- Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide
Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide

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Two-week recap

By Professor Thomson on January 31, 2013

This purpose of this post is to keep everyone abreast of our classroom discussions and assigned readings. I’ll recap the main points from the last two weeks of class every two weeks as a reference point and to keep everyone focused on the trajectory of our course.

We started with discussion of the two dominant narratives in the American press about Rwanda – that of a economic miracle and that of an oppressive human rights regime. We discussed that there was definitely truth in both versions of these narratives while noting the ways in which the Rwandan government seeks to suppress negative comments about its human rights record. We also acknowledged that a middle ground perspective is best when thinking about Rwanda as there is surely truth in both narratives and the wholesale rejection of either side is not analytical fruitful. The issue thus becomes one of how do we evaluate what we learn about Rwanda through study of the academic and non-academic literature?  This question is a core issue as we move forward to examine the sustainability of Rwanda’s post-genocide reconstruction and reconciliation.

Our theoretical frame is drawn from Straus and Waldorf’s “Seeing like a post-conflict state” which in turn draws on the four theoretical points found in James Scott’s “Seeing Like a State” (Yale, 1998).  Using the lens of seeing like a post-conflict state sets out the structural conditions in which post-genocide reconstruction and reconciliation has evolved while highlighting the various points of pressure (oppression?) in post-genocide policies.  Central here if you don’t already know is some additional research on what is an authoritarian state and what kind of administrative/bureaucratic structure is needed to pursue the “high modernist” ideology of regimes that seek to order human society in the ways that the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) has done since the 1994 genocide.  We peeked behind the post-genocide ideology of ethnic unity to look at the various regional, class, gender and kin relations in which Rwandans are enmeshed. In other words, we de-emphasised ethnicity as an explanatory variable to look more deeply at individuals as individuals rather than as simply “Hutu” or “Tutsi.”  Everyone was assigned a socio-economic role in our social ties game in which most of you were either poor or destitute peasants. This sense of social hierarchy will pervade our course.

To begin to get behind the various state-led practices and policies of post-genocide economic growth and human rights repression, we talked today about the importance of careful historical research.  An ability to understand the politics of the genocide and of history that favour Rwandan political and economic elites at the expense of the lived experiences of the peasant masses.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment!


Growing Disparities and Potential for Future Conflict

By jessical on January 30, 2013

Last week Thomson posed the question to the class, is social and political openness essential for continued economic growth within Rwanda? The conclusion overall was yes for without it entrepreneurial enterprises would be stifled and the economy would eventually come to a halt. Yet there were still some lingering concerns of how such increased openness in the public sphere would effect relations between “ethnic” divides within society. As we can gather from the Thomson, Burnet, Umutesi, and Jefremovas readings, ethnicity is far from the first concern of many Rwandan citizens. These authors discuss how ethnicity is only one form of divide within Rwandan society. More present in their every day lives are the divides along regional, class, and gender lines. As Thomson wrote and articulated in class, it is “crushing poverty that shapes the everyday lives of most Rwandans” and the strain of surviving the day which stands foremost in impoverished Rwandans’ minds rather than ‘ethnicity’ (180).  Furthermore, Straus and Waldorf quoted the a UNDP 2007 report that stated, “Rwanda’s high growth rates are deceptive in that they hide large and growing inequalities between social classes, geographic regions and gender” (10). While it may appear that the Rwanda’s economy is rebounding marvelously, the wealth is not trickling down and the reality at the bottom is far different. Thus, I wonder if greater freedom of expression were permitted, if the subsequent outburst of conflict feared by some would be centered around the regional and class divisions rather than ‘ethnicity’.

Questioning society v. the human – “First Kill”

By kristi on January 30, 2013

After watching First Kill, I have many mixed thoughts and emotions.  Yes, I absolutely am shocked by the capability of human kind.  But, as we’ve encountered in previous PCON classes (namely, Grossman, On Killing, from PCON 218), with the proper amount of conditioning and the normalization of circumstances, the human being capacity is somewhat limitless. I think what most affected me was how the individual was psychologically impacted by warfare.  Take the man who mentioned attempting to carry back the 36 ears as a trophy.  It’s unfathomable to think about… to imagine that one could feel so compelled and attracted to feeling pride in taking the life of another human being.  It was the end goal to “get them all,” whether the victims be men, women, children, etc, by whatever means necessary. However, it is far too easy to write off the mind of the individual.   The thing is, that was (as he states later) the highlight of his life.  The thrill of killing was the utmost pleasure of his life, and he yearned for that experience because he had come back to nothing.  I don’t know whether that’s a flaw within his mindset or rather a production of contemporary society that doesn’t provide enough services to our veterans who have been subjected to this kind of conditioning.  The amount of psychological damage that is done at war is very real and very frightening, and it’s impossible to ask one to simply assimilate back into American society after having gone through such an experience.

“First Kill”: Bureaucratic Ordering and Collective Unconscious

By jessical on January 30, 2013

First Kill is one of the most individualized and disconcerting studies of the psychology of soldiers in war I have ever encountered. One element that struck me the most was the soldiers’ repeated rationalization of killing as a need to meet body counts. This systematized act of killing recalls Hanah Arendt’s discussion of the banality of evil with regards to the Eichmann trial, exhibiting how division of labor in Nazi Germany enabled the killing of thousands of people without individual responsibility or guilt. Additionally, this can be linked to class discussion of Rwanda’s post-conflict bureaucratically strong state that orders society through administrative structuring. The men in the film killed women and children yet explain it as simply meeting a body count requirement. While it is clear theses men are aware of their killing, it seems that they lay the true responsibility elsewhere for they are only doing so due to orders from above and responsibility to the state. Furthermore, bureaucratic structuring of the military system can be seen to transform the collective unconscious of the soldiers. As we have seen in Rwanda, the propaganda framing the Hutus and the Tutsis as fundamentally different and oppositional “ethnicities” transformed relations and encouraged the killing. In First Kill, soldiers explain how Vietnamese were “the enemy” that “had to be killed”. These men have been engineered to kill by the U.S. military. For many of them, it is no longer “wrong” to kill. After their first kill they realized they felt little different than before, that it was easy and that they even took pleasure in the act. This leaves us with the challenge for soldiers returning to the U.S. as well as individuals in Rwanda, what does the “normal” moral society do with those individuals they have taught to kill without thought? How are they reintegrated into society and is a return to a “normal” collective unconscious possible for them?

“First Kill” Film Response #1

By mreidy on January 30, 2013

I thought that the film “First Kill” was very interesting and it constantly had me thinking about what we as humans are capable of. I think that was the main point of the film, to point out that humans are capable of much more than they may have once thought. One question I took from this film was how do we know if we’re capable of killing another human being unless we are put into a kill or be killed situation? Humans have an instinct to survive, so when it comes down to you and someone else, people may be surprised to see what they’re capable of. What surprised me from the film was the lack of emotion from the war veterans. It seems like they treated the Vietnam War like a video game and whoever killed the most people wins. The one veteran described how he killed 36 people and that he cut of their ears so he could keep track of his body count. This is very cruel and unusual but this man didn’t know anything apart from killing other people. I’m not justifying what he did because I find it to be extremely disturbing, but I think the film included this Veteran’s story because they wanted to make the viewer think about what we as humans are capable of and how do we know what we’re capable of.

First Kill PCON movie response #1

By dagan on January 29, 2013

After watching First Kill, I was struck (as a PCON major, yet once again) by the potential for man to kill another fellow human being. Particularly interesting was the psychological effect that war has on people. How can it be that people who have never experienced war or violence before are so attracted to it? Where do people get the “thrill”? People may watch videos, hear stories – but there seems to be something beyond those things that draws people – rather forcefully – to do unimaginable things. As one interviewee stated: “I just had a very strong attraction to war. I didn’t believe in the war, but I believed in my being there. I wanted to see war for complicated reasons, I can’t explain.” On killing another human being, another said: “It was a rush; it was a high you couldn’t even imagine. So you keep on killing.” From what I have learned about the Rwandan genocide, scholars have noted how people were not attracted to the killing because Rwandans felt a certain hate towards their neighbors. After all, both Burnett and Umutesi from this week’s reading note how people lived in a symbiotic relationship with one another, sharing similar customs, language, and religion. What, then, did attract people to kill – and continue to kill in such a horrific manner? It seems from other outside readings (Straus, for example, in his book The Order of the Genocide) that people killed because they were left with little to no choice but to participate. It was either life or their own death. This, however, does not explain the brutality of it all – people being hacked by machetes; pants pulled down and suffering genital mutilation; etc. Even in the film, First Kill, what explains the brutality for putting an electrical wire down a woman’s throat and in her vagina and shocking her to death? How can that be necessary, or even fathomable? What thrill do people get from that? What do those actions accomplish apart from killing? What do they tell us about the potential for human impact?

Social Categories

By dagan on January 29, 2013

I found today’s reading to be particularly interesting, especially considering my thesis topic. Beyond that, however, it was intriguing to understand that Hutu and Tutsi – as social identities – were often constructed pre-genocide, reflective of Hamitic/racist stereotypes. These stereotypes cut across any semblance of identity shared by common religion, language, or cultural customs that both Burnett and Umutesi note in their work. It was the ideas formulated by Belgian colonists – the Tutsi being tall, slender and light skinned; the Hutu being short, stockier and having a wider nose – that became internalized by the population at large. People started to believe in these constructions, rather than seeing their commonalities. Jennie Burnett notes how one of her informants, Antoinette, was categorized by her family as Hutu – “yet many Rwandans assumed that Antoinette was Tutsi based on her appearance. Antoinette was very beautiful, with ‘cow’s eyes,’ straight teeth, a shapely physique, and a demure grace” (53). Similarly, Umutesi notes her experience in school when a group of boys invaded a dormitory to throw the Tutsi out. “They started poking around and looking at the ends of our noses to decide who was Hutu and who was Tutsi. They were completely misinformed” (Umutesi, 10). It is this last part of Umutesi’s passage that sticks out to me – how could people have really known who was “Hutu” and who was “Tutsi”? If racial stereotypes were not in fact true, then how could one tell the difference? Did the mixing of families not mean anything? What makes someone’s identity permanent? Is identity as fluid today as it was pre-genocide? (For further reading with more examples of this Hamitic internalization by Rwandans, I suggest people to read Lee Ann Fujii’s book Killing Neighbors: Webs of Violence in Rwanda (2009)).

More than just ethnicity

By emily on January 28, 2013

All three readings for Tuesday seem to highlight the complex nature of power structures in Rwanda, all of which had an impact on the violence of the genocide.   Gender, regionalism, and class divides are only some of the other “classifications” (for lack of a better word off the top of my head) or factors that structure Rwandan society. Jennie Burnet perhaps says it best when she argues that “gender is but one aspect of a whole network of interconnected social categories, including lineage, clan, ethnicity, economic class, political affiliation, and education level, in which Rwandan women are enmeshed” (Burnet : 41).  Even where ethnicity is a major factor in political violence (such as was the case in the student revolts outlined in the Umutesi reading or Antoinette’s experience from the Burnet reading), Rwandans who have “mixed” ethnic backgrounds are often confused for one or the other.

In addition to learning more about the complex social categories that inform Rwandan society, there were a few aspects of the readings that really stood out, which I would be interested to learn more about.  One major question that arose was the education outlined in “reeducation camp,” which Antoinette, a subject from Burnet’s interviews, had to attend to be qualified to work in Rwanda.

I’m at around 200 words now, so will save my other comments (namely comments on the Thomson reading) for class.  For all who are on twitter, following the office of Kagame as well as Kagame himself is very useful/interesting in terms of the rhetoric used.  It’s not loading for me right now so I can’t quote any tweets, but it’s pretty easy to check out.


The overlooked deaths of Hutu and Twa victims

By kristi on January 26, 2013

What resonated most with me from class discussion was the Rwandan government’s exaggeration of the number of Tutsi deaths, largely ignoring the deaths of the Hutu and Twa victims.  I think that this is in order to reduce the atrocity to a singular occurrence rather than a development of conditions whereby events such as the genocide are possible.  By presenting it as an ethnic conflict—simply one versus the other—it is easier for the Rwandan government to convince the global audience that they are taking preventative measures (eliminating ethnic class) and are successfully progressing as a nation. Especially because the ethnic classes were essentially “ascribed stereotyped intellectual and moral qualities” by Europeans, and often reduced in their social complexity (Burnet, 2012:47).  Further, this oversimplification reflects the human’s need to dichotomize within most contexts.  These polarities are created in order to have a clear path to breaking down an enemy, which is often even more dangerous. When we build barriers based upon nationality, race, ethnicity, sex, class, etc, we lose sight of an end goal of humanism, of caring deeply for one another no matter the difference.  Categorizing provides the conditions for hatred, and releases one of moral obligation towards other human beings who may be unlike oneself.  People are people, and a life is a life; that must be recognized above all.

Economic benefits not reaching poorest citizens

By caitlin on January 23, 2013

After reading Thomson’s Whispering Truth to Power, I found particularly interesting the discussion of economic growth and where the benefits are going. Thomson states that in Rwanda, the meaning of “the state” is different for different socio-economic classes, but not different ethnic classes. I was able to relate this to discussions in Cooke that talked about the fact that economic benefits are not reaching the poorest citizens, regardless of ethnicity. In both papers, this shows that the wealthy and powerful are continuing to gain wealth while the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. Professor Thomson, you state that Purdekova says that those who benefit are the minority. This is interesting. Is Kagame working toward reducing poverty rates, seeing as though the poor constitute such a large percentage of the population? I agree with you and Wimmer et al. in that this exclusion of the poor from economic benefits may increase the likelihood that war can ensue.