Sacrifice as Terror: The Rwandan Genocide of 1994

Sacrifice as Terror: The Rwandan Genocide of 1994

Sacrifice as Terror: The Rwandan Genocide of 1994

Sacrifice as Terror: The Rwandan Genocide of 1994

Synopsis

In the early months of 1994, it became clear that the government of Rwanda had not acted in good faith in signing peace accords with its adversary, the Rwandan Patriotic Front. Acts of government-sponsored violence grew more frequent. The author of this book, who at that point was conducting fieldwork in Rwanda, on several occasions found either himself or the Rwandans accompanying him threatened with, or sustaining, bodily harm. Finally, active hostilities between the antagonists escalated on April 7, 1994, just hours after the Rwandan President's plane was shot down. During the author's evacuation from Rwanda in the months following, he interviewed many survivors.This book, the outcome of the author's experiences during the conflict, is an attempt to understand the atrocities committed during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which nearly one million people, mostly of Tutsi ethnicity, were slaughtered in less than four months. Beyond this, the author shows that political and historical analyses, while necessary in understanding the violence, fail to explain the forms that the violence took and the degree of passion that motivated it. Instead, Rwandan ritual and practices related to the body are revelatory in this regard, as the body is the ultimate tablet upon which the dictates of the nation-state are inscribed. One rather bizarre example of this is that Hutu extremists often married or had sexual relations with Tutsi women who, according to the Hamitic hypothesis, were said to be sexually alluring. Their mixed-race offspring were not exempt from the genocide. Finally, and perhaps most importantly in light of the recent resurgence of violence, the author advances hypotheses about how the violence in Rwanda and Burundi might be transcended.

Excerpt

How does one make sense of events that defy reason - events like those that occurred in Rwanda during 1994, costing the lives of one million people, one seventh of the country's population? How many ways are there to understand mass violence and murder? What constitutes sense under such circumstances? Is it singular? Is it plural? Or is it neither, nothing but a useless conceit driven more by the scholar's need to explain than a world's desire to understand? How do we harness the tools of anthropology to make such an event comprehensible? What kinds of understanding can prevent future violence in Rwanda? Are there ‘magic bullet’ insights out there whose revelation might break the cycle of crime and counter-crime that have plagued the region for the past forty years? Will Rwanda's people ever be able to bridge the chasm that ethno-nationalism and genocide has left among them?

And where to begin? With the historical antecedents? The political divisions? The social tensions? External pressures? Class disparities? Gender disparities? Or, as sore have suggested, internal cultural proclivities to violence? How does one speak dispassionately of the unspeakable, the horror of genocide - a genocide that took the lives of close friends and colleagues? These are questions that have tortured me ever since I was evacuated from Rwanda on 9 April 1994, just two-and-a-half days after hostilities resumed between Rwandan Government Forces (RGF) and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) when President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed in a missile attack on his personal plane on 6 April 1994.

With some notable exceptions, most media depictions of armed conflict in sub-Saharan Africa have tended to reinforce negative Western stereotypes about Africans. The genocide in Rwanda did nothing to dispel these impressions and, if anything, rekindled them with added intensity. Yet how quickly many of us in the West forget . . .

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