Language and the Rwandan Genocide

The thought of genocide can spread through a village, city, or country like wildfire. Those perpetuating the genocide begin to act aggressively, fueled with their personal hatred of a group or by the guidance of their corrupt government implementing the task.  I found it interesting how effective the perpetrators of a genocide can use language and imagery to their advantage to help influence their fellow countrymen to become involved with the dehumanization and extermination of the opposed group.

I found that the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 showed clear examples of how perpetrators use language to their advantage during a time of genocide. The Hutu population of Rwanda had a nice majority over the Tutsi group (85% to the Tutsi’s 14%). The Hutus already blamed the Tutsi for the social, economical, and political pressures of the country and the Hutu president Juvénal Habyarimana used political propaganda to further divide the two ethnic groups causing more strife. The use of propaganda helped the Hutus remember the times of the oppressive Tutsi rule, allowing some to resent the Tutsis and in return helped influence their minds during the genocide. The promotion of Tutsi hate throughout Rwanda was very much alive.

The Hutu’s preparation for the Rwandan genocide happened quickly. Emotions were heavy and revenge for their oppression was real. The unknown shooting down of Hapyarimana’s plane was the spark that the Hutus needed to fuel their fire to begin their murder spree. The Hutu extremist immediately enforced the extermination of the Tutsi group, by allowing all citizens to participate in honoring their late president: by eliminating all of the Tutsi group and those associated with them. Shouts echoed across Rwanda: “Cut up the inyenzi with machetes!”

Inyenzi, the Tutsi were called. The Hutus dehumanized the Tutsi by first killing them with their words, calling them Inyenzi or cockroaches in English. They were scum to the Hutus, the minority. More propaganda such as political cartoons for Hutus who could not read instructed them to eliminate all Tutsis. Over 200,000 people participated as perpetrators during the 100-day genocide resulting in over 800,000 Tutsi perished as well as thousands of Hutus who opposed the extremist views of the perpetrators. 

I feel that the Rwandan genocide was promoted through the divisions of the two ethnic groups. The extremist Hutu groups were able to easily influence their fellow Hutus by promoting hatred of the Tutsis, seeing them as unequal to the Hutus. The Hutus had an ideology that they were superior to the Tutsi, calling them snakes and cockroaches. They influenced the majority of Rwanda into thinking that the Tutsi were less than human. Their use of language enabled the genocide to move effectively in their favor until the Rwandan Patriotic Front overthrew the extremists.

Overall, I found that those extremists associated with genocide all use the same certain steps leading up to the destruction of groups. The hatred that these people have for certain groups is completely sickening. And I find that their effective use of language to influence so many people to follow their rules is just as sickening to me.


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