The Rwandan Mass Murder of 1994

I have been researching the mass murder that occurred in Rwanda over the course of a couple of months, starting in March of 1994. This was precipitated by the death of the President of Rwanda who’s plane was shot down by unknown persons. It’s estimated that anywhere from 500,000 to 1,000,000 people, mostly identified as “Tutsis”, were murdered by militias and government soldiers, most of whom were identified as “Hutu”.

The parallels to the holocaust during World War II are readily apparent. There was an extreme xenophobia resting in a “tribal-mindset” and a generalized belief on the part of the Hutus that their problems were the result of the hated minority group. The people committing mass murder also had the same mindset as the average German: that if their government ordered them to commit murder, then they had no choice but to obey.

The Objectivist position is that this “tribal mindset” in Germany was formalized by the works of Immanuel Kant who stated that one must do one’s “duty” in spite of any desires to the contrary. Kant also said that your “noumenal self” actually wants you to do your “duty”, even though there is no rational way to know what your “noumenal self” wants. The Nazi “translation” of Kant was to say that your “Aryan blood” tells you what your duty is, and, in practice, this probably just reduces to: “duty is whatever the leader says it is”.  Both 1994 Rwanda and WWII Germany were marked by a distinct anti-individualism with mystic notions about the power of the ethnic or tribal collective’s authority to govern the individual.

Since Rwanda is a non-Western culture, I don’t know where the Hutu majority got their anti-individualist mindset.  Rwanda was a German colony prior to being taken over by the Belgians after World War I, but I don’t know that German culture would have permeated Rwanda that quickly or comprehensively to call that the cause from the standpoint of the history of ideas. This “tribal mindset” is probably common in any primitive society, although I think it would be interesting to see if German ideas gave the “Hutu power” movement academic and cultural respectability.

The other interesting parallel between Nazi Germany and 1994 Rwanda is the lack of racial difference between the group committing mass-murder and the group that was the victim of the mass-murder. The hatred was not based on race, since Hutus and Tutsis are racially indistinguishable, just like Germans and Jews were racially indistinguishable. Although I found commentators referring to Rwandan culture as racist, I think a more accurate description might be “tribal mindset”.


[1]”The most profound factor fueling the transmission of genocidal ideology from the regime to the masses, however, was the longstanding and deeply ingrained racism of Rwandan society. Racism develops when the objective differences between oneself and others are not accepted but rather morally condemned. The ‘other’ is construed as categorically evil, dangerous, and threatening. For decades, Rwandan society had been profoundly racist. The image of the Tutsi as inherently evil and exploitative was, and still is, deeply rooted in the psyche of most Rwandans; this image was a founding pillar of the genocide to come. Although ethnic peace had prevailed during most of the regime, the racist nature of Rwandan society had not changed.” (“4 Rwanda’s Lack of Resources and Extreme Poverty Provided the Breeding Grounds for Genocide” by Peter Uvin, found in _The Rwanda Genocide_, Opposing Viewpoints Series, Edited by Christina Fisanick, ISBN: 0-7377-1985-0, 2004, Greenhaven Press.)

[2]“Now, having ‘returned’ to a country many of them did not know, they were confronted with the triple conundrum of dead relatives, limited economic opportunities, and cultural strangeness. They were discovering that, paradoxically, Tutsi survivors often had more in common with their Hutu neighbors than with themselves. They started to divide and quarrel according to their synthetic ‘tribes of exile,’ that is, the countries where they had spent their years away from Rwanda. There were ‘Zairians’, ‘Burundians,’ ‘Tanzanians,’ and ‘Ugandans,’ as well as those from more exotic places not ranking high enough in terms of returnee numbers to constitute a serious network of solidarity. If these distincutions didn’t matter too much in daily life, they mattered a lot as soon as politics, business, or the military was involved. Networks and mafias emerged, struggling for political control and economic advantage in the midst of the ruins.” (“Chapter 1: Rwanda’s Mixed Season of Hope (July 1994-April 1995), _Africa’s World War: Congo, The Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe_ Gerard Prunier, Oxford University Press, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-19-537420-9)

[3]_The Ominous Parallels_, Volume 3 of Ayn Rand library, by Leonard Peikoff

[4] “Tribalism” in _The Ayn Rand Lexicon_