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Risk and resilience to mass atrocities in Africa: a comparison of Rwanda and Botswana

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Abstract:

In the 1980s, two nations in Africa stood out for their development and stability in a continent beset with famine, war and strife. Both Rwanda and Botswana earned the moniker ‘the Switzerland of Africa’ as they successfully pursued economic growth and development. But things went drastically wrong for Rwanda. In 1994, extremist elements led the most intense genocide of the twentieth century, resulting in the deaths of close to one million Tutsi and moderate Hutu in just a ninety-day period. The country was devastated and, seventeen years later, is still recovering. By contrast, Botswana has been able to maintain its strong economic growth and reputation as an oasis of stability. It has gone from one of the poorest countries in the world at its independence in 1966 to a solid middle-income nation. The presence of ethnic divisions and inequalities has not derailed Botswana's progress, which has occurred despite the presence of a number of the risk factors typically associated with nations fraught with ethnic strife. While Botswana has appeared on Genocide Watch's list of nations at risk of mass atrocities in the past, it was ranked relatively low on the scale, and has not experienced any major interethnic violence. The risk factors present in Botswana appear to have been offset by the nation's multiple strengths. This article seeks to compare risk and resilience in Rwanda and Botswana. While there has been extensive analysis of what ‘went wrong’ in Rwanda, there is much less information available about what ‘goes right’ in countries like Botswana. The case studies of these two nations suggest that understanding the pathways that lead to genocide and mass atrocities not only requires a consideration of risk, but a more complex analysis of the interaction between risk factors and mitigating factors that can have a protective function.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14623528.2011.606687

Publication date: September 1, 2011

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