- Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide
Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide


RPF – Shaping Media and Scholarly Information about Rwanda’s Past

By samantha on February 10, 2013

In my first reading of the article “For Beginners, By Beginners: Knowledge Construction under the Rwandese Patriotic Front”, I was reminded of an idea discussed in Benedict Andersen’s Imagined Communities.  In creating his argument that the history of nations and groups is imagined, Andersen claims that this is done, in part, through convenient forgetting.  This can be seen in the history of the United States for example, where we like to examine ourselves as purveyors of freedom and justice for the downtrodden, while forgetting about the many people we as a nation stepped upon in our creation.  According to the Pottier article, this forgetting in the creation of a Rwandan national identity involves forgetting the existence of ethnic based systems prior to the arrival of German colonizers.

In this particular history, the RPF claims that history prior to Rwanda’s colonization was only minimally unfair with little emphasis on ethnicity.  Pottier’s article cites varying forms of revisionist history, which place a large blame on colonialism for creating the issue of ethnicity within Rwanda.  While it is true that colonialism in Rwanda certainly involved a lack of respect for the colonized (something that is true within nearly all colonies), it is incorrect to assume that (1) Rwanda’s colonizers created these ethnicities, and (2) post colonial society in Rwanda was idyllic.  According to Pottier, neither of these statements are true.  First, colonists certainly emphasized ethnicity when labeling the Rwandans, and the Belgium colonial powers were certainly responsible in part for entrenching ethnicity in bureaucratic society; however, the categories of Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa were already in place when Germany first colonized Rwanda.  Next, some modern ‘scholars’ of Rwanda thrive on creating a history that claims that post-colonial Rwanda was idyllic.  These ideas fit well into an RPF narrative by creating historical evidence that Rwandan society would be best served by erasing ethnicity all together.  While these claims make sense from a political point of view for the people in power, they are not historically accurate, and do not properly portray the way in which pre-colonial society operated.

The Rwandan Patriotic Front supports such understandings and the scholars that portray them because they fit a political agenda; however, this creation of history serves no one.  By ignoring the true history of Rwanda, the government is preventing this and future generations from being able to learn from the mistakes of not only the colonial governments, but of past Rwandan rulers as well.

1 Comment

  • Professor Thomson said:

    Great summary and analysis of Pottier’s contribution to our “historical method.” Any response to the assigned NURC reading in which we learn of how the current government understands (and perpetuates) an idealized past?

    Do you think the NURC reading idealizes Rwanda’s shared history (something that is often cited when seeking to understand the genocide)? Is this history part and parcel of Anderson’s understanding of an imagined community? Do you think the current version of history relies on this imagined reality (in suppressing lived history in favour of official history)?

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