A crucial precondition for intergroup aggression is relative deprivation (Walker & Smith, 2002). Deprivation is always perceived and due to its nature can’t be measured on an absolute scale. In the case of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, it can be said that the events can be understood thoroughly by using the relative deprivation theory regarding intergroup behavior.

The theory states that relative deprivation arises from the comparison between experience and our expectations and thus creates frustration which combining with various factors becomes collective aggression against another group.

According to Runciman(1966) there are two forms of relative deprivation ,

  • Egoistic: where individuals feel relatively deprived from other individuals of the same group.
  • Fraternalistic: where individuals feel relatively deprived from similar individuals of different group.

Analyzing the event of Rwanda, the Hutu population who carried out the genocide seem to have felt fraternalistic relative deprivation from the Tutsi population of the country.  Egoistic relative deprivation might have played a role but it was nowhere as significant as 97% of the people killed were non-Hutus and Hutus were united and there doesn’t seem to be any fault lines to indicate a sense of relative deprivation among the Hutus.

For fraternalistic relative deprivation to manifest itself as an aggressive action against another group, some factors have to be taken into account, these factors are explained in the lights of the Rwandan genocide below,

To have an impact, fraternalistic relative deprivation has to have a sufficient impact on the group of people who feel deprived. These members of the group have to feel strongly attached to the group. The Hutu population in Rwanda had significant unity amongst them. The Belgium colonialists preferred the Hutu over the Tutsi elites as they wanted to curve away from the influence the Tutsis had on Rwanda. Doing so they posited the idea to the Hutu population that, the Hutu population was being discriminated by the Tutsi monarchy, which was present at the time of the Belgian colonialists. The Catholic Church also broadcasted the message of deprivation to the Hutus. This created a strong in-group bond between the Hutu populations of the country and resulted in multiple genocide attempts by the Hutus of the Tutsis. The Rwandan civil war, which was fought against the Tutsi rebel forced also made the bond among the Hutu community stronger as they felt strongly Attached to the Hutu Identity.

The second factor is that groups that feel relatively deprived are unlikely to engage in collective action unless such action is considered a practical or feasible way of bringing about social change. On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Habyarimana and Burundi’s president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down over Kigali, leaving no survivors. Within an hour of the plane crash, the Presidential Guard together with members of the Rwandan armed forces (FAR) and Hutu militia groups known as the Interahamwe (“Those Who Attack Together”) and Impuzamugambi (“Those Who Have the Same Goal”) set up roadblocks and barricades and began slaughtering Tutsis and moderate Hutus with impunity. Among the first victims of the genocide were the moderate Hutu Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and her 10 Belgian bodyguards, killed on April 7. This violence created a political vacuum, into which an interim government of extremist Hutu Power leaders from the military high command stepped on April 9. The killing of the president and the ensuing power vacuum was seen as an excellent opportunity by the deprived Hutu group to seize power and by eliminating the group that was depriving them they hoped to achieve social change in their favor.  The time of the action was perfect in the mind of the Hutu group as there was an actual realistic chance of them to bring about change in the state and thus solving the deprivation problem.

Thirdly, relative deprivation rests on the perception of injustice. Procedural and distributive injustice has to be perceived for any action to be taken by a group. In 1990, forces of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), consisting mostly of Tutsi refugees, invaded Rwanda from Uganda. A ceasefire in these hostilities led to negotiations between the government and the RPF in 1992. The Hutu majority of the country of Rwanda thought of themselves as being injustice against. The Tutsi minority was more educated and generally wealthier. As the Tutsi held most of the land and businesses in Rwanda, the Hutu majority felt that they faced distributive injustice and as the political elites were Tutsi also, they also perceived themselves to be victims of procedural injustice.

Lastly, It is important with whom the comparison is made. The Hutus made the comparison of deprivation with the Tutsi population of the country thus resulting in the elimination of 70-80% of the Tutsi population of the country. But Hutus didn’t compare themselves with other groups in the country such as Pygmy who were almost in the same socioeconomic condition as the Hutus. Thus the conflict among the Hutu-Pygmy population was not as fierce, as the Hutus didn’t feel that much relatively deprived of the Pygmy’s

So it can be seen that the assumptions of relative deprivation theory match perfectly with the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. The main factors for the genocide had its roots in the relative deprivation felt by the Hutu Community of Rwanda and is a catalyst for other factors.