July 11, 2009

Land Conflict and Genocide in Rwanda

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In his 2005 best-selling book Collapse, Jared Diamond argues that some societies "choose to fail or succeed."  Diamond contends that when populations rise, some societies overuse resources which, in turn, leads to environmental degradation and, ultimately, social collapse.  One of the cases he explores in his book is the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which he calls a modern day Malthusian crisis.  However, the arguments he employs to explain why Rwandan society was unable to peacefully and effectively manage rising population pressures overlook a host of political factors that limited the ability of people to respond to increased competition for land in pre-genocide Rwanda. 

In particular, by focusing on land-related conflict Diamond overlooks factors that kept Rwandans on rural land:  lack of a formal land market that would allow people to sell land and move to more urbanized areas, government policies that limited the movement of citizens from the countryside to urban centers, tightly controlled markets that limited entrepreneurial opportunities for people who might wish to leave farms, and a general pro-rural ideology imposed by the pre-genocide Habyarinama government.   Unlike citizens in many other densely populated countries such as Belgium, Hong Kong, and Singapore, Rwandans had only limited freedom to deal with rising population pressures.  While land conflict was an important feature of pre-genocide Rwanda it was not the primary impetus for violence and genocide.  A more nuanced interpretation of Rwanda's genocide would see that government policies that limited land sales, freedom of movement and labor opportunities contributed in important ways to discontent among Rwandans.

Citation (Chicago Style)

Boudreaux, Karol. "Land Conflict and Genocide in Rwanda." Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development 1, no. 3 (Summer 2009): 37-48.