Book Review: 'The Rwanda Crisis - History of a Genocide, 1959-1994'

On July 19, 1994, a new government led by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) was sworn in Kigali. This turn of events was preceded by the Genocide that left close to a million Tutsi dead.

Author: Gérard Prunier
Reviewed by: Angel Musinguzi

On July 19, 1994, a new government led by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) was sworn in Kigali. This turn of events was preceded by the Genocide that left close to a million Tutsi dead.


The Genocide was, as explored in great detail by Gérard Prunier in his book 'The Rwanda Crisis', a consequence of bad leadership and an erroneous ideology that had been drummed into the minds the naïve masses over the years. But the events mentioned above are just the peak of this riveting tale of even more complex issues that characterised Rwanda way before.


Prunier, true to his nature as a historian, goes as far as describing the socio-economic and political organization of Rwanda in pre-colonial times. He explains how, in spite of the challenges of the day then, Rwandans lived in harmony. The author also highlights the role of the Catholic Church and the colonialists in the affairs of Rwanda then, particularly, showing that they tended to let state affairs evolve naturally provided those in power didn’t interfere with their interests. 


The book also highlights the emigrations that characterized Rwanda in the pre-1950 era, explaining that these were mainly due to pressure on the limited land resource that forced droves to move to neighbouring territories in search of grazing land or a more gainful lifestyle.

This somewhat normal play-out of events would take a very bizarre turn, The Rwanda Crisis, shows, with the wave of the independence struggles that swept across Africa in the 1950s. While other African states were fighting for self-rule, in Rwanda the politicians and colonial masters turned against the leadership then that was dominated by the Tutsi. In what they termed as ‘majority rule’, 1959 saw widespread Tutsi killings engineered by a new breed of rogue and misguided leaders from the Hutu ethnicity. The years that follow see many Tutsi refugees seek shelter in mainly the neighbouring countries of Burundi, Zaire, Uganda and Tanzania. 

The book also delves in great depth into the Rwanda of 1959 to 1994, showing how the two presidents in charge of the republic at the time did little to enable a harmonious co-existence of the Tutsi and Hutu that characterized pre-colonial and the early years of colonial Rwanda. The leadership, as the book points out, instead invested heavily in sowing the seed of hatred that would explode in April 1994 in form of the Genocide.

The author, in explaining the genesis and success of the RPF movement, scores several points, but the one that overrides all is the fact that no amount of oppression can fail a just cause. The story of former refugees in Uganda and other places taking up arms to reclaim their birthright, though with heavy consequences, puts The Rwanda Crisis on the list of top writings about Rwanda. That the RPF won and saved thousands of lives, is a sign of what good leadership can achieve, but that many innocent lives died in the Genocide is a warning and red-flag of what a dented ideology can do to a community.

The writer also deserves credit for highlighting the complacence of the Catholic Church and the western powers as the Genocide ensued. In doing so, he is indirectly telling Africans to take charge of their affairs and determine their destiny as the former only care about their interests.

For any reader interested in learning about the Rwandan story, The Rwanda Crisis is a book I would recommend highly, the reason Fountain Publishers saw it fit to produce it so that this reckoning story in not lost with the passing of time.

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