The 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which between 500,000 and 800,000 civilians were killed in three months, is one of the most important cases of ethnic violence since the Cold War. In the past decade, much has been written about the genocide, and Rwanda has come to hold a key place in many university syllabi. Yet the analytic discussion about the dynamics driving the genocide remains fairly narrow. Most analysis focuses on the history of ethnic-identity formation in the country, on the planning for genocide by national-level hard-liners, and on the diffusion of racist propaganda, principally through the radio. The focus, in short, is on the top – on the genocide's “master narratives” and on the most powerful military and political elites in the country who ordered and executed the extermination campaign directed against Rwanda's Tutsi minority.
What remains underexplored is genocide at the micro level. By this I mean a number of different dimensions of the violence, but principally the processes and dynamics that led the violence to spread throughout the country and that led so many Rwandans with no prior history of violence to take part in the killing. We know that hard-liners in the capital called on the population to destroy the “Tutsi enemy,” but we do not know very well how and why that message succeeded – and with such alacrity.
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