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The Role of Radio-Télévision Libre Des Mille Collines in the
Rwandan Genocide: An Analysis from the Theoretical
Perspectives of Intergroup Threat and Aggression
Gustave Adolphe Messanga
, Marios Yannick Duclair Tajeugueu
Department of Philosophy-Psychology-Sociology, University of Dschang,
Cameroon Email:
RTLM, genocide, intergroup threat,
intergroup aggression, Hutu, Tutsi
This research focuses on the role of Radio-Télévision Libre des
Mille Collines (RTLM) in the Rwandan genocide. It analyses
the radio broadcasts through the theories of intergroup
threat and aggression. In this perspective, RTLM is conceived
as a manipulative and propagandist agent which participated
in the perpetration of mass killings constituting the Rwandan
genocide, through the dissemination of the ideology of hatred
before and during the genocide as well as providing logistical
assistance to those involved in the killings. RTLM broadcasts
were structured with the intent to portray Hutus as victims
(intergroup threat), with the aim of justifying the use of
violent actions against Tutsi (intergroup aggression). The
analysed corpus consists of extracts from RTLM broadcasts
selected from transcripts stored at the Montreal Institute of
Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) and at the
International Monitor Institute (IMI). These extracts were
analysed by using discourse analysis methods, revealing that
RTLM’s discourse was based on the victimization and
glorification of Hutus, as well as the devaluation and
demonization of Tutsis. Concretely, the radio broadcasts were
structured to incite Hutu (past and present victims of
injustice) to exterminate Tutsi (the enemies, the
"cockroaches" (inyenzi)) and to eradicate them from
Rwandan society. The broadcasts were built around two main
themes, including the threat, which includes elements like
propaganda and hatred, homogenization, categorization and
victimization; and aggressiveness which includes the
revolutionary vision of Rwanda, the dehumanization of Tutsi,
their designation a enemy, the search for a just and
homogeneous society.
Genocide is the systematic elimination of a gender, ethnicity, nationality, race, culture or group
identity (Bilsky & Klagsbrun, 2018; Finnegan, 2020; O’Brien & Hoffstaedter, 2020; Suedfeld, 2020). It
can be conceptualized as the eradication of groups defined by their hierarchical position, political
opposition to the genocidal regime, or common characteristics. The Rwandan genocide, which involves
two ethnic groups (Hutus and Tutsis), is seen as the Gustave Adolphe Messanga, Marios Yannick Duclair
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Tajeugueu the tragic outcome of a society plagued by hatred, discrimination, prejudice, and ethnic
divisions (Mutabazi, 2011; Prunier, 1995a). In all genocides, the authorities gave instructions to the
populations to exterminate the individuals they considered to be enemies. However, the Rwandan
genocide stands out due to the pivotal role played by the media in general and Radio- Télévision Libre
des Mille Collines (RTLM) in particular (Gragg, 2012). RTLM considered as the voice of central power
and a credible media outlet among the population, owing to its support from the governing authorities,
played a significant role in inciting Hutus to engage in mass violence (Asad, 2014). Former studies have
further analyzed its role from a media-related perspective, as a medium of spreading hatred, a
propaganda tool aimed at persuading the masses, and a logistical instrument. However, prior studies
have not explored the sense of incitement to threat and intergroup aggression, especially by
emphasizing how this radio station aroused intra-ethnic coercion and intimidation, obedience, fear of
war, desire for revenge, anger, desire to plunder or land acquisition, as well as interpersonal and
intergroup rivalries. These elements presented Hutu as the victims of the system (intergroup threat)
and justified the violence against Tutsi (intergroup aggression). This research aims to delve deeply into
these aspects, shedding light on their significance in the context of the Rwandan genocide.
The method used in this research is discourse analysis, a transdisciplinary method within
qualitative methodology that responds to trends in pragmatics, linguistics, anthropology, intercultural
or social linguistics, ethnology and sociology. It is a research technique that goes beyond what people
say when speaking, aiming to interpret and analyze speeches according to the speaker’s identity. It
analyzes the articulation of the text and the social context in which it is produced (Maingueneau, 1984).
This method involves placing language facts in the broader context of specific psychological and social
phenomena, such as action and influence. It is within this framework that the present study is situated.
It analyzes RTLM broadcasts, placing them in the context of the factors that led to mass killings in the
Rwandan genocide.
This study takes place in the perspective of the psychological analysis of genocide and
victimization in the context of mass killings (McDoom, 2012; Staub, 2002, 2013; Staub et al., 2005;
Suedfeld, 2020; Vollhardt & Bilewicz, 2013). Its empirical basis is comprised of extracts from RTLM
broadcasts, used in the context of legal proceedings at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
(ICTR). These audio recordings are archived at the Montreal Institute of Genocide and Human Rights
Studies (MIGS) and at the International Monitor Institute (IMI), a non-profit organization mandated by
the ICTR to translate Kinyarwanda broadcasts into English and French. They were used as evidence to
support the involvement of political leaders and journalists in the genocide (Kellow & Steeves, 1998).
The excerpts from the radio broadcasts are divided into two periods: before the assassination of
Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana on April 6, 1994, and after this assassination until the end of
the genocide in July 1994. This division is justified from an analytical perspective as it allows us to
identify the focus of this research. Before this assassination, RTLM portrayed Tutsis as a threat to Hutus,
propagating a sense of fear and hatred within the Hutu ethnic community (intergroup threat). In the
period following this assassination, RTLM broadcasts not only tried to persuade all Hutus to participate
in mass killings, but also played a logistical role in planning these acts of mass violence (intergroup
According to the director of the MIGS (Chalk, 1999), the transcripts could be incomplete, since
RTLM broadcasted propaganda in the period from October 1993 to July 1994. However, the translated
transcripts cover only 55 days, or 15.3% of the 361 days of RTLM broadcasting (McDoom, 2012). The
transcripts are available in English, French and one of Rwanda’s two national languages, Kinyarwanda.
For the purposes of this research, only transcripts available in English and French were examined. In
addition, it is important to note that most of the transcripts available in these two languages were
originally translated for the ICTR and were primarily used as evidence to support charges against radio
officials and journalists. It could potentially bias in the analysis of RTLM’s content, as they were selected
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Gustave Adolphe Messanga, Marios Yannick Duclair Tajeugueu
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for legal purposes. To remedy this problem, this study also incorporates secondary sources providing a
more in-depth analysis of the radio station’s content, in order to understand the persuasion techniques
and logistics used by its journalists to incite violence.
Corpus Analysis
The analysis of this study will be done in two stages. First, we examine the theme related to
intergroup threat, focusing on how RTLM broadcasts created a sense of threat among Hutus. Second, we
dwell into the incitement to intergroup aggression caused by these broadcasts.
Intergroup threat in RTLM broadcasts
Intergroup threat theory posits that threat emerges when the actions, beliefs or characteristics
of one group or individual compete with or oppose the goals or well-being of another group or
individual. It distinguishes between individual threat and group threat. In both cases, the individual or
group feels the threat based on their membership in a particular collective entity (Stephan & Renfro,
2002). At both the group or individual level, threat can be realistic or symbolic. Realistic threats
jeopardize physical and material well-being, while symbolic threats challenge an individual’s value
system, beliefs or identity. In this study, we address the sense of intergroup threat aroused by RTLM
broadcasts, focusing on the following sub-themes: the dangerousness of Tutsi, incitement to ethnic
hatred, victimization of Hutu and intergroup categorization.
The designation of Tutsi as a danger to society: an oppressive and violent people
The crash of President Habyarimana’s plane on April 6, 1994, made the Tutsi, a people
considered oppressive and violent (Monasebian, 2007), as a threat to Rwandan society predominantly
composed of Hutu. Confronted with this danger, RTLM journalist Bemeriki, relying on the ninth Hutu
commandment, paragraph 1, urges the Bahutu, wherever they are, to be united, in solidarity and to be
concerned about the fate of their Hutu brothers. On June 4, 1994, he declared on RTLM airwaves: « I am
greeting the Rwandan Armed Forces… We know how useful you are for us… the population must defend
itself? Harassed by the enemy ». In RTLM broadcasts, Tutsis are described by terms such as: malicious,
liars, or enemies; hence the call for solidarity between Hutu to fight them.
Propaganda and ethnic hatred
Propaganda involves the dissemination of information for the purpose of influencing the
opinions of others. It serves as a tool of control and compliance instrument used by the dominant group
(Fitzmaurice, 2018; Malhan & Dewani, 2020; Sanz, 2018). RTLM relied on this strategy to encourage
Hutus to believe in the threat represented by Tutsis. Journalist Karamira’s word, made on April 22, 1994,
exemplify the intent to influence opinions. He emphasized the role played by the CDR militia in managing
the conflict with the Tutsi rebel movement of the RPF. He declares:
CDR has long contributed to correct what was not perfect because it was not seeking its personal
interest but Rwanda’s interest. CDR could not make any harm to the agreements since they seemed able
to bring peace...Unfortunately, RPF on its part was against and CDR did everything to show it. RPF
impinged on their application until it sought to prevent CDR from being part of the transitional
institutions whereas our participation was specified by the agreements.
In the same vein, Kantano, another RTLM journalist, launched a strong appeal for resistance on
May 23, 1994, declaring: «The fathers of Inyenzi fled away in the 59’s. However, Gustave Adolphe
Messanga, Marios Yannick Duclair Tajeugueu the fathers told their children: “It’s high time to take
weapons and fight for the recovery of the power encroached upon us by Hutus. So, stand up ! » The
purpose of these messages is to alert the Hutus to the prevailing danger. The following statements, aired
on RTLM on April 15 by Barahinyura and June 22, 1994 by Bemeriki, also reveal how effective the
propaganda campaign was: « However, our war does not use bullets. It uses papers and words »; « your
weapon RTLM is there, it will fight against them…». In the same vein, on June 2, 1994, Bemeriki states:
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Now, we seem to have forgotten political parties and it is understandable since the enemy who
harasses us is unique ... In the meantime, we have put aside matters of political parties even if the
international community is shouting: ‘lnterahamwe! Interahamwe!’… But for us, we apply that word to
all of us, to all Rwandans who stood up together, at the same time, who got united in order to beat the
Inyenzi Inkotanyi
These excerpts reflect the importance of supporting the creation of militias within the Hutu group
as a mean to resist the RPF. They report on the propaganda and hatred broadcast by this radio station,
with the aim to arouse in the Hutu a feeling of threat likely to push them to oppose the Tutsi.
The victimization of Hutus
Victimization consists of the consideration of Hutus as victims of the genocide. The following
excerpts evoke this feeling of victimization. On June 22, 1994, Gahigi declared on RTLM airwaves that:
French troops are coming to Rwanda saying that they are coming to stop killings in Rwanda… The
Rwandan government says: French troops, you are welcome. The Inkotanyi say: All our supporters who
are in the country or outside the country stand up against the bad initiative of France. So, who is the killer?
The killers are obviously the Inkotanyi as we have always been telling you.
He adds: «…the objective of the Tutsi is obviously to exterminate the Hutu, the majority mass ». In
the same perspective, on May 20, 1994, Bemeriki, a regular journalist for RTLM, declared: « Aussi
longtemps que nous nous lèverons tous ensemble pour combattre les Inkotanyi, Dieu sera à nos côtés et
Jésus nous prêtera main-forte pour les vaincre. Vous qui êtes au front, tenez fort, la Sainte Vierge est avec
nous, elle n’ignore pas que nous sommes des victimes. » On March 30, 1994, Gahigi follows the same logic:
« The problem is that, in fact, the Arusha agreements have dealt with two main issues, the first
issue was to stop the war launched by RPF and the second issue which is in my opinion the main issue
was to share the power. And it is obvious that RPF does not want to share the power that they want to
keep totally as they wished it when they launched the war in 1990. »
The victimization of Hutu implicitly suggests their extermination by Tutsi (for example
: « So, who is the killer? The killers are obviously the Inkotanyi, to exterminate the Hutu »). Since
the assassination of President Habyarimana, Hutus have been portrayed as the victims of the violence
perpetrated by Tutsi. This is why these journalists discuss territorial threat (the need to defend our city
and our country) and victimization (portraying themselves as victims). In short, the Hutu victimize
themselves by attributing the responsibility for the political and socioeconomic crises faced by the
country to the Tutsis.
Intergroup categorization
Categorization involves grouping individuals based on their identity or social class. In Rwanda
based on identity, Tutsi are categorized as Hamites (upper race, often associated with herders) and Hutu
are categorized as Bantu (lower class, predominantly farmers). The excerpt below, broadcast on RTLM
on December 2, 1993, evokes this ethnic categorization:
Les Tutsi sont des nomades et des envahisseurs qui sont venus au Rwanda à la recherche de
pâturages, mais parce qu’ils sont si rusés et méchants, les Tutsi ont réussi à rester et à
gouverner. Si vous autorisez le retour des Tutsi? Hamites, ils ne vous dirigeront passeulement au
Rwanda, mais étendront également leur pouvoir dans la région des Grands Lacs.
In short, by emphasizing the dangerousness of Tutsi, propaganda and ethnic hatred, victimization
of Hutu and intergroup categorization, RTLM broadcasts played a role in fostering a sense of intergroup
threat among Tutsi. This feeling of threat materialized in intergroup aggression.
Incitement to intergroup aggression in RTLM programs
Aggression is an intentional act aimed at harming others (Akçay & Akçay, 2020; Estévez et al.,
2018). There are two main strategies for acts of human aggression: hostile and instrumental. Hostile
aggression is characterized as impulsive, thoughtless, unforeseen, and anger-driven, with the ultimate
goal of harming the target and occurs in response to a perceived provocation. This is sometimes called
emotional, impulsive or reaction aggression. Instrumental aggression, on the other hand, is a
premeditated means to achieve a goal other than harming the victim. It is proactive rather than reactive
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(Berkowitz, 1993; Geen, 2001). The literature distinguishes between different types of aggression and
various functions that aggression fulfills (Krahé, 2013; Parrott & Giancola, 2007). These authors
distinguish between various forms of assaults, including: (1) physically injuring a person (physical
assault, involving actions like hitting, biting, kicking or stabbing, shooting); (2) harming a person with
words (verbal aggression) such as yelling and shouting); and (3) engaging in relationship aggression,
which involves damaging someone’s reputation or friendship through verbal or electronic means. These
assaults can also be direct (with victims physically present) or indirect (in the absence of the victim, by
breaking someone’s property or spreading false information about them) (Allen & Anderson, 2017).
Aggressions also differ in their function. Anderson and Huesmann (2003), propose that to
understand the function of aggression, it is necessary to consider three dimensions, namely the degree of
nuisance the victim poses to the perpetrator, the level of hostile or agitated emotions presented, and the
extent of thoughtfulness behind the aggression. On one hand, aggression may be a pure intention to
punish or injure the targeted person, for example by reacting aggressively to a provocation (reactive,
affective, hostile, aggressively repulsive, or retaliatory). On the other hand, it may be a thoughtful or
deliberate plan to hurt others to achieve the desired result (proactive, planned, or cold aggression)
(Wrangham, 2018). An assault can be an automatic response motivated by self-protection mechanisms.
As part of the present analysis of the role played by RTLM broadcasts in the Rwandan genocide,
we are interested in the revolutionary vision of Rwanda, the designation of Tutsi as enemies of Rwanda,
the search for social justice and homogenization of society, and dehumanization of Tutsi.
The revolutionary vision of Rwanda and the extermination of Tutsi
In an RTLM program broadcast on July 2, 1994, journalist Kantano Habimana incited the Hutus to
revolt as in the past, at the time of Tutsi’ monarchy: « we have to see the similarity of things, during the
1959 revolution. » In Rwanda, the social revolution that broke out in November 1959 almost spawned a
civil war. It killed several hundred people and drove nearly one hundred and fifty thousand (150,000)
Tutsis on the paths of exile. This revolution led by Hutus against Tutsis could appear, at first glance, like
the social revolution of the small or underprivileged against the large or privileged. However, it quickly
transformed into a racial revolution, the contours of which raised fears of genocide. This is evidenced by
this extract from a leaflet published in 1961 by a party opposing the racial ideology promoted by the
Parmehutu party, a torchbearer of the Hutu cause: « [Pour le Parmehutu,] le progrès d’un Hutu, c’est la
destruction des Tutsi au Rwanda […]. C’est bouffer les vaches, incendier les huttes des voisins, tuer les
Banyarwanda, nos frères. Gustave Adolphe Messanga, Marios Yannick Duclair Tajeugueu Une pareille
méchanceté est dite “travailler”. » (Unesco, n.d.: 5) During the genocide of 1994, these prescriptions were
put into practice.
The designation of Tutsi as enemies of Rwanda
In the speeches of RTLM journalists, the Tutsis are clearly seen as enemies of Rwanda. This is
exemplified by these remarks made by Bémériki, June 28, 1994: « As a consequence, the enemy of our
country, our common enemy, the Inyenzi-Inkotanyi, may take advantage and infiltrate among the
population. » This perception fully justifies the call for the extermination of this ethnic component of
Rwandan society which, in the space of a few decades, has gone from the status of an indigenous group to
that of an invader to be slaughtered (Piton, 2018; Piton & Adjemian, 2018).
The search for a fair and equitable society
In the perspective of the genocidal Hutu, a just and equitable society is made up of equal
individuals and treated according to their merits. However, to access it, they believed that achieving this
goal required the elimination of Tutsi from Rwandan society. On July 2, 1994, journalist Kantano
Habimana rejoiced at the extermination of Tutsi:
Mais donc! Ces Inkotanyi qui me téléphonaient à la radio, sont-ils allés? Ils doivent sûrement
avoir été exterminés. Ils doivent sûrement avoir été exterminés...Chantons donc: Réjouissons-nous, amis
! Les Inkotanyi ont été exterminés ! Réjouissons-nous, amis ! Dieu ne peut jamais être injuste!
This extermination is celebrated because it is believed to lead to the restoration of peace, abolition
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of the Abuhake culture and elimination of the Hamitic (Tutsi) myth.
The homogenization of society
Societies that experience social diversity often encounter intergroup divisions. The literature
indicates that the level of diversity in a country, whether it leans towards ethnic homogeneity or
heterogeneity, can contribute to increased intergroup tensions (Medeiros, 2014). To overcome these
tensions, some individuals are inclined to seek the solution that involves segregating or separating
populations to minimize contact between the parties in conflict. Two methods can be used to achieve this
goal. The first method involves the complete assimilation of one of the groups by the other. The second,
more macabre, refers to genocide, proceeding through the extermination of members of one of the groups
presents; that is known as ethnic cleansing (Messanga, 2018). This is the solution chosen by elites and
Hutu populations. In this vein, an RTLM journalist declared on May 29, 1994:
The one who does not have papers should remain there or even leave his [her] head there.
However, in reality I think that the check should be necessary because everybody should have his [her]
papers with him [her] certifying that he [she] is really Rwandan and is really a son of “Sebahinzi” that he
is not an enemy, or an accomplice or an Inkotanyi. I think that all those who remain in this country, we
know each other; we are the sons of the same man.
On May 16-17, 1994, another said:
And you people, who live down there near Rugunga, even though it is raining, go out. You will see
Inkotanyi's straw-huts in the marsh where horses are kept. It is clear then that this place shelters
Inkotanyi [RPF soldiers]. I think that those who have guns should immediately go to these Inkotanyi
before they listen to Radio RTLM and flee. Stand near this place and encircle them and kill them because
they are there.
Dehumanization of Tutsis
Dehumanization is the fourth step out of ten in the stages of genocide model developed by Gregory
Stanton (Luft, 2019). It involves using specific terms to designate undesirable groups, thereby removing
all humanity from their members, in particular by assimilating them to animals. Through this process, the
majority group comes to perceive the other group as less than human, even alien to their society. Its
members are indoctrinated into believing that they would be better off without their presence of the
targeted group, which can lead to discussion of their deportation or even extermination. This was the case
in Nazi Germany where Jews were called rats and vermin. In Rwanda, the terms cockroaches and snakes
were used to describe Tutsis population. In this vein, between May 26 and May 28, 1994, Kantano
Habimana gave the following speech on RTLM:
Je profite de l’occasion pour dire bonjour aux jeunes qui sont à la barrière, près de l’abattoir, sur
la route de Kimisagara. Hier je les ai trouvés en train de danser le zouk... Gardez bien le caniveau, pour
que demain aucun cafard ne passe !... Que vous soyez enragés et que nous puissions combattre pour notre
ville, notre pays, chers frères... Bon courage, restez à l’écoute de la Radio RTLM, il est 12 h 02.
On June 14, 1994, Bemeriki, another RTLM journalist, declared : « The worst kind of inyenzi, I
don’t mean just Tutsi who are all inyenzi, for me the worst kind of inyenzi is a Hutu inyenzi. A Hutu who
plots with other Hutu telling them: “Get up, run away” when the inyenzi are not even there yet. »
The objective of this study was to analyze RTLM broadcasts in the context of Rwandan genocide,
based on theories of threat and intergroup aggression. It starts with the premise that while this medium
cannot be considered as the instigator of the genocide, it played a significant role in the events by
spreading the genocidal ideology, intestifying the sense of threat among Hutus and providing logistical
assistance in planning the killings. The analysis of the audio tapes stored at the MIGS and the IMI not only
aloowed us to identify the constituent elements of the speeches of RTLM journalists used in the
propaganda and ideology of Hutu Power (intergroup threat), but also those used in the planning of killings
(intergroup aggression).
This research sheds light on the relevance of the strategy developed by RTLM in inciting threat
and intergroup aggression before and during the Rwandan genocide. It confirms the fact that radio can
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Gustave Adolphe Messanga, Marios Yannick Duclair Tajeugueu
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have a very important influence on listeners. Indeed, RTLM presented various forms of information to
attract the attention of the population (Mirondo, 2007). Music, speeches, announcements, interviews,
and debates on the history of the enemies (Tutsi) and the future of Rwanda were frequently on air. The
populations massively and quickly adhered to this logic by participating and obeying messages deemed
legitimate and fair. It is because this medium was considered as the voice of the central state, afforing it
the opportunity to spread the genocidal ideology to its listeners and encourage them to recognize threat
and take action against the perceived enemy. We can say that it helped to radicalize sections of the Hutu
Radicalization is a complex process and not a static situation, subject to various kinds of
influences (Mc Cauley & Moskalenko, 2008). It designates the process by which an individual or group
adopts a violent form of action, directly linked to an extremist ideology with political, social or religious
content, which challenges the established order (Malvaceda et al., 2018; Reidy, 2019; Rink & Sharma,
2018). In the individual, this process is accompanied by a growing acceptance of the extreme personal
repercussions of their ideas and actions, ultimately leading to a general behavior of uncompromising
and tendency to seek confrontation with those who oppose them. It is perceived as a form of social and
emotional compensation, emerging in reaction to real or perceived violence. This definition allows for a
broad approach to the radical phenomenon. It places the radicalization observed in Rwanda before and
during the genocide within the historical perspective of relations between Hutu and Tutsi. In this
context, Hutu extremism is considered as a response from the Tutsi monarchy, the frustrations
experienced during the colonial period, the revolution and the war for power between the RPF, made
up of Tutsi refugees, and the pro-hutu Rwandan government. For example, the interhamwe militias,
made up of radical Hutu extremists who participated very actively in the Gustave Adolphe Messanga,
Marios Yannick Duclair Tajeugueu 1994 genocide, originated after the 1959 revolution (Chrétien et al.,
1995). During the genocide, RTLM made these events dating back more than three decades a source of
motivation and incitement to mass violence with the aim of purging the social injustices of the past.
The media discourse which presided over the Rwandan genocide targeted not only extremist
groups, but also populations. The programs broadcast by RTLM aimed to indoctrinate the populations,
leading them to believe that Tutsi are criminals, enemies of Rwanda, and even people with no right to
life, thus contributing to their dehumanization. The radio station’s strategy consisted of increasing the
number of programs and broadcasting the calls to action (Prunier, 1995b). The aim was to strengthen
listeners’ convictions, radicalize them and push them to participate in the killings without questioning
their beliefs. In essence, the radio was brainwashing. Indeed, the literature on the propaganda used in
the Rwandan genocide reveals the important role of RTLM in the transformation of behavior (African
Rights, 1995). Concretely, during the genocide, RTLM became what one listener referred to as « vampire
radio, openly calling for more bloodshed and massacres (Prunier, 1995b).
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