On the second Day of the Ongoing Short course organized by AEGIS TRUST on “Genocide and Mass atrocities”: causes, actors and responses; the land conflicts problem in pre-Genocide period has been debated to find out whether land issue was or was not among the causes of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.
Though this topic was brought on the table of discussions this Tuesday 17th July 2018, it is not new among many Rwandans and even among some people from outside Rwanda.
Some Rwandans to some extent believe that Land conflicts were among the major factors that triggered anger among Extremists Hutu who were told even before that the Tutsi monarchy used the land distribution system of Uburetwa to centralize control over the lands.
Historically, the two dominant ethnic groups in both Rwanda and Burundi are the Tutsis and Hutus.
One of the chief historical distinctions between them was that Tutsis were primarily cattle-raisers while Hutus were farmers.
This gradually evolved to a class system in which land, cattle, and power were consolidated in the Tutsi group, and Hutus became indentured servants to Tutsi lords, who granted them protection, cattle, and the use of land in exchange for service and farm produce.
This is where people get confused that during all this time the Hutus who were working as “Abaretwa” accumulated their anger for being slave like (Abacakara) in their own country and that in 1994 it was like opening Pandora’s Box for Hutus to liberate themselves from Tutsi slavery.
Research on whether land conflicts made Hutus to kill Tutsis
Many researchers have done studies to find out if really the problem of land conflicts that existed for a long time has been one of the causes of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.
In his 2005 best-selling book Collapse, Jared Diamond argues that some societies “choose to fail or succeed.” Diamond contends that when populations rise, some societies overuse resources which, in turn, leads to environmental degradation and, ultimately, social collapse.
One of the cases he explores in his book is the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which he calls a modern day Malthusian crisis.
However, the arguments he employs to explain why Rwandan society was unable to peacefully and effectively manage rising population pressures overlook a host of political factors that limited the ability of people to respond to increased competition for land in pre-Genocide Rwanda.
In particular, by focusing on land-related conflict, Diamond overlooks factors that kept Rwandans on rural land: lack of a formal land market that would allow people to sell land and move to more urbanized areas, government policies that limited the movement of citizens from the countryside to urban centers, tightly controlled markets that limited entrepreneurial opportunities for people who might wish to leave farms, and a general pro-rural ideology imposed by the pre-genocide Habyarinama government.
In many of his speeches, Habyarimana each time talked about lands and Agriculture and people were always thinking that their socio-economic development relies on farming only.
Diamond shows that unlike citizens in many other densely populated countries such as Belgium, Hong Kong, and Singapore, Rwandans had only limited freedom to deal with rising population pressures.
He argues that while land conflict was an important feature of pre-genocide Rwanda it was not the primary impetus for violence and genocide.
A more nuanced interpretation of Rwanda’s genocide would see that government policies that limited land sales, freedom of movement and labor opportunities contributed in important ways to discontent among Rwandans.
Linking land problem to the Genocide is a very weak assumption
During a Presentation on causes of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis, Prof. Rutayisire Paul, a Professor of Modern African History and Rwandan History at the Center for Conflict Management, College of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Rwanda explained that “On land issue, people have to be careful. Land issue has been there for a long time but there were no killings.”
Prof. Rutayisire added that “When people were involved in land conflicts they went to refuge and leave their lands. Even extreme poor were not likely to kill.”
Speaking on population Growth, land and greed, Assistant Prof. Bizoza Alfred noted that “Putting land conflict among causes of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi is a very weak assumption.”
Prof. Bizoza however added that “land was used as a motivator to commit Genocide.”
There were some ordinary people who killed for economic gains.
“The Genocide comes as the outcome of the dreams of the previous regime and what we are dreaming today will be the outcome of Rwanda we want.” Prof. Bizoza said.
He highlighted that access to land was an issue because the previous regimes not allowed people to have access to their lands rights.
“This time people have access to their lands rights. They can sell it whenever they want. Before people used to be deprived their access to lands and take refuge
“Land market was constrained. If I had one hectare or two I was not allowed to buy another portion, but today how many have two hectares and have to buy other plots? There are many!”
No worries of Future conflicts linked to land
Responding to concerns that population growth could lead to other conflicts in futre, Prof. Bizoza said that “Population Growth is not a problem to land. What will be the problem is how we will fail to make better use of lands,
“There is a need to create more jobs to be given to the growing number of population and make better decisions on land use and management.”
Based on certain assumptions, Prof. Bizoza uses statistics and demonstrates that by 2050: there will be 50% of population in farming sector compared to the current percentage which stands at 75% while in the same projections 50% others will be involved in the non-farming sector “if we keep the current development pace”
He also noted that 57.8% of cultivable lands in Rwanda are not cultivated.
Bizoza noted that the population growth will continue on lower pace