Structural violence and the struggle for state power in Rwanda: What Arusha got wrong

SPIRe’s Dr. Andy Storey discuses structural violence and state power in a recently published paper at the African Journal on Conflict Resolution.  Dr. Storey argues that the 1994 Rwandan genocide occurred despite the existence of a peace and power sharing agreement (the Arusha Accords) to which all parties to the conflict had ostensibly subscribed. The paper addresses the failings of the Arusha peace and power sharing process and makes three core arguments.

The first argument is that the Arusha process was more a part of the problem than
it was part of any putative solution because it heightened tensions within élite
circles (whose monopoly of state power was seriously challenged) and provided
a channel through which aspirant élites could pursue their dangerous goals.
Even more fundamentally, the Arusha process failed to tackle the most pressing
problems of Rwandan society, including chronic and worsening poverty and
the oppressive presence of the state in all aspects of social life. This disastrous
cocktail – creating what Uvin (1998) calls a situation of ‘structural violence’ –
laid the basis for mass participation in the genocide of 1994. Far from helping solve these problems, certain international interventions – especially economic
‘structural adjustment’ that ran parallel to the Arusha negotiations – worsened
the situation.

The Arusha Accords also therefore failed, and this is the second core
argument, because they neglected (or worsened) the structural conditions of life
for the vast bulk of ordinary Rwandans. The concluding section of the paper
examines post-genocide Rwanda and how the legacy of the Arusha Accords has,
amongst other devices, been used to legitimise new forms of repression at the
same time as the abuse and violence inflicted upon ordinary Rwandans (and
their neighbours) have continued.

Again, and this is the third core argumentof the paper, a seemingly reasonable political agreement to share power isbeing co-opted for a very different purpose – to legitimate the power of a new ruling élite.

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