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This final chapter draws together the complex claims made in the previous chapters into a single overall argument setting out the causal pathway to the genocide. It then takes stock of what we have cumulatively learned about Rwanda’s genocide in the twenty-five years that have elapsed since it occurred and explains the ways in which this book either reinforces or extends the scholarly consensus. It also articulates the book’s more novel contributions to our knowledge and understanding of Rwanda’s genocide and other cases. The chapter finally concludes by considering the broader theoretical implications that the book’s findings have for genocides and mass killings more generally.
This chapter describes the shocking yet puzzling characteristics of Rwanda’s violence that have marked it as a world-historical event and made it a key case for those interested in the study of genocides and mass killings. It offers the reader a review of the many competing theories for how and why genocides occur and also for how and why individuals come to participate in them. It also sets out the current scholarly consensus on these two questions in relation to Rwanda and highlights the various debates that remain unresolved despite the expansive scholarship on Rwanda. The chapter then offers an executive summary of the argument presented in the book and, in anticipation of the potentially polarized and politicized reaction that scholarship on the genocide often generates, a detailed exposition of the methods and evidence relied on to build this argument.
This chapter introduces Rwanda to the reader and explains why this small central African nation represented an extraordinary baseline for the forces that would ultimately lead to the genocide to unfold against. It begins by tracing Rwanda’s historical trajectory from the precolonial to the postcolonial era and zooms in on those features that increased the risk that political contestation would follow ethnic rather than non-ethnic fault-lines in Rwanda. It also documents those characteristics of Rwanda’s socio-demography and geography – several of which, such as its remarkable population density, were highly unusual – that served as amplifiers of the mobilization and violence. It is these extraordinary socio-demographic and geographic features that would account for the extraordinary characteristics of Rwanda’s violence: the speed with which Rwandans mobilized; the number of victims; the speed with which they were killed; and the nationwide scale of the killing.
Chapter seven addresses the question of why some Rwandans killed and others not. Drawing on original data, it provides new estimates of the number of individuals killed and the number of individuals who participated in the violence. It finds that an astonishing one in five Hutu men committed an act of violence during the genocide. However, this still means that four in five did not. Drawing on survey data of 294 Rwandans, the chapter then systematically compares perpetrators against non-perpetrators. Consistent with the consensus on 'ordinary men', it finds few statistically significance differences between them. However, using other evidence, the chapter shows that important dispositional differences nonetheless existed that the perpetrator sample, drawn exclusively from within the prison system, did not capture. It distinguishes between extremists, opportunists, conformists, and pacifists. Perpetrator heterogeneity existed. Differential selection into the violence was not solely dispositional, however. The chapter shows that situational and relational forces also mattered. It maps the household locations of 3,246 residents of a single Rwandan community and finds that where you lived in part determined whether you would be drawn into the violence. Spatial proximity increased the opportunity for ‘social influence’ - the induction of individuals, through coercion or persuasion, into the violence. The chapter also maps the social networks of 130 Rwandans. It finds that who you knew also mattered.
Chapter 5 analyses the impact of the third macro-political factor in Rwanda’s path to genocide: the assassination of the president. The death of Habyarimana, who was by far the longest-serving sub-Saharan African head of state to have been killed-in-office, created a massive and sudden political opportunity. This chapter explains how and why the ensuing power vacuum and power struggles ultimately played out in favour of extremists at the macro-, meso-, and micro-levels in Rwanda. As before, decisions taken by elite actors strategically interacted and the contestation escalated once more in the absence of constraints at the domestic or international levels. At the national level, extremists quickly prevailed over moderates to capture the state because they possessed superior coercive capabilities. At the local level, violence broke out at different moments in part because it took time for local power struggles to resolve in some communities. Extremists and opportunists eclipsed moderates once the centre fell and sometimes with the support of extra-local forces. However, in part, violence onset varied because it also took time to break social bonds in ethnically more cohesive communities. Once extremists captured the state at the local level, they built small groups of supporters, drawing on their social networks. These critical masses then mobilized the wider community using ingroup policing and peer pressure.
Chapter six explains the role of Rwanda’s extraordinary state or ‘authority’ – the last of the three themes in the title. It distinguishes between three dimensions of the state’s power: its capability, legitimacy, and autonomy. While the Rwandan state’s unusual high capacity for coercion and coordination vis-à-vis its citizens is well-known, this chapter shows how its legitimacy and autonomy also mattered. Not everyone participated in the violence out of coercion. The chapter traces the origins of these three facets of the state’s power and explains the ways in which each contributed to the extraordinary scale, speed, and scope of the mobilization. The state’s unusual high legitimacy was essential for public acceptance of and participation in policies that targeted civilians. Its low autonomy was necessary for its institutions to be penetrated and its resources to be instrumentalized for private and ultimately violent ends.
This chapter turns to the first of the three macro-political events whose conjunction – against the unusual baseline described in the previous chapter – led to the genocide: Rwanda’s civil war or 'security'. It explains how, as the security threat intensified, it helped push party politics to fracture at the elite level into extremist and moderate factions. It also shows how the war affected ordinary Rwandans below. It identifies four psycho-social mechanisms through which war-time threat radicalized those parts of the general population directly exposed to the insecurity. Boundary activation, outgroup homogenization, ingroup unification, and legitimation of outgroup targeting all increased as the threat intensified. At the same time, the chapter also shows that most Rwandans were not radicalized before the genocide began. It suggests, instead, that some radicalized as a consequence of participating in the violence. The chapter also argues that the importance of Rwanda’s civil war should not be overstated. While many genocides have occurred during civil wars, most civil wars have not led to genocides. Rwanda’s civil war was a necessary but insufficient condition for the genocide.
Chapter 4 examines the second macro-political factor in Rwanda’s path to genocide: democratization. Political liberalization simultaneously posed a threat to Rwanda’s incumbent elite and created a new political opportunity for challenger elites. The chapter shows how Rwanda’s move to liberalize – in line with the trend across Africa in the early 1990s – collided with its civil war with calamitous effect. The unfortunate coincidence of these two processes pushed Rwanda towards ethnic confrontation. The chapter explores how their interaction exposed a dark side to three processes commonly associated with political liberalization: pluralism, competition, and participation. Pluralization led to the expression of a broad spectrum of political interests and ideologies in Rwanda including the re-emergence of an ethnicist ideology. The chapter shows that this ideology had only marginal support initially. Moderation was ascendant at first and political parties sought cross-ethnic support. However, as the threat posed by the war escalated, this changed. The internal political competition created by multipartyism interacted with this external military contestation. In the face of weak constraints domestically and internationally, ethnic extremism gradually moved from the background to the foreground of Rwandan politics and society. Liberalization also increased political participation and a new class of challenger elites emerged at the local level, a radical sub-set of which would become mobilizing agents during the genocide.
The shocking characteristics of Rwanda's genocide in 1994 have etched themselves indelibly on the global conscience. The Path to Genocide in Rwanda combines extensive, original field data with some of the best existing evidence to evaluate the myriad theories behind the genocide and to offer a rigorous and comprehensive explanation of how and why it occurred, and why so many Rwandans participated in it. Drawing on interviews with over three hundred Rwandans, Omar Shahabudin McDoom systematically compares those who participated in the violence against those who did not. He contrasts communities that experienced violence early with communities where violence began late, as well as communities where violence was limited with communities where it was massive. His findings offer new perspectives on some of the most troubling questions concerning the genocide, while also providing a broader engagement with key theoretical debates in the study of genocides and ethnic conflict.
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