiracy to Murder”– ‘The massacres were planned and prepared with targets identified in speeches by representatives of the authorities. Those who carried out the massacres were under organised leadership and local government officials had played a leading role.’

As far as warning signs go, Rwanda was sending out many. The international community worked harder to ignore the signs than it did to act on them. </rant>

Child Soldiers used during the Rwandan Genocide


“My experience in Rwanda taught me that soldiers—be they rebels, armed thugs or conscripts—respond to soldiers: it turned out that I could use my military rank and my operational credentials as a bridge to negotiate even with the bloodied youth leaders of the Interahamwe, whose machetes had hacked their neighbours to death. No matter what force you fight there is an unspoken respect for rank that could be taken advantage of. Rebel leaders who relied on child soldiers had been bombarded with attention from the NGOs, which would of course never discuss the actual tactical and strategic value of the use of children with them, but they had never been approached by a former senior operational commander in a humanitarian role. No one seemed to be speaking the language the rebel leaders were using when it came to their primary operational forces, these child soldiers. No one was making the argument that the inexhaustible availability of child soldiers are well as the proliferation of small arms were actually fuelling conflict and keeping wars going.” ~ Romeo Dallaire They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children

The Rwandan Genocide- 19 years and counting

For many, the Rwandan genocide began the evening of April 6, 1994.. For others, it began early morning April 7 1994. Many have been told that the genocide killed 800,000 Tutsi. The reality is that over 1,094,000 (still a conservative number) Tutsi and Hutu moderates were brutally killed by their family members, neighbours, and a militia trained to kill 1,000 human beings every 20 minutes.

Despite the disparities and the controversies that arise, it is important to remember Rwanda, and those who survived, who are struggling to survive as they live with extreme loss.

The Rwandan week long Commemoration is April 7-13 2013.

In remembrance of the genocide, and to show support for Rwandans, change your Facebook profile picture to a picture of a lit candle. Wear grey (the new Rwandan colour of mourning). Say a few kind words acknowledging how fortunate we are to never have seen or felt such horror. And love your family. Many Rwandans I’ve met have lost too many precious members of their family. They remind me, always, not to take mine for granted.

Rwandan Genocide~ Remembering 20 Years Later (1994-2014)



The main purpose of this blog is to inform and educate others in preparation for the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, which will occur on April 7, 2014. Also, it is important to remember those who were lost, those who survived, and those who have struggled to rebuild their country and lives. We must always, in remembering what was lost, recognize the accomplishments Rwandans have achieved especially after such a horrific event overcame their country.