- Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide
Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide

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Developing a Deeper Understanding

By louis on February 12, 2013

One of Straus’ main points in his article is his effort to abolish the notion that the genocide that occurred in Rwanda had resulted due to “ancient tribal hatred.” This notion is the result of a concerted effort by many different parties including some in power in the Rwandan government. Straus believes that understanding the history prior to the genocide is the key to understanding why the genocide occurred.  There were many different things that occurred that played a significant role in the set up of the genocide. The Belgians intervened in an attempt to develop a more stable and equally represented government but instead created a division among the population. These reforms implemented by the Belgians down the road would set the stage for the events that occurred in 1994.

The misconception that the genocide in Rwanda was a random event that occurred due to long standing tensions between two ethnic groups is one that I believed prior to the beginning of this course. Straus’ reading allowed for me to develop the argument against this notion. He discusses the dehumanization of another ethnic group through propaganda and other methods such as scapegoating. The beginning of the concept of Hutu against Tutsi can be traced back to the power struggles that the Belgians created. The path that Straus follows to explain the genocide is intriguing. The actors that helped prime Rwanda for the genocide are actors that otherwise would not have been noted.



Mark LeVine: Music, Culture & Arab Spring

By kristi on February 11, 2013

Music as a source of unity and a vehicle for coherence is a concept that is seen across national histories, often as the impetus for mobilizing revolutionary movements.  In tonight’s lecture regarding the Arab Spring movement, Mark LeVine presented globalization as a large influence in the actual production and spreading of empowerment through music.  Oftentimes globalization is thought to have a negative connotation–one that reduces local culture, moves towards a homogenized image of modernization… essentially, a mode of assimilation to dominant Western discourses.  However,  LeVine spoke of globalization as a mode of connectivity, bringing in influences from a variety of nationalities and peoples, and coming together into a movement that because it is so loosely defined, no government has the capacity control.  This is powerful.  This, he articulates, is what allowed for its success.  Rather than the perception of globalization in a development discourse, that is, attempting to ‘modernize’ what the West perceives to be as ‘under-developed’ countries,  LeVine presents a narrative that refers more to the connectivity of the world through technology, which not only sustained the movement, but helped it to grow.  I think this is the difference between globalization as a force of cultural and virtual connection v. a force intended to seek capital gain.  As important a role technology plays, however, this is not to forget the actual overtaking spacial realities as part of the revolutionary movement as well.  It was also this connection of human beings through taking over a physical space for resistance that contributed greatly to this movement. (Sidebar: this reminded me very much of the Marxist notion of needing a manifested movement of social change… some sort of physical overhaul).  Ultimately, LeVine concludes that it was a combination of conquering the virtual and physical spaces that allowed for the movement’s success, as well as the capability to be overly critical but also hopeful.  This hope was often represented through music.  I think that this only makes sense, for without a notion or a belief that there will be a better tomorrow, what’s the rationale for what you’re fighting for today?

Finally, a parallel that I saw between this lecture and our class is the fact that when examining the social, political, economic, and historical spheres of the region, it only makes sense that this uprising took place.  I parallel this to the study of the background and context of the Rwandan genocide, and although it has been presented as an anomaly that sparked out of happenstance, we have understood the systematic planning going into it.  Of course I am not equating the two events (atrocity v. revolution) at all, but I think that it’s interesting to note that the pathways of political and historical events can be traced through a society when we start to look a bit deeper.

PCON Lecture: Arab Spring

By caitlin on February 11, 2013

The lecture tonight did an excellent job at showing us how and why the Arab Revolutions were successful. One aspect that Mark LeVine discussed was the importance of power and space. He said that all boundaries that normally separate Egyptians had disappeared, those between men and women, secular and religious, Christian and Muslim. This allowed for open conversation and the ability of people to assert themselves against authority. My question is how was this moment, in the beginning, different from any other? LeVine said that they all wanted a change in the system. But why was it right then that men and women, Christian and Muslim, were able to inhabit the same space without fighting?

The talk related to some ideas that we have discussed in class in regard to agency. The Egyptians made conscious actions to fight against a system that did not serve their needs. In the case of Rwanda we see that people have agency to make connections and find food so that they can support their families. The themes of agency, power, and space are often brought up when considering a high authoritarian state because of the nature of this type of government and the limited power of the people.

hidden agendas of an authoritarian state

By maggie on February 11, 2013

This week our class discussed in depth what we believe to be the definition of an authoritarian state. Authoritarian states are those whose governments have firm control over all organs of the state, including what is seen in the media and the state institutions. The government of an authoritarian state controls the information that the public receives within the state, as well as outside of it. They manage information to put themselves into a positive light. Discussing this definition after listening to Erin Jessee’s talk about her experience made Rwanda’s authoritarian government become real for me. I was able to see exactly how the government monitored Erin in her research. Erin mentioned that the government seems very open to researchers at first glance, yet once the subject of their research begins to turn political the government is quick to silence it. Because of this the view of Rwanda that the rest of the world gets is not entirely accurate. Many stories of restoring the country are coming directly from the government and are not reflecting the actuality of life in rural Rwanda for the majority of Rwandan citizens. Yet as Erin brought to our attention, there are not many people looking to delve deeper into the lives of Rwandans, and the select few who try are quickly stopped by the Rwandan government. There is not a large outcry in the Western world for information that leads any deeper to this country’s problems, and therefore very little will change about the accuracy of the information the outside world receives.

Rwanda, the Great Lakes Region and the crisis in the DRC

By jeanpierre on February 11, 2013

This was a very interesting talk, which touched on the topics of the presence of the FDLR in the Kivu region, the RPF and accusations of it’s continued support to the M23 and also Rwanda’s involvement in the conflict in Kivu. The DRC conflict in the Kivus is not different from other conflicts that have occurred in countries like Sierra Leone, Chad, Ivory Coast and many others. Although the conflict foundational causes may be different whatsoever, I believe that any conflict can be resolved. Until outside countries have stopped facilitating this looting and exploitation of minerals from the DRC through torture and mistreatment of the Congolese people in the Kivus, this war will not end. At the lecture it was interesting to learn how Rwanda and neighboring countries, especially Uganda, paved way for their military presence in the DRC to be effective. Rwanda having the excuse of protecting its citizens from the threats posed by the FDLR after the 1994 genocide probably had arguably the easiest “entry” into the Kivu region. The conflict in the Kivu has served as a means to economically advance the countries involved in the conflict at the expense of 5.4 million deaths of the Congolese. Soon or later, if this conflict is not resolved, it won’t be only Rwanda, Uganda and neighboring countries involved in having some form of presence in the DRC but other beneficiaries will join in for whatever reasons.

I recently read an article from BBC that China had signed a contract with the DRC government which stated that China would give to the DRC $ 5 billion and in return China would own some of the diamond mines and set up companies to extract the diamond. Such a grant with strings attached to it, is what is going to keep this foreign presence in the DRC going and sooner or later the government will not only have no control of the Kivus but a possibility of much of the country ending up in the “outside hands”. Until the DRC government has decided to own the problem and seek ways to resolve it, DRC will go into history as a country once wealthy but was devastated over time. Although conflict resolution seems to be a difficult task, it is possible to carry out and successfully achieve once you own the problem in the first place. Unless the DRC government has come to realize that they own the problem and should not rely on any one to solve it for them, then the conflict will carry on and it might reach a point where it will be too late to be able to bring this mineral rich country back into the prosperous country that it used to be.


Twitter Update

By emily on February 11, 2013

I just wanted to post something I read on Twitter last night that pertains to the class.  The Rwandan Ministry of the Interior (@MINITER) posted a link yesterday to an article in The New Times Rwanda.  The Tweet reads “The task at hand for RPF cadres” and links to this article: http://www.newtimes.co.rw/news/index.php?i=15265&a=63752


The article details a meeting of the RPF during which the party talked about “political transition.”  Perhaps other people will have different readings, but it seemed to me that it was detailing how Kagame’s two terms will end in 2017 and how to address it.  The article paints Kagame in a positive light, indirectly quoting him by saying “He urged the RPF cadres to think about how to maintain stability and the pace of development but also factor in change.”  Despite this, most of the article seemed to push RPF members to start campaigning for a lift of the two-term ban currently in the constitution, saying at the end of the article that committed Rwandans must step up.  It ends like this:

“But for the Rwandans who want him [Kagame] to stay, nothing will deter them from pushing for their cause. And, knowing that the President will do anything for his country to prosper and for the Rwandan people to live better lives, they certainly have ammunition for their cause. Of course no sane person wants to see Rwanda go back to its darkest days.
The assignment the RPF chairman has given the party members is definitely timely. The task to ensure that Rwanda maintains its course does not rest with the President alone. Change is inevitable and with just four years to 2017, all stakeholders must come up with a solution that will make the country a better place for Rwandans for many generations to come.”


Clever use of “Of course no sane person wants to see Rwanda go back to its darkest days,” no? It almost reads a bit like a threat–definitely tries to challenge how stable the country would be if Kagame left.

Rwandan Ministry of the Interior (MINITER).  “The task at hand for RPF cadreshttp://www.newtimes.co.rw/news/index.php?i=15265&a=63752 …” 10 Feb. 2013, 10:00 PM.  Tweet.


PS for future reference, this atlantic link discusses the proper way to cite a tweet, MLA style.


Week 3 – Making sense of the genocide

By gabriela on February 11, 2013

The main reason I am taking this course is to try to understand what led to 1994 genocide in Rwanda. More than that, I really desire to comprehend what psychologically occurred to several thousands of Rwandans that made them believe that slaying their enemy with a machete was the only possible solution to their problems. Straus’s article seems to present historical facts that are not usually talked about when describing the background to the genocide. He goes over hardliner responses that could have played important roles in preparing the country for genocide. Nevertheless, Straus goes way too quickly over social mechanisms that could explain the widespread violence. He mentions scapegoating, crowd behavior and dehumanization.

In search for more details on those issues, I watched Stanley Milgram’s ‘Obedience’. The 1960s film involves footage of a social psychology experiment on obedience to authority figures. It was quite interesting to learn how over 50% of the individuals being experimented on would obey the instructions from what they considered a legitimate authority. They obeyed despite the fact that the commands given involved injuring a third person. The film demonstrates how people are much more inclined in bending their morals when they are in groups, where the responsibility for the wrongful actions committed is dissipated. Additionally, the subjects proceeded with their unethical actions after the scientists assured them that the responsibility of any harm cause to the third individual would be the lab’s and not the subject’s. The film did assist me a bit in comprehending the genocide, especially when the narrator affirms that the person’s “context of action must always be considered” and that “the individual upon entering the lab becomes integrated in a situation that carries its own momentum”. Both of these comments are most definitely relatable to Rwandan’s genocidal actions in 1994.

Networks and Connections

By stephanie on February 11, 2013

In reading more of Marie Umutesi’s ordeal during the Rwandan genocide this week, it became much clearer to me that the 1994 genocide was not caused my an innate ethnic hate within the society. While we know this to be true despite the government literature that exploits this existing view point, it became more and more obvious that social stratifications, including regional, education, network, and class, were a lot more of a driving force that determined who killed who and the reasons for these acts as I read on. While it is hard to imagine what drove people to kill their own neighbors, Umutesi’s account explains how that may be possible. In the chapter “Increasing Violence,” she describes the lack of compassion a young hairdresser has for a group of Northern refugees because of their political and regional differences. Urban dwellers disbelieved their stories of killings committed by the rebels and dismissed them as propaganda. This lack of compassion was also affected by government propaganda. The most important determinant for Umutesi’s survival seemed to be her connections her network of NGO workers.


After having her office raided by SCR soldiers, Umutesi was able to get information on the soldiers’ motives and plans for her because of one of her personal connections. Her cousin’s husband was able to call and inform her that they suspected she knew the RPF’s plan and wanted to have her arrested. Umutesi also had a policeman in her network, who during the raids in 1994, was able to mention her family to the chief of security and ensure that she would not be bothered for a short period of time. This is one of many examples where she was able to stay alive as a result of her connections.

Veterans, the RDRC, and Biased Sources

By amandab on February 10, 2013

This weekend I was browsing through articles on the New Times’ homepage and came across one with the headline “Veterans get life skills.” It discusses how the RDRC (Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission) has been sending former combatants to vocational schools to be trained for occupations. The RDRC then gives them starter kids to help them begin work in their own business once they have received this training. So far, 7200 ex-combatants have been sent to these vocational schools and are being trained in areas such as carpentry, brick-laying, welding, construction, electronics, and hair dressing. They are told to not sell the tools they receive. The RCDC stresses that they are “here to ensure that you will not start from scratch” and has been praised for the “continued support of the former soldiers.”
While reading, I kept thinking about how the New Times is sponsored by the current government and how this bias may have influenced the material and quotes included in the article. The former rebel that the author chose to quote says that she “no longer [has] an excuse” to not be employed, which has negative implications towards most of the demobilized soldiers. One head of a vocational school comments on the ex-soldiers’ “diligent… effort to get a better life” and praises the RDRC for “helping to make their dreams a reality.” After reading both government and non-government sources in class this week, as well as critiques about the Rwandan government’s censorship of information, I’ve now become particularly conscious of who writes the material I read. I find myself wondering how accurate or how biased the writing is, and that’s a bit disorienting especially when it’s a seemingly simple article. This particular New Times article made me think about how the current government feels towards “ex-combatants” and if they usually tend to treat them differently than other civilians. This article spoke extremely highly of the RDRC and presented veterans as generally not being well-off or remarkable members of society.

check out the article for yourself at http://www.newtimes.co.rw/news/index.php?i=15265&a=63755

A Rose-Tinted Take on the Past

By Frances on February 10, 2013

The organization of historical events into a comprehensible narrative/set of narratives is common practice (and maybe even natural tendency) in human societies throughout the globe. We construct them about our own past; we construct them about the history of others. I think that this past week of class and readings has raised, for me, a number of questions both about the politics of falsifying one’s own historical narratives for political reasons, and about the consequences of “correcting” false-but-influential historical narratives about other nations and peoples.

Two things seem completely clear to me from this week’s readings. First, the fact that the predominant (RPF-supported) official Rwandan line on its own history has to do with a view of the traditional “cultural and linguistic unity of the Hutus and the Tutsis” (Shyaka 17), upset only during the colonial and immediate post-colonial periods. The other is that the predominant western line on Rwanda is not so far off: though not necessarily emphasizing former unity to the extent of the current RPF government, many sources seem to take as a given the “colonial introduction of race thinking” (Straus 40) – as if it was introduced into a power vacuum.

Poitier elaborates on the way this blame of the colonizers for Hutu and Tutsi categories has become cemented in the new wave of commentary on Rwanda in the western press, and especially in “an ongoing series of statements regarding the roots of ethnicity by mainly Anglophone analysts, who have neither research experience in Rwanda nor any great understanding of its vast literature” (111). These western sources project backward a model of Rwanda as categorically fluid and rooted in a unified society. Poitier notes that “its history was…presented as a simple linear progression from a time about one hundred years ago, when ‘Tutsi and Hutu lived in relative harmony’, to a transformative colonial episode” (118). The collusion of RPF rhetoric with the western press could seem convincing in its overlap; however, given some of the other evidence cited by Poitier on the distinct effort by Rwandan powers to rewrite its own past, one begins to more than wonder about the overlap, particularly about the lack of attention paid to the potential layers of elitism woven into the discourse.

On some level, the idea that the Rwandan historical narrative is potentially being reframed and reconceived by the current RPF government (“Gasana…confirmed that one of the priorities of the new government was to rewrite the history books” (Poitier 127)) is absolutely unsurprising, as this process is unfortunately a central piece in the typical undermining of alternative narratives in order to build any nationalism (it is true in America as well – the Thanksgiving story? I mean comeon). The government has an obvious incentive to promote unity and vilify western colonial involvement – especially French and Belgian (thus the influence of the Anglophone connection) – to sustain peace in the country, and ensure its continued nexus of power.

The western scholarly line and its flaws seemed initially more surprising to me, as many of these scholars are not as invested in boosting perspectives of historical Rwanda as they are intent on vilifying colonial rule – thus the focus on “western-imposed” ethnicity. When I initially “learned” this perspective, I thought of it as radically forward-thinking in contrast with the initially popularized “long-standing ethnic hatred/tribal conflict” bit bought by many westerners off the bat. But as Poitier states provocatively, “critiquing international intervention is one thing, understanding local politics quite another” (127). In vehemently criticizing the colonial project in Rwanda and all but blaming it for the genocide, some western scholarship seems to carve out and bolster a subsequently over-large space for the internal misrepresentation of Rwanda’s less-than-perfect past.