Rwanda Genocide

Conflict is inevitable, especially within a social society or where humans interact. In most cases, conflicts between people arise when two or more parties fail to relate or come into agreement on some issues. Besides, conflicts between ethnic groups are common and are politically, socially, or economically-driven in most cases. A society with different ethnic groups or people with differences is prone to social conflict, and this paper discusses the case of the Rwanda genocide that happened in 1994. It gives an overview of the conflict and how it ensued with a particular focus of how colonialism contributed. It explains the conflict from the perspective of protracted social conflict focus using Azar’s model. Lastly, it discusses the appropriateness of the model in relation to the case study’s focus and justifications of the choices made.

Rwanda Genocide Case Study

To understand the origin, nature, and circumstances surrounding the Rwanda genocide conflict, the context in which the conflict occurred will be discussed first. The context forms the basic nature of how and why the conflict occurred, who was involved, and the motivating factors. Prior to Rwanda’s colonization by Germany in 1894, the Rwandan kingdom was ruled by the mwami king. The king belonged to the Tutsi group that maintained political and economic dominance where they were mainly cattle keepers (Scherrer, 2002). The Tutsi group contrasted with the Hutu group, who were agricultural people and did not have much dominance as the Tutsi because the Hutu group did not have a leader in the political arena.

As time went by, the two groups started having distinctions based on economic and social roles rather than racial or ethnic. Following the First World War, Belgium took over Rwanda and Burundi and became their administering authority. This saw the Tutsi group losing its leadership, and upon gaining independence, the Hutu group gained a higher position within the society, surpassing that of the Tutsi. The transfer of power was highly contributed by Belgium as a colonizer of Rwanda. As Rwanda continued to be an independent country, the fears of Tutsi radicalization increased, and the group’s social, political, and economic status dramatically decreased. Inequalities in the ownership of natural resources increased, and this saw the state decreasing its capacity to provide its citizens with basic needs.

Due to food scarcity, ethnic tensions, and diseases that inhabited the Tutsi areas, the Tutsi populations started mass immigration into the neighboring states. However, seeing the conflict between the two groups and the Tutsi group’s challenges, the international community urged Hutu’s president, Habyarimana, to sign a power-sharing deal to see political leaders from the two groups sharing power administratively. The power-sharing deal was known as the Arusha Peace Accord, and the Tutsi political party that Habyarimana was to share the power with Rwandan Patriotic Front (Lemarchand, 2006). Upon realizing they could lose power, the Hutu hardliner arranged for a genocide, which focused on ‘ethnic cleansing.

The genocide started when the Hutu group turned against the Tutsi, and there were mass killings of the Tutsi group where soldiers, militia, and police were executed. The brutality and scale of the genocide were high, but no country intervened to help stop it. Belgium colonization contributed to the genocide by transferring power from the Hutu tribe to the Tutsi (Brannigan & Jones, 2009). However, some historians argue that this is something that has been planned for years. The genocide, propagated by the conflict between the two ethnic groups, resulted in more than 800,000 people mass killings. Besides, an estimated number of between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped during the genocide (Lemarchand, 2006). It had a profound impact on Rwanda’s social, economic, and political areas, given that they were the same reasons that initiated the conflict.

Focus on the Case

While the genocide conflict story is broad, this report will focus on how the cultural identity of one group is threatened. This will be tied with the social conflict resulting from a violent struggle between communities for basic needs such as security, acceptance, recognition, economic participation, and inequity in accessing political institutions. Often, humans are competitive in nature, and every human being strives to take over or rather, get access to basic human needs. Because of the struggle to take and rule over others, some people opt for enhancing inequality in accessing basic resources. For example, when two ethnic groups are competing for power, they all want to take power, resulting in a conflict between them.

By saying that the focus is on how the cultural identity of one group is threatened, it means how the Hutu group threatened the cultural identity of Tutsi. Before the Hutu community took the presidential seat, the Tutsi group identified itself as a high-class group with a high social rank. It had a higher social status and wealth, and this it was more favored that the Hutu group.  However, the other group threatened its cultural identity, and in that case, a conflict ensued.

Arguments for a Research Question

Given that the genocide conflict has had different opinions on the cause and what propagated it, the main research question is the extent to which colonialism played a role in the Rwandan genocide. The question tries to answer how the Belgium colonialism contributed to the two tribes engaging in conflict.  The fact that the two communities had agreed to enter into a peace accord and share the power, the question is what prompted the genocide or the mass killings of people. Additionally, despite the international community chipping in to enhance peace in Rwanda, the president went ahead to insight the brutal killing of people.


One of the arguments to answer this research question is that the genocide was contributed by one group feeling its cultural identity was being threatened. Belgium propagated this through transferring power from the Hutu tribe to the Tutsi group. When Belgium granted Rwanda independence, the Hutu tribe took their place. In this case, the Hutu group that was in power felt that the peace accord threatened its cultural identity of governance or power. The president did not want to give in or surrender part of the power to the other ethnic group to preserve his group’s cultural identity.

Another argument is due to a violent struggle for social and political needs such as recognition, acceptance, security, and power. Given that the president signed the peace accord, it could be that both the president and Tutsi’s leader wanted to outdo the other. Perhaps no one wanted to surrender his power or be under the other one, so they had to struggle violently for recognition, acceptance, and power. In that process, since the Hutu president feared for his group’s security, he planned for a genocide to eliminate the other ethnic group or diminish its power.

It remains that the reason behind the genocide was to preserve the cultural identity of the Hutu group and maintain its power over the Tutsi group. This is evident mainly because the case study mentions the state failing to provide basic needs to the Tutsi group, leading to the group migrating into the neighboring states. It can also be argued in terms of one ethnic group striving to gain full ownership of natural resources to control the country’s economy. In this case, the Hutu group wanted to have complete control and ownership of natural resources to rule over the Hutu group.

Azar’s model for Protracted Social Conflict Model

Edward Azar defines protracted social conflicts as a violent struggle by communal groups that lasted for a long time. The communal groups fight for basic needs such as security, economic participation, recognition, acceptance, and fair access to political participation (Ajisebiyawo & Okonkwo, 2021). Often, the violence is led by differences in racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious lines. They mainly occur sporadically as the groups strive to achieve equality in access if basic needs and justice. Azar argues that such identity-driven rifts are caused by growing fears of persecution, extinction, and massacre (Ajisebiyawo & Okonkwo, 2021). He notes that “the relationship between identity groups and the states is at the core of the problem (Vill, 2012).” In the end, it leads to some groups dominating others.

The main problem is that each group has its own identity and wants to preserve it by dominating the other group’s identity. Consequently, a division between the two groups ensues, leading to social conflict. The violence is protracted because the two groups occasionally keep fighting over their identity when they feel some of their needs are being threatened. The major needs that Azar posits result in social violence or conflict are security, political access, development, and identity in relation to religious and cultural expression.

When a group is deprived of such a need as security, it is likely to engage in violence because their identity or the needs they identify with are being threatened. It emphasizes this model that “deprivation of human needs is the underlying source of protracted social conflict (Vill, 2012).” This means that protracted social conflict occurs when human needs collide with access to those needs. This model can be explained in terms of the motivation theory of the hierarchy of human needs. The theory posits that human beings strive to fulfil one need after another (Noltemeyer et al., 2020). After meeting the basic needs, an individual reaches the actualization stage. Some of the basic needs that humans strive to fulfil are physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Hence, the model asserts that a lack of human needs results in social conflict between competing groups.

The Appropriateness of the Model in relation to the Focus

The model and the Rwanda genocide case are similar in terms of the causes of social violence. Based on the model, the deprivation of human needs, which could be security, access to the political institution, recognition, acceptance, and economic participation, is the root cause of protracted social conflict. The genocide is a protracted social conflict involving two ethnic groups fighting over ownership and controlling such human needs. For example, in this case, the Hutu and Tutsi groups competed over the ownership of power, economic, and natural resources, and due to this, the genocide ensued.

As per the model, the deprivation of human needs is the underlying cause of social conflict. This aligns with the focus of this case because the Hutu’s president deprived the Tutsi group of their essential needs, such as food and security. Besides, the president and his group took over control of most of the country’s resources, depriving the Tutsi group of its basic needs. Another thing that correlates with the model is inequality within the country. Only one group had the power to own the resources at a time. For example, before Rwanda gained independence, the Tutsi group ruled over the Hutu. However, after independence, the Hutu took over the presidential seat and started ruling over the Tutsi.

As the model posits, social conflict is brought about by violent struggle between two groups fighting for basic needs. This aligns with the genocide case because the genocide itself was violent. It involved mass killings of people fighting for their basic needs and preservation of power and cultural identity. The Tutsi group fought for its basic needs while the other group maintained its cultural group. Thus, given the elements of the model correlates with the elements of proceedings of the Rwanda genocide case, the model is appropriate to the focus of the case.

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Explanation/Justification of the Choices

I chose to discuss the Rwanda genocide in relation to the protracted social conflict theory because they align. The constituents of the theory align with the genocide situation in several ways. Firstly, as the model posits, protracted social conflict is influenced by communal content of a society. In this case, the communal relationships within Rwanda in the post-colonial period enhanced the conflict between the two tribes. The communal relationships in this case refers to the collaboration that the two tribes had and how the sharing of resources enhanced the genocide.

Secondly, the genocide was contributed to the lack of accessing human needs, which is one of the factors that contributes to protracted social conflict according to the model. Also, as the model posits under governance and the state’s laws, access to political institution is one of the factors that contributes to protracted social conflict. The Tutsi group were deprived of their needs to access political institutions with the influence of Belgium. All the reasons that led to the genocide are the same reasons that the model asserts cause protracted social conflict. The genocide is an example of a protracted social conflict because it involved a social conflict between two tribes. Besides, it was propagated by social reasons.

The diagram below is a visual explanation of how the Rwanda genocide case can be analyzed using Azar’s model for protracted social conflict.  

•Rwanda Genocide

•Conflict between Tutsi and Hutu groups

•Deprivation of needs (security, political participation, ecomonic participation, food

•violent struggle of basic needs

•end of peace accords due to president’s assassination and planning of mass killing


To sum up, conflict is inevitable, especially in a social situation. The Rwanda genocide was a conflict that was mainly propagated by the violent struggle of two ethnic groups competing for basic needs, specifically economic participation, access to political institutions, security, and ownership of natural resources. The report has analyzed the case using Azar’s Protracted Social Conflict model, which posits that the deprivation of basic human needs is the underlying cause of protracted social conflict. In this case, Hutu’s president feared that making peace with the Tutsi group would deprive him and his group of some basic needs and threaten their cultural identity of leadership. Additionally, the Belgium colonialism profoundly contributed to the genocide through transferring power from the Hutu to the Tutsi tribe. Based on the model’s elements, the case can best be analyzed through the model in terms of the reasons behind the genocide.