Coexist Documentary tells the story of the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda, its consequences, and the policies aimed at restoring peace, tolerance, and reconciliation in this South-African country (Upstander Project, 2012). During this catastrophic event, nearly one million people were killed, at least 250000 women were raped, and most of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed. Subsequently, large-scale prosecutions began in the country, and a process of national reconciliation began, the ultimate goal of which is to ensure the peaceful coexistence of all Rwandans. This paper discusses the main factors perpetuating this catastrophic conflict and considers current policies and actions aiming at Rwanda’s population reconciliation. The author suggests that the reasons for the genocide were not ethnic or cultural but rather political and superficial. The paper also considers moral and ethical conflict regarding perpetrators’ actions and comes back to communities as well as discusses the effectiveness of the NGOs and government agencies in promoting unity and reconciliation based on the evidence and testimony presented in the film.
Analysis of Issues
A commonplace in historiography is to reduce the Rwandan catastrophe, and, consequently, the entire subsequent chain of events, to the confrontation between two ethnic groups – the Hutu and the Tutsi. However, in reality, when it comes to Tutsis or Hutu, one can only talk about “imaginary ethnic groups” or “imposed ethnicity”. In any case, one of the key features of “ethnos” is inapplicable to them: they are not separated by any linguistic, cultural, religious, or territorial features. Tutsis and Hutus are ethnic groups only as groups that identify each other based on an alleged difference in their origin (even racially). Whatever the true racial and ethnic origin of “Tutsi” and “Hutu” is, both speak a common language, have common traditions and cultures, live in the same communities, and intermarry.
The main meso-factor that influenced the conflict’s escalation was the progressive “ethnic self-identification” of the Tutsi and Hutu. Both increasingly perceived themselves as special groups with entirely different origins. This process was influenced by a broader macro-factor, when, mainly under the influence of external circumstances (the growth of the wave of decolonization), the issue of national self-determination arose on the agenda. At this point, ethnic protest from the Hutu took on a political and ideological form (Mamdani, 2020). The nationalist and political “Hutu project” was both conservative and revolutionary. Conservative intentions included the restoration of historical justice and a certain original position violated by foreign Tutsis. The revolutionary ones involved eliminating existing political and socio-economic institutions and mechanisms that ensured the preservation of this injustice: the Tutsi monarchy, administrative monopoly Tutsi, and patronage systems in the land sector.
The “ethnic criterion” has lost its monopoly in defining the concept of “enemy”, giving way to other criteria – political and partly socio-economic. The expansion of the enemy’s image, the presence of different, sometimes opposite characteristics, undoubtedly contributed to the de-rationalization of violence and its escape from control and beyond the framework of the “socially acceptable” model.
The Rwandan genocide was a genocide orchestrated by an ethnocratic state. Administrative and party-political structures, paramilitary formations affiliated with them, and propaganda bodies became its framework. The state, primarily in its army and police, acted as a direct participant in the genocide. The priority of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a political party led by current President Paul Kagame, is to end genocide and restore peace and security.
Personal and Professional Reflection
One believes economic factors cannot explain the genocide. The blame for the deed, of course, lies with the war criminals – radical Hutu, the army, Interahavme, ordinary murderers (up to a third of the civilian population participated in the genocide), and the media that incited hatred. The genocide resulted from the deliberate rewarding of fear and hatred by the modern elite seeking to stay in power. Initially, this small privileged group raised a majority against the minority to counter the growing political opposition in Rwanda. By the success of the RPF on the battlefields, this powerful group changed strategy, turning ethnic and cultural divisions into genocide. These people believed that the massacre would restore the unity of the Hutu under their leadership. However, the main factor contributing most strongly to genocide was the macro-political factor, which did not consider local history. A colonial power with an ideology of racial superiority, working in conjunction with some religious organizations, took advantage of the nuances of social differences and institutionalized discrimination.
Currently, Rwanda’s society and the government experience moral and ethical conflict regarding the perpetrators of violence. It is connected with an ethical dilemma of whether they should face justice in the sense of revenge, or should be resocialized in the communities they violently destroyed. Ultimately, this conflict comes to the definition of justice and human life value. One suggests that the best solution is to seek the balance between people’s lives and forgiveness and the absence of impunity.
The difference between tolerance and reconciliation in the Rwanda context is that the former presupposes only non-violent coexistence, whereas the latter involves the rehumanization of perpetrators and coming back to unity. Real reconciliation has not been achieved, and the film shows all the difficulties that both sides face while being next to each other. Currently, the RPF has been trying to achieve tolerance to prevent violence, at least on the surface, for example, to learn to coexist without exhibiting violent acts. As Marc Gwanako, Youth Peace activist, states, “People are lacking trust. They feel insecure when they see the people who killed them still live in the same neighborhood. These people might not be having the same thoughts they had in the genocide but, you know, somebody doesn’t trust them, and they feel insecure” (Upsider Project, 2011). Dr. Tim Longman, the director of African Studies at Boston University, seconds this thesis: “most people do not believe in reconciliation” (Upsider Project, 2011). To create reconciliation, Rwanda needs time. One can suggest that it will happen only with great efforts from the governments and NGOs, but the recipe’s main ingredient is generational change.
Based on the film’s story, one can conclude that the Rwanda Youth Healing Center and REACH have been the most influential agencies in promoting unity and reconciliation. The former helps young people aged 14-25, and the latter helps to mobilize the local communities. REACH prepares communities for receiving the perpetrators when they come home, and conducts seminars with people from both sides.
It is mostly external political factors that disrupted Rwanda society’s harmonious structure and created artificial differences along ethnic lines, with disastrous consequences. Punishing the perpetrators is undoubtedly essential, but even more important is to prevent crimes. Therefore, it is necessary to focus on the prevention of atrocities. Genocide does not arise out of anywhere: it is preceded by human rights violations, discrimination, and hostile rhetoric, as happened in Rwanda. It is important to see these signals in time and prevent them from escalating into a catastrophe, therefore, to develop a mechanism to prevent mass atrocities and to familiarize governments around the world and regional organizations with it.
Mamdani, M. (2020). When victims become killers: Colonialism, nativism, and the genocide in Rwanda. Princeton University Press.
Upstander Project (2012). Coexist Documentary. [Video]. Vimeo. Web.