Working Paper
Development, Aid and Conflict

Reflections from the Case of Rwanda

Rwanda's genocide is the end-result of a combination of processes, none of which can easily be priorized or separated from the others. These processes are: extreme pauperization and reduction of life chances for a majority of the poor, especially from 1985 onwards; the Front Patriotique Rwandais (FPR) invasion and the civil war that followed; an uninformed and uneducated peasant mass treated in an authoritarian and condescending manner; a history of impunity, human rights violations, corruption, and abuse of power; a deep-felt frustration and cynicism by many poor people; rapidly growing regional, ethnic, and social inequality; political strategies employed by small elite groups in search of protection against the pressures of discontent and democratization; the existence of past and current acts of violence; and a history of institutionalized, state-sponsored racism. It is a key assertion of this paper that the way development has been defined, managed, and implemented by the government and supported by the international aid community is of central importance in understanding the creation and evolution of these processes. Rwanda, like many other so-called developing countries, is structurally a very violent society. It is not only violent when massive physical harm is being done with arms by one group against the other, such as from 1990 onward. The violence is continuous, manifested in a deep and widening inequality of life chances; corruption, arbitrariness, and impunity; lack of access to information, education, health, and minimal basic needs; and an omnipresent, authoritarian, and condescending state and aid system, which limit rather than enrich most people's life chances. Acute violence, then, serves different functions: it is a tool for temporary personal gain, as culturally acceptable as it is common; it is a pressure release for frustration and lack of self-respect, as acceptable as it is encouraged by the political leadership; and it is a job opportunity for the lucky few who join militia and mobs, its gain potential vastly bigger than any legal' opportunity available. Structural violence breeds acute violence and vice versa, and attempts to finance 'induced development' defined as economic growth, while neglecting social, political, and ethnic issues, will change very little at that, if they do not contribute to it. Violence in Rwanda emanated from a racist/genocidal ideology that, in turn, fed on two basic structural processes, one emanating from the top, and one from the bottom. For decades, anti-Tutsi racism had served as a deliberately-maintained strategy of legitimization of the powers-that-be, and was kept alive through a systematic public structure of differentiation and discrimination, in which the 'Tutsi problem' was never allowed to be forgotten. Under threat by political and economic processes, parts of the elite increased their use of the old strategy and effectively managed to spread it throughout society.