Capitalism is violence: Rwanda 1994 Part 1

In the developed world, governments have instituted safety mechanisms to prevent capitalism from destroying society, but what happens when these safety mechanisms are not in place? Add to the mix the imperialist interests of the U.S. and France, and the result is Rwanda 1994.

The seminal work on the 1994 mass slaughter in Rwanda has been done by the late Alison Des Forges of Human Rights Watch (HRW), who along with co-researchers in 1999 produced the book Leave None to Tell the Story. The common story that people know about Rwanda in 1994 is taken from this book and is summed up by a couple of paragraphs on the book’s first page.

In the thirteen weeks after April 6, 1994, at least half a million people perished in the Rwandan genocide, perhaps as many as three quarters of the Tutsi population. At the same time, thousands of Hutu were slain because they opposed the killing campaign and the forces directing it.1

Des Forges goes on to write that,

This genocide resulted from the deliberate choice of a modern elite to foster hatred and to keep itself in power.2

This is the most commonly held belief about Rwanda 1994, but there is a lot of info out there that would suggest that this story is completely wrong.

In Leave None to Tell the Story Des Forges goes on to write,

The necessary data have not been gathered but speculation about death tolls continues anyway, usually informed more by emotion than by fact.3

One of the main catalysts driving Des Forges to write Leave None to Tell the Story was her desire to see Rwandans tried in the International Criminal Court for their participation in the genocide. It is by now pretty clear that she and others at HRW produced data "informed more by emotion than by fact."

First of all the numbers Des Forges bases her assumptions on are fabrications. Des Forges does not provide a citation for the statistic of 500,000 Tutsi killed but Professors Allan Stam of the University of Michigan and Christian Davenport of the University of Notre Dame believe the statistic comes from HRW specialist William Seltzer. Seltzer, writes that 800,000 Rwandans were killed in 1994, 500,000 of them Tutsi. Stam and Davenport, who were working to create a statistical analysis to detail the scale and location of killings in Rwanda during 1994, questioned Seltzer asking him how he came up with this statistic. Seltzer replied,

the figure 'more than 500,000' was modeled on the notion that the estimate of 'about' or 'at least' 6,000,000 died in the Holocaust was sufficient for the Nuremburg prosecution. I can no longer recall why I settled on 500,000 as the lower anchor of my estimate

So apparently the numbers were created so that Rwandans could be prosecuted for the killings and have no basis in reality.4

So how many people did die? The Tutsi survivor support network Ibuka, which is composed of refugees from the conflict, estimates that 345,170 Tutsi were killed. Davenport and Stam after years of research and time spent in Rwanda have found that most likely upwards of 1 million people were killed.5 Yes it is true that Des Forges writes that “moderate” (an extremely misleading term) Hutu were killed during this period, but if this was a straight up genocide against the Tutsi then how is it that almost all of the people killed were Hutu? Were the 700,000 other Hutu who died all "moderate" Hutu? That is very dubious, and in addition Des Forges writes only that “thousands” of “moderate Hutu” were killed, not 700,000.

So we can confidently throw out part of Des Forges’ story of the genocide, that it was almost all Tutsi being killed, and that some much smaller number of “moderate Hutu” were also killed. But what about her contention that,

This genocide resulted from the deliberate choice of a modern elite to foster hatred and to keep itself in power.?

This is also doubtful. In the years leading up to 1994, the elite of Rwanda was facing massive social unrest. Thanks to the efforts of international development agencies such as the World Bank, Rwanda was the poorest country in the world, and its citizenry was well aware of the magnitude of corruption taking place amongst the ruling political party, the MRND. Peter Uvin writes in Aiding Violence : The Development Enterprise in Rwanda,

By the 1990s, the legitimacy of the elite was very low: it was generally seen as a corrupt, distant group, interested primarily in self-preservation and enrichments. Thus, contrary to a widespread vision of Rwandese peasants as obedient executioners of orders from above—even if these orders involved killing their neighbors—they should be seen, like all people, as independent actors, facing constraints, to be sure, but capable of making decisions.6

This summary of the situation from Uvin seems in line with the fact that the majority of people killed, by a good margin, were Hutu. The elite was endlessly fostering hatred of the Tutsi ethnic group, but almost all of the people killed were Hutu. Combine this with the atmosphere of civil unrest in the lead up to 1994 and it seems very doubtful that all of the killings, or even most of the killings in 1994 were orchestrated or instigated by a small elite. Rather as I will explain in subsequent articles, it seems that Rwandans killed each other in order to be able to feed themselves and their families or for reasons similar to this. In addition, if we want to find someone to blame for the killing, as Des Forges and HRW wanted to, we should look no further than Washington DC. That is where the World Bank is headquartered. Of course, HRW is a liberal organization based in America where prisons are for people of color. Rwandans are most definitely not white, but there are plenty of white World Bank employees, and all World Bank employees promote the interests of capital, we can see why one group is put on trial and another is not.

  • 1. Forges, Alison Liebhafsky. "Introduction." In "Leave none to tell the story": genocide in Rwanda. New York: Human Rights Watch ;, 1999. 1.
  • 2. ibid
  • 3. Forges, Alison Liebhafsky. "Leave none to tell the story": genocide in Rwanda. New York: Human Rights Watch; 1999.
  • 4. Stam, Allan. "Understanding the Rwandan Genocide." Lecture, from University of Michigan Ford Center for Political Studies, Ann Arbor, February 1, 2009.
  • 5. ibid
  • 6. Uvin, Peter. "Political and Economic Crises and Radicalization of Society." In Aiding violence: the development enterprise in Rwanda. West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press, 1998. 68.


Jun 12 2014 22:14

Hey, I know we got into this a couple of months ago, glad to see you were able to take it somewhere and do more research. Are there any critical reviews of Des Forges book along the lines that you critique it out there? I've only skimmed her work, and would like to see some tips on what to look out for when I have time to dig into it and other sources.

Jun 13 2014 13:25

Hey Penn, thanks for the encouragement. Well I can't think of any critical reviews. Honestly her book is fantastic in many ways, it's just that the fundamental premise of the book is flawed. The entire book is based around the idea that 1994 Rwanda was all about Hutu killing Tutsi and some moderate Hutu, but we now know thanks to new research that this simply is not true and for whatever reason either due to incompetence or a strong desire to see certain people prosecuted for crimes at the ICC, Des Forges misrepresented the facts. By all means read the book, it is a fascinating tale of political intrigue and brutality, but bear in mind the whole time that it grossly overlooks what really happened which I something that I would like to think I understand a little better and in the following articles I hope I can share some of what I've read with whoever is interested.

Jun 15 2014 14:28

Hey I just want a second chance to clarify some of my thoughts on Des Forges' book. I am not denying that a genocide took place, Tutsi were ruthlessly and methodically targeted, tracked down, and exterminated. This is what Des Forges' book is about. The problem I have with the book is that it barely mentions how the majority of people were killed in Rwanda in 1994, and therefore misrepresents the slaughter as merely a genocide when in fact so much more killing was happening between people of the same ethnic group. Everything that Des Forges documents in the book is true, it is just that what she does not document gives a far more interesting look at the conflict.

There are a couple of reasons why she might have failed to give a better picture of what happened (I was planning to write this in a later article but this thing is going to take so long to put together so I might as well just explain a little bit here). The story that the RPF pushes about Rwanda 1994 is that it was simply a genocide against the Tutsi and nothing more. This is what Des Forges basically agrees with in her book and it is politically easy to do this for a couple of reasons. The first reason is obvious, by the time Des Forges and co researchers went to Rwanda to do research about the conflict, the RPF had won the civil war and were in control of the country. They are a very repressive and authoritarian regime and rest assured they closely monitored the activities of the HRW researchers making sure they did not stray from the conclusions that the RPF wanted them to reach. When Stam and Davenport began making different conclusions about the conflict they were deported. Secondly, the RPF represents the US government. Paul Kagame, the leader of the RPF, current president, and main strategic planner, was trained at a US army base at Fort Leavenworth Texas prior to the 1994 invasion. The school Kagame studied at specializes in training people for planning large scale troop mobilizations. The strategy of the RPF 1994 attack looks exactly like the strategy that the US used in 1991 to attack Iraq. Since the RPF has taken control of the country they have accepted large amounts of US government AID and has become their ally in the war in the DRC. This also explains why the US was reluctant to send troops or even make a strong condemnation of the situation in Rwanda while it was happening. While the US had no problem sending troops into Somalia in 1991 to kill some 1,000 Somalians in a futile attempt to make a commercial (actually not completely as Blackhawk Down comes to mind) they did not want to do the same in Rwanda in 1994 as they understood that this would prevent the RPF from taking control of the country. France did intervene and the reason is obvious, the French government supported the MRND and wanted to prevent their defeat. In fact, the French covered the retreat of the MRND allowing them to relocate to the refugee camps in Zaire from which they later would launch attacks into Rwanda giving the RPF the pretext to invade Zaire triggering the First Congo War which was another miserable bloodbath.

Sorry got off track a bit but the third reasons that HRW might have been preconditioned to not really dig into the realities of Rwanda 1994 is that any true analysis of the situation would have to acknowledge the fact that conflict was overwhelmingly driven by poverty caused by western backed development organizations, most notably the IMF and the World Bank.

Jun 15 2014 15:58

Hey, thanks for the clarification, I think it helps a lot, and makes sense.