THE MATHEMATICS OF GENOCIDE
We saw the groundlessness of the common cliché that turns the final phase of the Genocide into “a hundred-day event”. Another common and media darling label is that of “a million-victim genocide”, quite a commonplace in current Rwanda. Is it another nonsense?
Let’s deal with two issues: how many victims? How many perpetrators? These two questions will prove to be less simple and far more challenging than they may appear at first, and for different reasons.
- The victims of the final phase
Well, no one can say with absolute certainty how many Tutsi were killed in Rwanda between April 6 and late July 1994 (mind the date). Truth is that very accurate head counts could not be taken. As we saw in the previous chapter, there’s a wide uncertainty interval for each of the major massacres and a fortiori for the overall death toll.
It’s not an irrelevant question, as someone might think. Different figures and a different balance between the death toll of the Tutsis and that of the Hutus may support different historical interpretations: knowing the number of the Hutus killed during the genocide can give a more specific characterization to the orgy of violence and prove or disprove the double-genocide thesis. Omar Shahabudin McDoom wrote: «The number and identities of the victims have become weapons in the battles waged between those who would deny, minimize, or equate the genocide with other violence, and those who would insist on its moral uniqueness» (O. S. McDoom, Contested Counting: Toward a Rigorous Estimate of the Death Toll in the Rwandan Genocide, see Bibliography). The ‘mathematics of genocide’ has both political and historical relevance. More cynically, genocide has become a numbers game. «In the spectacle of suffering, the bodies of victims literally count» (Jens Meierhenrich, How Many Victims Were There in the Rwandan Genocide? A Statistical Debate, see Bibliography).
In 1995, Gérard Prunier estimated a death toll of 800,000-850,000 Tutsis, with approximately 130,000 Tutsi survivors.
In 2002, Rwanda’s National Commission for the Fight against Genocide and the Ministry of Local Government and Social Affairs (MINALOC), supported by the Rwandan Government, gave a global figure of 1,074,017 victims in the final phase, 93.67% of which were Tutsis.
The casualty figure of a million Tutsi victims seemed not just excessive, but also politically inflated to the large majority of scholars as the August 1991 National Population Census registered 7,099,844 Rwandan nationals, among which 597,459 Tutsis (8.42%). Taking into account the average annual population growth of 2.5%, and according to the Census data, the number of Tutsis before Habyarimana’s assassination could be estimated at approx. 643,000.
Human Rights Watch and « Alison Des Forges, after subtracting from that figure some 150,000 Tutsi survivors, arrive at a total of 507,000 Tutsis killed, or 77% of the total population registered as Tutsis. (…). Using data from the UNDP and HCR, Filip Reyntjens in 1997 reaches the figure of 600,000 Tutsis killed» (René Lemarchand, Rwanda: the State of Research, 2018, see Bibliography).
Is the 1991 Census a reliable source of data or the number of Tutsi was heavily under-reported for political reasons? Was there a deliberate misrepresentation of ethnicity that might complicate how many were Tutsis in 1994? We should note that the 1991 Census was carried out during the civil war, the violent campaign against the ‘cockroaches’, and the first phase of the genocide. It was in Habyarimana’s best interest to reduce the percentage of Tutsis to lower their quota, and it was in wealthy Tutsis’ best interest to become Hutus. We know, furthermore, that since the 1980s, being considered Tutsi had become a cause of discrimination and exclusion; therefore, over the years, several Tutsis had corrupted local authorities in charge of establishing identification papers to have their ethnic identity changed.
Marijke Verpoorten provided evidence for an alleged under-reporting in the 1991 census: she showed that in April 1994, in the Gikongoro prefecture, the number of Tutsis was at least 37% higher than the figure given by the 1991 census. However, she could not show if the extent of under-reporting was similar or not in all prefectures. She found a 1987 official administrative Census of the Rwandan prefectures, and by comparing it with the 1991 Census, she found that in spring 1994, the Tutsi could have reached at least the figure of 811,941. By cross-referencing various data available, in 2020, Verpoorten puts forward a death toll of 562,000-662,000 Tutsis, corresponding to a death rate of 70-80%. «It is much more difficult to establish how many Hutu died. One estimation method led to a guestimate of 542,000 Hutu lives lost , which amounts to 7.5% of the Hutu population in 1996. The uncertainty interval is however large» (Marijke Verpoorten, cit.).
Roland Tissot, in Beyond the ‘Numbers Game’ (2020), estimates that “roughly 600,000 Tutsis (i.e. 80%) perished during the genocide.”
«David Armstrong, Christian Davenport, and Allan Stam, who deliberately avoided a statistical breakdown along ethnic lines, have computed “a total figure of just over 580,000 with a credible interval ranging from just over 500,000 to roughly 687,000.” They also maintain, however, that, methodologically speaking, “the most defensible position is that no clear casualty figure emerges» (J. Meierhenrich, cit.).
Omar Shahabudin McDoom, Associate Professor in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, estimates that roughly 800,000 Tutsi were living within Rwanda on the eve of the genocide and that those killed in the country from April 6 to July 19, 1994, were between 491,000 and 522,000. «Nearly two-thirds of Rwanda’s Tutsi population were exterminated between April and July 1994. The finding should leave little doubt as to whether the violence amounted to genocide» (O.S. McDoom, Contested Counting, 2019, cit.). As to the death toll of Hutus (which includes those killed by extremists, the RPF, and various diseases in refugee camps), McDoom suggests a figure of several hundreds of thousands. «This high figure does serve to underscore that forms of violence other than genocide occurred at the same time in Rwanda for which there has been limited recognition The exclusive focus on the genocide, unfortunately, obscures this other violence» (O.S. McDoom, cit.). That’s an interesting remark, worth a deeper reflection.
The death toll provided in 2004 by the Rwandan Government has been contested by the Western scholarly community. J. Meierhenrich writes: «Among other achievements, the existing scholarly literature has repudiated the million-victim-myth. This myth, which the RPF fabricated and continues to peddle, is a quintessential “social fact,” a never fully substantiated and now falsified data point about the Rwandan genocide that many well-meaning observers have taken to be “true” simply because it is “widely believed to be true.” Despite the various methodological disagreements among them, none of the scholars who participated in this forum gives credence to the official figure of 1,074,107 victims. Our diverse group of authors may not agree on how many victims exactly there were in the Rwandan genocide, but – collectively – it casts aspersion on the RPF’s “calculative practices”. Given the rigor of the various quantitative methodologies involved, this forum’s overarching finding that the death toll of 1994 is nowhere near the one-million-mark is – scientifically speaking – incontrovertible» (J. Meierhenrich, cit.).
Tone and words are quite harsh, aren’t they?
We should always criticize everything (yep, everything), but we must emphasize that every criticism is an exercise in legitimate and fruitful cognitive democracy if and only if we had made a previous effort to understand or know what we want to criticize. Professor J. Meierhenrich, why didn’t you read the Rwandan dossier before attacking it in such virulent tones? If you had done so, you would have noticed that the figure counted by the Rwandans, that vexed 1,074,017, is not at all the Tutsi death toll of 1994!
Let’s start by reading this brief document. Here it is: