n African Journal on Conflict Resolution - Structural violence and the struggle for state power in Rwanda : what Arusha got wrong

Volume 12, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 1562-6997


The 1994 Rwandan genocide occurred despite the existence of a peace and power sharing agreement (the Arusha Accords) to which all parties to the conflict had ostensibly subscribed. This paper addresses the failings of the Arusha peace and power sharing process and makes three core arguments. The first argument is that the Arusha process was more a part of the problem thanit was part of any putative solution because it heightened tensions within élite circles (whose monopoly of state power was seriously challenged) and provided a channel through which aspirant élites could pursue their dangerous goals. Even more fundamentally, the Arusha process failed to tackle the most pressing problems of Rwandan society, including chronic and worsening poverty and the oppressive presence of the state in all aspects of social life. This disastrous cocktail - creating what Uvin (1998) calls a situation of 'structural violence' - laid the basis for mass participation in the genocide of 1994. Far from helping solve these problems, certain international interventions - especially economic 'structural adjustment' that ran parallel to the Arusha negotiations worsened the situation. The Arusha Accords also therefore failed, and this is the second core argument, because they neglected (or worsened) the structural conditions of life for the vast bulk of ordinary Rwandans. The concluding section of the paper examines post-genocide Rwanda and how the legacy of the Arusha Accords has, amongst other devices, been used to legitimise new forms of repression at the same time as the abuse and violence inflicted upon ordinary Rwandans (and their neighbours) have continued. Again, and this is the third core argument of the paper, a seemingly reasonable political agreement to share power is being co-opted for a very different purpose - to legitimate the power of a new ruling élite.

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