- Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide
Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide


Transforming the National Narrative or Transforming the Nation?

By allie on February 10, 2013

After reading Straus’ article and hearing Erin Jessee speak I was reflecting on their thoughts and found myself fixated on the issues surrounding the national narrative. Jessee spoke on the entrenchment and pervasiveness of the national narrative in Rwanda while Straus echoed these sentiments that show an encouragement of a type of tribal history that completely ignores the arbitrariness of territorial divisions imposed by colonialism and imperialism. Is there some truth to the polarization of ethnicity in pre-colonial era? And because history is used strategically as a tool to shift responsibility and blur true intentions, what would it mean for a transformation of this national narrative? What would incorporating a more complex history of Rwanda involve for both domestic and international attitudes? Is looking at such a transformation, essentially looking at the reconfiguration of the entire Rwanda society and culture? Or is it simply a guise to manipulate and paralyze the international community and most Rwandans understand this?


  • kristi said:

    I have many of the same questions. What stumps me particularly is that if constructed national narratives are produced and reproduced within and are part and parcel of intricate, yet large systems–or apparatuses, to take a line from Althusser–such as the formal educational system, how does one go about attempting to change that cycle/standard set by those in power? The rhetoric of the national discourse is set such that the ruling elite stay in power, spreading their own ideology. So yes, I think the reconfiguration is necessary. Perhaps it relies on finding that space for local scholarship, with exposing information and then infiltrating these systems of higher power… But then again, relying on those local narratives and personal experiences is difficult due to perhaps sacrifices that must be made in order to overthrow such corrupt systems. What serves as the impetus to make that first step?

    Transformation and reconfiguration…yes. But I think it’s important that this comes within the Rwandan community itself. Many times such involves Western perspectives coming in, attempting to facilitate change and empowerment, exposing local histories. But, as we have seen in “The Greatest Silence,” we must do so without objectifying and ostracizing the communities which are studied. So, if we *are* looking at the reconfiguration of the entire Rwanda society and culture, how can we facilitate that best without imposing a sort of “development as improvement” discourse?

    I feel like I oscillate between being hopeful for transformation and hopeless because of the overwhelming aspect of the reproduction of power… I guess that’s why the first step is to learn about the histories and approaches that may lead to an eventually overthrow of corrupted state apparatuses.

  • Professor Thomson said:

    Good questions, Allie. Have you looked into whether or not Rwanda’s borders were actually arbitrarily drawn? Even if there were, how much does it matter as a rationale for current policies? Remember Vansina’s caution, we cannot look to the past to predict the future. Rather, it sets a baseline for analysis of the present through the prism of the past. We can discuss further in class if you like….

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