Propaganda and Conflict: Theory and Evidence from the Rwandan Genocide

CID Working Paper No. 257

David Yanagizawa-Drott
August 2012


This paper investigates the role of mass media in times of conflict and state-sponsored violence. A model of collective violence is presented where mass media has the potential to increase participation in conflict by facilitating coordination, in addition to any direct effect on behavior due to content. Guided by the insights of the model, the paper uses a unique nation-wide village-level dataset from the Rwandan Genocide to estimate the impact of radio broadcasts that called for the extermination of the Tutsi minority, and are commonly believed to have played a significant role in fueling the violence. The results show that the broadcasts increased participation in the killings.  They indicate that approximately 10 percent, or an estimated 51,000 perpetrators, of the participation in the violence during the Rwandan Genocide can be attributed to the effects of the radio. Violence that inherently requires more coordination, such as militia and army violence, was also more affected by the broadcasts. Together with a set of results presented in the paper, the evidence indicates that mass media can in part affect conflict by functioning as a coordination device.

JEL codes: D7, N4

Keywords: Conflict, Genocide, Media Effects

Affiliated Research Program: Evidence for Policy Design