"There is a saying in Rwanda that Rwandans must swallow their tears. They do. If they did not, they would surely drown."
(Palmer, 1995, p. 459)
Nearly fifty years after the Holocaust, and one hundred years after the first arrival of Europeans in their land, the people of Rwanda suffered one of the most efficient episodes of mass killing in modern times. Because of its scale and brutality, the outlines of the Rwandan genocide are well known. The facts of the matter are these: from early April to mid-July of 1994, some 800,000 Rwandans were killed, about 10 percent of the pre-genocide population. The victims were predominantly Tutsi; the perpetrators, predominantly Hutu. The slaughter ended when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) gained control of Kigali, the capital city, and the remnants of the Hutu government fled to neighboring countries. In the end, a plan aimed at solidifying Hutu power and identity ended with thousands of Rwandans displaced from their homes and thousands of corpses piled up on the floors of local churches.
The genocide in Rwanda has deeply entangled roots. In recent years, it has been analyzed from a number of angles, and several rich narratives have emerged (Keane, 1995; Gourevitch, 1998). One of the dimensions of the genocide which has begun to receive more attention is its impact on Rwandan children. It is estimated that some 300,000 young people died during the genocide (Women's Commission, 1997). Those who survived carry both physical wounds and the psychological scars of witnessing the death of family members.
This paper will begin with an analysis of the genocide itself, then proceed to discuss its impact on children and the potential for healing and prevention. As a framework for the discussion, I rely primarily on the theoretical model developed by Staub (1989) in his book, The Roots of Evil. Whereas most scholars of genocide have applied political and sociological lenses to the phenomenon, Staub seeks to understand the psychological underpinnings of genocide and mass killing. His model takes account of the preconditions leading to genocide in terms of social conditions, group identity, and cultural dispositions. It also explores the psychology of perpetrators and the role of bystanders in enabling or discouraging mass killing. Rather than elaborating on these elements here, their meaning will be developed throughout the paper in reference to the Rwandan case.
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