The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide


The 1994 Rwandan holocaust has now joined other wars of the twentieth century to bear witness to the human potential for inhumanity. After the journalistic and human rights publications, this is the first English book-length presentation and analysis of the conflict, its background, and immediate aftermath. Prunier is a historian at the French national research center (CNRS) who has spent recent years studying and writing about East Africa. He was a consultant and early player in the French government's creation of the safe-haven "Zone Turquoise" in Southwest Rwanda.

Prunier does a creditable job identifying the historical factors that laid the conditions for genocide. Both German and Belgian colonizers played into the expansionistic practices of precolonial Rwandan royalty. European racial ideologies and Christianization of the elite hardened the definition of Tutsi, Hutu and Twa into mutually exclusive stratified social segments that had formerly been more open. Colonial administrative streamlining of state structures gave the "racially superior" Tutsi class a monopoly on power and resources, through changes in the institutions of chiefship and ubuhake clientage. Most perniciously, the Hutu were deprived of all political power and materially exploited by both the whites and the Tutsi, leading to simmering resentment and hatred that led to thinking the unthinkable.

The book includes information on the Hutu Republic (1959-1990), civil war and foreign intervention (1990-1991), the democratization movement (1991-2), the Arusha Peace Accords (1992-3), the anticipation of and planning for the massacre (1993-4), and the genocidal war (1994). Prunier amply documents and explains the by now unexceptional views that the genocide was planned, and that the assassination of President Habyrimana was carried out by elements within his own government.

The chapter on the role of the French in the war includes Prunier's account of his own involvement in the diplomatic preparation and strategic planning of "Operation Turquoise." As a member of the International Secretariat of the Socialist Parry of France, and sometime critic of French Africa policy, he was invited to identify and help avoid situations potentially embarrassing to France. However, his trenchant analysis does not spare the machinations of the French Foreign Ministry and Presidency as they try to protect the French sphere of influence in Central Africa against "Anglo-Saxon" incursion, which included fears that South Africa might intervene, or that the "Ugandans," the Rwandan Patriotic Front, would bring "English" hegemony to the region. Prunier identifies the internal French political grounds for the operation, and the decisions taken to give Operation Turquoise the appearance of a humanitarian mission when in fact it saved the genocidal government from possible extermination. This book is a must read for everyone who wants to know not just what happened in Rwanda, but why. Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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