The Role of Media. Peace Journalism and the Rwandan Genocide

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Peace Journalism and the Rwandan Genocide
Role of Media in times of Rwandan genocide


During the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Hutu extremists killed nearly 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. There are many causes of the clearest genocide since the Holocaust. Western policies take on part of the guilt, even since colonial times. Power hungry leaders and officials had found themselves in a perfect situation to spread hatred, with a helping hand of the media. Rwandan media even incited the massive slaughter of Tutsis, whereas international media showed disinterest in the event. There was a lack of international media coverage, and the journalists that were present misrepresented the facts, creating confusion in the Western world about what was happening. It made the situation seem less important, which was convenient for the Western policymakers that were unwilling to intervene. Journalism, however, can have a positive effect on war and conflict. By using peace journalism, rather than war journalism, the focus of attention is drawn to creative, non-violent options that promote peace.


"The media, like so many others in Rwanda, failed. The world powers failed. Individually we failed." — Roméo Dallaire, head of UN mission to Rwanda

The 1994 Rwandan genocide is one of the most cruel and outrageous events in recent human history. During this period, the darkest in the small African country, media did not do anything in order to stop the genocide. In fact, the major Rwandan media even encouraged the mass killings. Hindsight, the media and the international community are said to have failed by solely standing and watching it happen. What the reasons for this lack of media coverage is, how media contributed to the Rwandan genocide, and how media can contribute to a peaceful international society, is what this paper attempts to answer.

Rwandan Genocide

In only 100 days of genocide, nearly 1 million Rwandans had been killed, and nearly 2 million Rwandans sought refugees in neighboring countries. Extremist Hutus picked up their weapons and machetes, and attempted to kill all Tutsis and moderate Hutus. They spoke the same language and originated from the same country, but throughout history they had become different ethnic groups that eventually became to hate each other.

The United States of America was anti-intervention in this period, due to the scandal in Somalia a year earlier. American soldiers were killed and their bodies were paraded through the streets, to set an example for other ‘intruders’ of their country. The USA therefore said not to intervene anymore in a situation where they did not have interests. Rwanda was such a place. The only exception for this new policy was in case of genocide. The US was therefore very hesitant using the word genocide, as they were not happy to intervene in an African country again. Only after most of the killing was done, in June, the US government started using the word genocide. There were UN troops on Rwandan ground before the genocide started, and shortly after it started. However, the troops were sent back, because the Western world did not want to be involved in ‘another African tribal war’.

There are three main Western policies, which significantly contributed to the evolvement of the Rwandan genocide. Firstly, in the colonial times, Belgium divided the Rwandan citizens in two groups: Hutus and Tutsis. This classification of human beings has continued to exist since the end of the colonial times until the present. The Rwandans had their classification imprinted in their identity cards, and together with the hatred of  ‘us’ against ‘them’, these were all tools necessary for violence between two groups. Secondly, French (and South African) governments supported the Hutu leaders and their followers by providing them with arms and weapons, which they used to kill Tutsis. There was no international media coverage on this at all. Finally, the IMF and World Bank and their policies have contributed to the Rwandan genocide. They wanted to stop the international financial support to Rwanda, by forcing economic policies on the Rwandan government, which eliminated all economic safety nets for citizens. This became a problem in the 1980s when the coffee market collapsed, of which most Rwandans live, and resulted in impoverishment. In prosperous times, hatred and war are less likely to happen than in a situation of poverty. That is why power hungry leaders found themselves in a perfect situation to spread aversion.

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War vs. Peace Journalism

War journalism has a bias towards violence and conflict, and provides the audience with mainly violent solutions to a problem, neglecting non-violent options. When reporting a conflict between two parties, war journalism discusses the differences between the parties, rather than the similarities or common ground. It calls for hatred and stimulates the usage of more violence. Furthermore, war journalism focuses on the physical effects of the conflict, instead of the emotional or psychological effects. Additionally, it assumes that one party can only gain if the other party loses (zero sum). It is said to be ...

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