Dehumanisation: How Tutsis were reduced to cockroaches, snakes to be killed

For genocide to occur, it must be preceded by the dehumanisation of a group. To dehumanise means to deny the humanity of someone, reducing them to sub-humans. 
Kangura issue 40 argued that the Tutsi, like a cockroach, use the cover of darkness to infiltrate. File.
Kangura issue 40 argued that the Tutsi, like a cockroach, use the cover of darkness to infiltrate. File.

For genocide to occur, it must be preceded by the dehumanisation of a group. To dehumanise means to deny the humanity of someone, reducing them to sub-humans.  

In addition, dehumanisation removes the individuality of a person. There is no difference between the group and the individuals. When done well, pity for the “other” becomes impossible and extermination becomes the natural next step.

In Nazi Germany, the Jews were called the inferior race and transformed into the reason behind all of Germany’s economic and social problems. Later, the Star of David was used to identify those to be killed.

In the years leading up to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the government used all its propaganda machinery to spread bigotry and hatred of the Tutsi.

Tutsis were now called inyenzi (cockroach). The term became ingrained in the public sphere as almost every single Kangura edition, hate radio RTLM and outspoken politicians claiming to defend Hutu power referred to human beings as cockroaches.

In Kangura, issue 40, the editorial title said it all: “A cockroach cannot bring forth a butterfly.” The editorial argued that the Tutsi, like a cockroach, use the cover of darkness to infiltrate; “the Tutsi camouflages himself to commit crimes.”

This was not just one member of the group. All Tutsi men, women and children were no longer citizens of a nation but cockroaches. In the same way, all Tutsis were gradually associated with being spies of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF)–Inyenzi–qualifying as enemies to be killed.

The origins of inyenzi

The word inyenzi originated among the Tutsi themselves. Inyenzi designated the armed movement in exile formed by Tutsi youth whose families had been thrown out of the country fleeing persecution during the decades that followed the 1959 pogrom. The armed wing would attack at night and were known for their exemplary discipline and courage.

However, the genocidal government turned the inyenzi identity into a deragotary word. All Tutsis became inyenzi.

This was not a coincidence. Equating Tutsi with cockroaches meant that few would think twice about killing and attempting to exterminate something so vile, dirty and sneaky.

A military threat in the 1960’s became the perfect tool of dehumanistion in the 1990’s. The semantics were perfect. 

When the RPF launched the liberation struggle in 1990, the extremists in power used the attack and subsequent fighting to justify the demonisation of all Tutsi.

No longer were the inyenzi a threat from the outside, but the ‘cockroaches’ were everywhere. No one was innocent, the men and women were spies and the children, if not killed, would grow up to be spies.

The same Kangura issue 40 even warned politicians from shielding Tutsis who by birth are inyenzi. 

“They are all related since some are the grandchildren of others… Their wickedness is identical,” the publication said.

Kangura itself means ‘to wake up’.

And, in the end, from politician to the ordinary farmer, Hutus united to get rid of the ‘cockroaches,’ working together to exterminate their Tutsi friends, neighbours, co-workers and family members.

Many perpetrators who confessed before and during Gacaca courts have spoken of “wiping out the cockroaches”–evidence that the process of dehumanisation had been successful.

Now the denial…

The last phase of genocide is denial. What is significant with Rwanda is that those who deny their responsibility, in forums across the Internet, continue to defend their right to use inyenzi.

They quibble over the semantics, arguing that “we only used a name that the Tutsi had given themselves.” In other words, Tutsis chose their name and so deserved their fate. What an excuse!

However, this irrational argument is also an admission of guilt. For whether the Tutsi gave themselves the name or not, genocide – the extermination of a group of people simply because of who they are – is never justifiable.

Inyenzi was only one of the names used to equate Tutsi with animals deserving of death. There was also inzoka (snakes) which again evoked the notion of vile, sneaky and dangerous. 

The logic was that hardly anyone was likely to feel guilt over the killing of a snake that, if left alone, would kill you instead.

Were the killers this brainwashed? No.

The simple truth is that some refused to kill their fellow humans. These righteous Rwandans maintained their humanity – the one thing dehumanisation erodes.

The killing of more than one million people was not spontaneous, it was carefully planned and executed. The dehumanisation was an essential part of it.

Their death was not deserved.

As we prepare to mark the 20th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi, let us not fall victim to semantics and denial.

 

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