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Abstract

Writing in the throws of the throws of the Algerian war, Martiniquan political theorist Frantz Fanon offered a revolutionary solution to the colonial problem: only through the violent elimination of the colonizer could the colonized individual come to realize itself as liberated and self-sufficient, as well as part of a broader national community. The prescription was vicious and uncompromising, but its manifestations long after decolonization would prove even more bloody and disturbing. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda was prefaced upon this very notion of liberation through ethnic violence. The Bahutu government, faced with war against Batutsi militants, an economic tailspin, and a slipping grip on power, turned to the same identity-building rhetoric Fanon offered several decades earlier. By constructing an oppressive, colonial Batutsi identity, the Bahutu government pushed citizens to ruthlessly slaughter thousands of their neighbors and countrymen in the name of liberation and national sovereignty. Fanon envisioned violence as a way to overcome entrenched racial inequalities, yet, what made the Rwandan genocide most tragic was its inherent arbitrariness—the colonial divisions, the oppressive inequality, the need for ethnic solidarity, were wholly constructed for the instrumental gain of an increasingly authoritarian regime.

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