This article analyses five crucially relevant factors which may help to understand the extreme violence which affected Rwanda from April to July 1994. Two factors are shared with other African countries: the inherent destabilizing potential of processes of political transition, and the control of the state as a stake for political struggle. Three other factors are specifically Rwandan: the bipolar ethnic situation, the combination of a strong state and a socially conformist population, and the war waged by the RPF. The paper argues that violence has been political rather than ethnic. Looking at the prospects, the author warns that the ingredients for renewed violence are present and that the country is likely to face a prolonged period of if no political solutions are found. As this may well extend to the whole Great Lakes region, the international community would once more become the helpless witness of a major humanitarian drama.