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Ethnic Conflicts and Misrepresentation of Rwandan Hutus Essay

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Updated: May 16th, 2020

Rwandan Hutus

When speaking about Rwanda and ethnic disparities and conflicts, many people think about the horrible period in Rwandan history. The genocide that took place in the early 1990s can be regarded as an illustration of possible effects of ethnic tensions as well as a misrepresentation of some conflicts and ethnic groups in the world media, which often leads to deaths of thousands and even millions of innocent people. The conflict in Rwanda involved two ethnic groups, Tutsis (the minority) and Hutus (the majority).

Many people see the core of the conflict in the period of European colonization of Africa and especially the first part of the 20th century, when European nationalism (as well as racism) spread all over the world (Spector 30). Of course, the ethnic conflict could be due to the course of the development of the Rwandan society.

In a nutshell, Hutus who obtained significant political power and in their attempt to keep the power, they started increasing the tension in the society. Tutsis, who opposed the regime, also became more determined and formed a military force. The country’s political elite started significant propaganda (and the radio played a significant role in this process) against Tutsis, who were claimed to be dangerous enemies who wanted all Hutus to be killed (Paluck 574). As a result, a large-scale Civil War started, and it led to the horrible genocide of Tutsis in 1993-1994, which is still underrepresented in media.

Hutus were largely presented as violent militants who committed various crimes, including rape, torture, and slaughter. For instance, western media presented Hutus as cruel militiamen who were responsible for the genocide and deaths of all those people (Pottier 54). At present, the same trend is also apparent. For instance, journalists report about war crimes during that period and mention that Hutus killed Tutsis, and they touch upon the fact that moderate Hutus were also killed (Guilbert). Such messages (which have been prevailing) have contributed to the creation of a very specific image of Rwandan Hutus. The entire ethnic group seems to be constituted by violent killers or those who supported them. It is noteworthy that this image of Hutus is prevalent in the country as well as in the entire world.

However, this is not so as Hutus (in the majority of cases) were also victims of the cruel political elite and armed forces that supported the rulers. Jean-Philippe Stassen’s graphic novel entitled Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda can be regarded as an attempt to unveil the truth and destroy the prejudice against Hutus.

Misrepresentation of Hutus

The major problem associated with the misrepresentation of Hutus is the fact that the created prejudice still affects people’s minds and contributes to the ethnic tension, which is still found in the country. It is clear that the misrepresentation was created (when it comes to world coverage) due to lack of attention on the part of western media (Holmes 130). The 1990s was the period when a number of conflicts, including the Bosnian War, took place in the world. The western world was concerned with its democratic values and had to respond to many challenges and, hence, they missed the horrible conflict in Rwanda.

Of course, European governments used their influence and contributed to the cease-fire regime and the eventual ending of the genocide and war. Nonetheless, Europeans could not cover the conflict in an adequate way, as journalists often did not have the whole picture. Moreover, in the first days of the genocide (and for many people, in later days) it was “not clear who had killed whom” (Doyle 145). Besides, western journalists saw the conflict through the lens of their background and experience, which did not exactly fit the situation.

Those mistakes are still seen in the life of Rwandan people. There is still mistrust of each other. There is still tension that, from time to time, results in violent acts. Many films depict Hutus as the majority that was stuck on their desire to avenge the Tutsis. For example, the film Rwanda Hotel is one such movies that put this topic to the fore (Dauge-Roth 199). On the one hand, the film can help Rwandans understand the core problems, but it is more likely to fuel new conflicts and increase tension, as people will still focus on the prejudice created during decades or even centuries.

Researchers often focus on militarization of the Rwandan society in the 1990s and ideological ‘education’ of Rwandans. Thus, researchers stress that the political elite and Hutu extremists tried to persuade people that Rwanda has to be purely Hutu, and all means could be used to achieve this major goal (Holmes 19). At present, the view that the vast majority of Hutus shared ideological concepts is still present. People still try to stick to their ethnic groups and are quite mistrustful to the other group.

Quite a few people in Rwanda as well as the whole world are ready to tell the whole truth about the conflict. Jean-Philippe Stassen is one of these people. Of course, he admits that many Hutu people took part in the genocide as well as many unlawful activities. The very first characters the reader sees in the novel is the frightened and unstable young Hutu and French soldier who speaks of all innocent victims in quite a disrespectful manner as he regrets that many women were “hacked to bits with machetes” (Jean-Philippe Stassen 3). The author admits that many innocent people died but he also showed the way Hutu people (Deogratias as a representative of the group) felt. Many of them were frightened and disillusioned. They were also victims of the horrible war a group of extremists started.

Violation of Human Rights

Of course, the existing tension and mistrust (which are results of misrepresentation of the Hutus) have led to certain violation of the human rights. Many Hutu people have been brought to court and got their punishment. Two decades after the genocide, some criminals are found as some victims find the courage to speak about their sufferings and shame (Guilbert). This is a good sign, as criminals should be punished.

At the same time, the Tutsi’s political regime affects “differently” the two ethnic groups and people within them and people “have poor access to psychological treatment for trauma” (Paluck 576). Many people are still disoriented and this leads to numerous violations of humans rights. For instance, some articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been violated. Thus, according to Article 1 of the Declaration, all people are equal, have equal rights and “should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood” (“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights”). However, people feel distrust and even hatred as they still associated representatives of certain ethnic group with inhumane acts that took place decades ago. Now, this is manifested through the overall tension in the society and occasional cases of murders, fights or even tortures.

In the mid-1990s (right after the genocide) there were numerous violent acts against Hutus. Thus, Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) or, in other words, Rwandan Tutsi Army attacked Hutu refugees who tried to escape from attacks (Iliopoulos). The Tutsi government decided that there could be extremists in the camps of refugees and thousands of innocent people were killed. It is noteworthy that the ruling elite tried to hide facts of massacre, as they did not want people to talk about two genocides instead of one (Iliopoulos). Again, such facts did not receive enough attention of media and the prejudice against Hutu people was quite strong as people tended to see all representatives of this ethnic group as cruel murders and militants.

More Accurate Portrayal

It is clear that Hutu people are misrepresented and it is important to unveil the truth about them. Of course, it is important to admit that there were many extremists and those who shared their views. Many Hutu people committed horrible crimes against humanity. However, it is impossible to think that all of the Hutus were responsible for the genocide. More so, many of them (the majority) became victims of the conflict as well.

First, people were deceived as the propaganda was quite effective in Rwanda. The political elite tried to make Hutu people believe that they were in danger because of Tutsis. Some Hutus believed but many did not want to be involved in any conflicts. They simply wanted to live in peace.

It is possible to note that the protagonists of Stassen’s novel can be regarded as a symbolic portrayal of the majority of Hutu people. First, Deogratias lived quite happily and he had Tutsi friends. Even though there was some tension in the society, the teenager did not mind it. Likewise, Hutu people got on well with Tutsis and only some extremists could be violent. However, after the genocide Deogratias as well as the majority of Hutus was absolutely lost and disoriented. He became insane and some Hutus also abandoned their peaceful lives and became militants. This is a form of insanity. However, as a result Deogratias and the majority of Hutu people are frightened, disillusioned and wretched.

They feel shame that the war and genocide could take place but they also feel depressed as they are accused of all those crimes they did not commit. As has been mentioned above, many Hutu people were killed during attempts to cease or simply avenge Hutu militiamen. Therefore, it is clear that Hutu people should not be seen as villains and the group responsible for the horrible crimes that took place in the 1990s. It is important to remember that only a part of this ethnic group was violent and committed crimes against humanity. Those criminals have to be punished accordingly. Nonetheless, the rest of the ethnic group have to be decriminalized.

Particular Actions to Undertake

Luckily, many people in Rwanda as well as the country’s government are committed to develop the unified Rwandan society. These people are trying to pay little attention to ethnicity and officials try to stress that there are no Hutus or Tutsis but there are Rwandans (Spector 35). This can be the most important message that people should remember. Researchers try to develop ways to help the society torn by ethnic tensions to become unified. One of these attempts is broadcasting a play via radio. The fictional story touches upon issues Rwandan people had to face and it has been proven that those listening to play find certain reconciliation with the past and are more open to the dialogue with the other group (Paluck 574).

It is clear that art can help people understand each other and forget about the past. Western filmmakers can provide their works aimed at addressing psychological traumas associated with the war. These films can be brought to Rwanda or promoted through social networks. Of course, they should be available online to ensure that more people can benefit from watching them.

Another important way to help Rwandan people to be a unified society is the help to young generations. It is important to make sure that young Rwandans will not be divided in terms of their ethnicity. Of course, educating children will be beneficial. Many NGOs and individuals from western countries have contributed to this mission. For instance, some volunteers have distributed books for children in Rwanda (Leydon). This can be a very good project. Americans and Europeans can donate children’s books, which will be distributed in Rwanda. It is possible to start numerous reading clubs for children. Clearly, the books should be carefully selected to make sure that they help to address psychological traumas and make children less ethnically sensitive. This will help develop a unified society as young children will grow up and will not pay attention to ethnicity like their parents do.

Public Service Announcement

If you are person who cares and wants to make a difference, you should definitely participate in the new project that can shape the world. It has been almost two decades after the genocide in Rwanda and Rwandan people have not still recovered from the horrible disaster. The society is still torn between the two ethnic groups.

It is time to help these people come to terms with themselves, their past and their fellow citizens. The western world let the horrible crime last for several months and we cannot let those people turn to the tension they lived through.

If you are energetic and full of initiative or willing to donate, you can really help Rwandan society become unified. Take part in educational and art projects aimed at uniting the nation and addressing psychological traumas associated with the war. Do not remain indifferent as you can change the world for better and help people to live happier lives. It is also a chance to know more about the life in a country that went through a number of tragic periods.

Works Cited

Dauge-Roth, Alexandre. Writing and Filming the Genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda: Dismembering and Remembering Traumatic History. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2010. Print.

Doyle, Mark. “Reporting the Genocide.” The Media and the Rwanda Genocide. Ed. Allan Thompson. Ann Arbor: IDRC, 2007. 145-160. Print.

Guilbert, Kieran. “Rwanda: Film Shows Bravery of Rwandan Women in First Prosecution of Rape as War Crime.” All Africa 2015. Web.

Holmes, Georgina. Women and War in Rwanda: Gender, Media and the Representation of Genocide. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2013. Print.

Iliopoulos, Katherine. “Two Sides to Every Story: Congo and the Rwandan Genocide.” Crimes of War 2010. Web.

Leydon, Stephanie. “A Reading Rainbow: Gifts of Literacy from Boston to Rwanda.” WGBH News 2015. Web.

Paluck, Elizabeth Levy. “Reducing Intergroup Prejudice and Conflict Using the Media: A Field Experiment in Rwanda.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 96.3 (2009): 574-587. Print.

Pottier, Johan. Re-Imagining Rwanda: Conflict, Survival and Disinformation in the Late Twentieth Century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

Spector, Robyn. “Building on the Past: Media Ethics in Rwanda’s Evolving Post-Genocide Society.” International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life. (2013): 29-38. Web.

Stassen, Jean-Philippe. Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda. Trans. Alexis Siegel. New York: First Second, 2006. Print.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 2015. Web.

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