Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Monday, April 05, 2004

Why Does Genocide 'Happen'?

The genocide in Rwanda in April 1994 must not distract from the fact that genocide is a global phenomenon that knows no racial or geographical boundaries. In its modern form, genocide was perfected by the fascist Nazi regime led by Adolph Hitler in Germany from 1933 to 1945. The Khmer Rouge also demonstrated in the killing fields of Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 that genocide could be carried out as efficiently in a different social and political context.

In more recent times the world watched live on satellite television in the 1990’s while genocide was perpetuated in the heart of Europe as Serbia, Croatia and Kosovo became household names for the grimmest reasons known to history. Going back even further, the transatlantic slave trade has been described as genocidal, though the mass murder of millions of Africans over 400 years was more a by product of plunder, exploitation and repression rather than the specific goal of slave dealers and the states that backed the slave trade.

But why does genocide happen? Why do human beings, the so-called most civilised and intelligent of the species that inhabit the planet, turn to mass murder?

This article first appeared in Pambazuka News, an electronic newsletter for social justice in Africa.