Politics as Violence: A Girardian Analysis of Pre-Genocide Rwandan Politics

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Virginia Tech


In 1994 genocide occurred in the tiny, crowded country of Rwanda in the Great Lakes region of Africa. What was unique to that genocide was its efficiency and use of low technology weapons: somewhere around 800,000 to one million persons were killed, mainly by machetes and bullets, and often by neighbors, former friends, or relatives that they knew by name. The killers had been well-prepared for their roles via myth-building and reinforcement of old fears against the victims. There was little to no international intervention, although Rwanda had close political ties with France and a colonial history with Germany and Belgium. Although dozens of books and articles have been written seeking to understand, in both practical and theoretical ways, the motivations of the killers, this research looks to add to that body of knowledge by considering the ideas of a theorist outside traditional political theory — René Girard — and how they may shed some light on the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Girard's conception of mimetic rivalry and his theorization of scapegoating illuminate society-based characteristics of political competition between well-established factions of Rwandan society. These characteristics, if subjected to various manipulations of social positioning and control, can serve to precipitate brutal acts of believed conciliatory violence against a perceived causal group. Without examining the origin of violence in society, an understanding of the 1994 genocide is incomplete, and policies designed to prevent such genocides from recurring may not be effective.



mimesis, Rwanda, genocide, René Girard, scapegoating