Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 October 2020
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.
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