Academic journal article International Journal on World Peace

The 1994 Rwandan Conflict: Genocide or War?

Academic journal article International Journal on World Peace

The 1994 Rwandan Conflict: Genocide or War?

Article excerpt

The nature and features of conflict as a concept are often misunderstood, particularly by people outside the domain of peace and conflict or other related social science disciplines. To them, any form of conflict is war. It is commonplace to find people describing a little disagreement between people as war because of the underlying social implications of such a disagreement, whereas, an outright physical combat between another set of people might be seen and handled as mere disagreement. This in essence implies that the socio-psychological factors surrounding a particular conflict would determine its future dynamics and dictate the choice of resolution mechanism to apply. This paper sets out to examine the Rwandan conflict of 1994 as it relates to the concept of genocide and to determine its relationship with war as a concept.

The Rwandan genocide of 1994, although it left none without warning of its impending occurrence, still took the world by surprise. Before the shooting down of the aircraft bearing the President of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart, there existed a political crisis which could have developed into war. However, the United Nations intervention which later produced the Arusha Accords offered a glimmer of hope. The power sharing formula between all Rwandan political stake-holders, which was developed and monitored by UNAMIR, was accepted by both the government of Rwanda, the RPF, the main opposition to the Habyarimana government, and the resonating voice of the Tutsi minority in Rwanda. Indeed, the visit of President Habyarimana to Tanzania was to further deliberate on the Arusha Accords along with the other heads of government in the East African region. If there had been rumbles of war in Rwanda before 1994, the signing of the Arusha Accords had succeeded in diffusing the tension. Therefore, the genocide which trailed the death of President Habyarimana took the world by surprise.

While the entire universe beamed its lenses on Rwanda, wondering and contemplating action and/or inaction, the Hutu extremists who were opposed to the idea of the accord seized the opportunity of the prevailing confusion in the society to unleash the age-long plan for genocide. It was easy, therefore, for casual observers of the crisis to confuse what happened between April and July 1994 in Rwanda with war. The media was agog with a lot of confusing information and the magnitude of the devastation did not provide opportunity for immediate thorough analysis of the situation. As noted by Clark and Kaufman (2008:4), "two worrying trends were discernible: a neglect of basic truths about the genocide, and the proliferation of genocide denial and other forms of damaging revisionism." Kayigamba (2008:42), who is a survivor of the genocide, believes that the whole picture would be clearer if survivors were permitted to recant their experiences in their own words. He says, "We could then undermine clichéd, inaccurate views of the causes of violence in Rwanda that belittle and confuse understandings of the genocide by equating it with war or primitive violence as some media reports did during the genocide, and continue to do even today." The publication of Christian Davenport and Allan Stam titled "Understanding Rwandan Political Violence in 1994" is one of such considered as promoting revisionism as it concerns the Rwandan genocide of 1994 (

Having established that there were distortions in the reporting of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, this paper proceeds to examine the two concepts, war and genocide, in relation to the Rwandan genocide of 1994.


War can be defined as a direct violent encounter between two or more opposing parties with a view to gaining access to an object of their mutual interests. It is usually accompanied by the use of weapons such as guns, bows and arrows, machetes, sticks, biological weapons, and weapons of mass destruction. …

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