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  • Memory and Justice in Post-Genocide Rwanda
  • Online publication date: August 2017
  • pp 27-186

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Part I Creating What You Are Afraid of The Rwandan Patriotic Front’s Transitional Justice Program

There is a group of leaders who have their own project for society, and they want you to join into this project. If you fall outside, they are afraid that you will go in a different direction. There is also a visceral reaction that if you leave these lines that they have set, it could lead us into what happened before. … But you create what you are afraid of.

– Rwandan Civil Society Leader, 2002

Introduction to Part I: The RPF as a Janus-Faced Movement

Two widely divergent images have emerged of post-genocide Rwanda and the party that has dominated Rwandan politics since 1994. Development experts praise the Rwandan Patriotic Front’s efficiency, resistance to corruption, and commitment to economic growth.1 Many diplomats praise the RPF for promoting national unity, advocating reconciliation rather than revenge, and seeking to eliminate the ethnic differences that have divided the country. The seriousness of purpose of leaders impresses outside observers. For much of the world, the RPF represents a model of good governance in the aftermath of a terrible disaster, not only bringing order and economic development but also altruistically promoting forgiveness and reconciliation in the face of horrific violence.2 Journalist Stephen Kinzer, for example, contrasts Rwanda with Somalia and contends that against expectations, Rwanda has become peaceful and unified:

Rwanda … rebelled against its destiny. It has recovered from civil war and genocide more fully than anyone imagined possible and is united, stable, and at peace. Its leaders are boundlessly ambitious. Rwandans are bubbling over with a sense of unlimited possibility. Outsiders, drawn by the chance to help transform a resurgent nation, are streaming in … Rwanda is not being torn apart by civil war, like Somalia, or by criminal violence, like Kenya. Instead, it is stable, its people groping their way toward modernity and liberation.3

Paul Farmer, whose organization Partners in Health has worked closely with the government to implement health sector reforms, is a particularly strong defender of the regime:

Today Rwanda has been transformed. Mass violence has not recurred within the country’s borders, and its gross domestic product has more than tripled over the past decade. Growth has been less uneven than in other countries in the region, partly because both local and national governments have made equity and human development guiding principles of recovery. Recent studies suggest that more than one million Rwandans were lifted out of poverty between 2005 and 2010, as the proportion of the population living below the poverty line dropped from 77.8% in 1994 to 58.9% in 2000 and 44.9% in 2010. Life expectancy climbed from 28 years in 1994 to 56 years in 2012. It is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa on track to meet most of the millennium development goals by 2015. Although metrics for equity are disputed, it is an increasingly well known fact that Rwanda today has the highest proportion of female civil servants in the world.4

For Kinzer, Farmer, and many others, the RPF’s success at building peace and stability is due largely to the influence of the RPF leader, President Paul Kagame. Kinzer writes that, “President Kagame … has accomplished something truly remarkable. The contrast between where Rwanda is today and where most people would have guessed it would be today in the wake of the 1994 genocide is astonishing.”5 Phillip Gourevitch, the most widely-read author on Rwanda, similarly portrays Kagame as a moderate leader who has embraced former adversaries and promoted forgiveness and reconciliation. He cites a genocide survivor referring to her génocidaire neighbors, “It’s because of the President that they don’t kill. Forgiveness came from a Presidential order. If he were not there, we would all be killed.”6 Both Kinzer and Gourevitch praise Kagame’s deft management of the economy, having attracted considerable foreign investment, aggressively fought corruption, and brought about impressive economic growth. Kinzer writes that, “Kagame has set out to do something that has never been done before: pull an African country from misery to prosperity in the space of a generation.”7

In contrast, among human rights activists and many scholars of Rwanda, a much less sanguine perspective on post-genocide Rwanda prevails.8 Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who raised the alarm early about the 1994 genocide, also denounced human rights abuses perpetrated by the RPF as it fought its way to power and sought to establish authority, and both organizations have remained consistent critics of the post-genocide regime.9 A growing body of academic publications based on recent fieldwork conducted in Rwanda portrays a heavy-handed state that uses fines, arrests, and other forms of intimidation to force the population into mobilizing for government programs and implementing far-reaching plans to restructure social relations, economic activity, political engagement, and even personal hygiene.10 Long-time Rwanda observer Filip Reyntjens argues that, “The [RPF] regime seeks full control over people and space: Rwanda is an army with a state, rather than a state with an army.”11

The contrast between these two perspectives of post-genocide Rwanda could hardly be more stark, yet ample evidence exists to support each. Any reasonable observer of Rwanda cannot ignore the numerous accomplishments of the post-genocide regime. The RPF-led government has consistently employed a discourse of national unity, justice, and reconciliation. Since the suppression of the uprising in northwestern Rwanda in 1998, the country has been free from large-scale violence. Strong promotion of women’s rights has given Rwanda the distinction of having the highest percentage of women in parliament of any country in the world, the first where women are a majority of members of parliament.12 The regime has placed considerable emphasis on education, leading to a proliferation of schools at all levels, raising the elementary school completion rate from 51.1 percent in 1991 to 79.0 percent in 2011 and the adult literacy rate from 58 percent in 1991 to 70 percent in 2008. Investments in healthcare have helped to lower child malnutrition from 24.3 percent in 1991 to 18.0 percent in 2008.13

Shortly after Kagame became president in 2000, the government released Rwanda Vision 2020, an ambitious economic program “to raise the people of Rwanda out of poverty and transform the country into a middle-income economy” in twenty years.14 The government has since aggressively promoted policies to attract international investment, and the economy has enjoyed annual gross domestic product growth rates as high as 11.2 percent. The government has thoroughly embraced neo-liberal economic reforms, privatizing numerous public assets and adopting extensive regulatory reforms to ease international investment. In 2010, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report ranked Rwanda as having the third lowest burden of government regulation and the twelfth most efficient government overall.15 Rwanda’s ranking in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index was 44th in 2015, among the best in Africa and far ahead of any other East African state.16 Rwanda was welcomed into the East African Community in 2007 and the British Commonwealth in 2009.17

Yet strong evidence also indicates that extensive human rights abuses have simultaneously occurred. The RPF used widespread violence to establish its initial authority, perpetrating massacres, summary executions, and numerous arbitrary arrests in its first years in power, and carrying out a bloody counter-insurgency operation in the northwest in 1997–1998.18 Since 2000, even as the RPF has gained an international reputation for competence and moderation, the leadership has used more subtle means to maintain its power, tightly constraining public space and tolerating little dissent, while coercing the general population to implement sweeping social changes.19 Security forces regularly harassed, arrested, and even killed civil society activists, journalists, and politicians who dared to criticize the government, while average Rwandans who objected to the apparently arbitrary imposition of onerous new regulations or resisted the regime’s constant mobilization programs (such as those for villagization, constitutional reform, elections, gacaca, public works, and land reform) also faced punishment. Beginning with the First Congo War in 1996, while the level of active violence declined inside Rwanda, the RPF carried out massive attacks on civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where violence and instability continue to reverberate.20

In this first part of the book, I explore an aspect of public policy that reveals the Janus-faced nature of RPF rule – transitional justice. I review the government’s diverse programs to shape popular understandings of Rwanda’s past and thus promote a unified national identity. The regime has developed a narrative that emphasizes the historic unity of the Rwandan people, highlights the centrality of the 1994 genocide, and portrays the RPF in a favorable light. It has promoted these ideas through education and propaganda, trials, political reform, and memorialization and commemoration. While the RPF has created these programs in part to promote justice, accountability, and reconciliation, their implementation has also been influenced by the leadership’s suspicion of the Rwandan population and the belief in the absolute necessity that they stay in power. As I explore in the second section of the book, the contradictions in these motivations ultimately undermine their ability to transform Rwandan society.

1 Praise from the head of the United Nations Development Program in Rwanda is typical of the views of many development experts. “Rwanda has made tremendous socioeconomic progress and institutional transformation since the 1994 Genocide. Today Rwanda is a peaceful state enjoying a steady progress toward the achievement of national development goals under a visionary and dedicated leadership.” Aurélien A. Agbénonci, “Introductory Remarks,” Delivering as One: Annual Report 2009, Kigali: United Nations Rwanda, 2010, p. v.

2 C.f., Margee Ensign, “Rwanda at 50: Reflections, Reconstruction, and Recovery,” Huffington Post, July 3, 2012; Michael Fairbanks, “Nothing Good Comes Out of Africa,” Huffington Post, May 3, 2010; Emily Holland, “Dispatches from a Humanitarian Journalist: Dispatch I: Kibuye, Rwanda,” McSweeney’s, September 4, 2007; “Rwanda: Trying to Move on,” Public Radio International’s The World, Jeb Sharp, producer, 2007.

3 Stephen Kinzer, A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2008, pp. 1–2.

4 Paul Farmer, et al., “Reduced Premature Mortality in Rwanda: Lessons from Success,” BMJ, January 2013, pp.

5 Ibid, p. 337.

6 Philip Gourevitch, “The Life After: 15 Years after the Genocide in Rwanda, the Reconciliation Defies Expectations,” The New Yorker, May 4, 2009.

7 Kinzer, A Thousand Hills, p. 336.

8 A recent collection of essays in honor of the late Alison Des Forges by a group of twenty-eight Rwanda scholars was uniformly bleak in its portrayal of post-genocide state and society. Scott Straus and Lars Waldorf, eds., Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011.

9 Amnesty International, “Rwanda: Reports of Killings and Abductions by Rwandese Patriotic Army, April-August 1994,” AFR 47/16/94, London: Amnesty International, October 19, 1994; Amnesty International, “Rwanda: Human Rights May be the Main Casualty of Tensions in the Rwandese Government,” AFR 47/18/95, London: Amnesty International, August 30, 1995; Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story.

10 An Ansoms, “Striving for growth, bypassing the poor: a critical review of Rwanda’s rural sector policies,” Journal of Modern African Studies, 46, no. 1, 2008, 1–32; An Ansoms, “Re-engineering rural society: the visions and ambitions of the Rwandan elite,” African Affairs, 108, no. 431, 2009, 289–309; An Ansoms and Stefaan Marysse, eds., Natural Resources and Local Livelihoods in the Great Lakes Region in Africa: A Political Economy Perspective, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011; Larissa Begley, “‘Resolved to Fight the Ideology of Genocide and all of its Manifestations’: The Rwandan Patriotic Front, Violence and Ethnic Marginalisation in Post-Genocide Rwanda and Eastern Congo,” PhD Dissertation, University of Sussex, March 2011; Burnet, Genocide Lives in Us; Anuradha Chakravarty, Investing in Authoritarian Rule: Punishment and Patronage in Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts for Genocide Crimes, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016; Christopher Huggins, “Seeing Like a Neoliberal State? Authoritarian High Modernism, Commercialization and Governmentality in Rwanda’s Agricultural Reform,” PhD Dissertation, Carleton University, 2013; Bert Ingelaere, “Do We Understand Life After Genocide: Center and Periphery in the Construction of Knowledge on Rwanda,” African Studies Review, 53, no. 1, April 2010, 41–59; Bert Ingelaere, “Peasants, Power and Ethnicity: A Bottom-Up Perspective on Rwanda’s Political Transition,” African Affairs, 109, no. 435, 2010, 273–292; Andrea Purdeková, Making Ubumwe: Power, State, and Camps in Rwanda’s Unity-Building Project, New York: Berghan Books, 2015; Marc Sommers, Stuck: Rwandan Youth and the Struggle for Adulthood, Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 2012; Susan Thomson, Whispering Truth to Power: Everyday Resistance to Reconciliation in Post-Genocide Rwanda, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013.

11 Filip Reyntjens, “Constructing the Truth, Dealing with Dissent, Domesticating the World: Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda,” African Affairs, 2010, 1–34, citation p. 2. See also Filip Reyntjens, “Rwanda Ten Years On: From Genocide to Dictatorship,” African Affairs, 103, 2004, 177–210; and René Lemarchand, “Bearing Witness to Mass Murder,” African Studies Review, 48, no. 3, December 2005, 93–101.

12 Timothy Longman, “Rwanda: Achieving Equality or Serving an Authoritarian State?” in Gretchen Bauer and Hannah Britton, eds., Women in African Parliaments, Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2005.

13 “Rwanda,” World Bank, http://data.worldbank.org/country/rwanda.

14 Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, “Rwanda Vision 2020,” Kigali: Government of Rwanda, July 2000.

15 World Economic Forum, “The Global Competitiveness Report 2010–2011,” http://gcr.weforum.org/gcr2010/, 2010.

16 Transparency International, “Corruption Perceptions Index,” www.transparency.org.

17 “Keep Looking Ahead Rwanda,” The Economist, January 13, 2007; Josh Kron, “Rwanda Joins British Commonwealth,” New York Times, November 29, 2009.

18 Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story, pp. 692–735; Amnesty International, “Rwanda: The Hidden Violence: ‘Disappearances’ and Killings Continue, London: Amnesty International, June 22, 1998.

19 Chakravarty, Investing in Authoritarian Rule, contends that “Although its tight grip in the early transition years depended on the use of blatant force through killings and arbitrary arrests, the RPF has entrenched itself over the years, becoming thoroughly able to project power at the grassroots without over-reliance on these tools of repression” (p. 2).

20 Jason K. Stearns, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, New York: Public Affairs, 2011; René Lemarchand, The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009; Filip Reyntjens, The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996–2006, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

2 Rewriting History in Post-Genocide Rwanda

To contest the past is also, of course, to pose questions about the present, and what the past means in the present. Our understanding of the past has strategic, political, and ethical consequences. Contests over the meaning of the past are also contests over the meaning of the present and over ways of taking the past forward.

– Katharine Hodgkin and Susannah Rodstone, “Contested Pasts”

In the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, the government put into office in Rwanda by the victorious Rwandan Patriotic Front undertook a wide-reaching program of social reform aimed, in part, at preventing future ethnic violence. Among their social programs, the post-genocide government placed a major emphasis on promoting education, believing that low levels of education and high illiteracy had fostered ignorance in the population that increased its vulnerability to manipulation by those who wished to foment ethnic violence. A better-educated population, government officials reasoned, would be more capable of seeing through the false consciousness that, from the perspective of Rwanda’s new rulers, ethnicity represented. The government thus sought not only to increase enrollments in schools from primary through university levels but also to increase the quality of education by revamping the curriculum and raising standards for teachers.1 The results are impressive, with rates of enrollment by primary-age children rising from 66 percent in 1991 to 96.5 percent in 2012, and enrollment in secondary schools rising from 8 to 28 percent of eligible youth during the same period.2

At the same time, however, the Ministry of Education struggled over the appropriate content of education, particularly in the area of history. Shortly after taking power, the government placed a moratorium on the teaching of history in schools. Believing that distorted historical narratives promulgated by schools since the colonial era had promoted the anti-Tutsi ideology that drove the genocide, the Ministry of Education determined that history courses would be removed from the secondary school schedule until a new curriculum could be developed that corrected the distortions of the previous history curriculum.3

Writing a new history for Rwandan schools proved to be a challenging task. History in post-genocide Rwanda is a highly sensitive topic in which the government has expressed a clear vested interest. Those who endeavored to write history entered a political minefield in which their analysis was constrained by the government’s expectations of a “correct” version of history. Yet even those historians who shared the government’s vision of the past were confronted by the sheer magnitude of the task of developing a new narrative entirely at odds with ideas previously accepted as fact by the majority of Rwanda’s people. Although a group of both professional and amateur historians had dedicated considerable attention since 1994 to publishing new interpretations of Rwanda’s past, when conferences were held at the National University of Rwanda (NUR) in 1998 and 1999 to begin the process of developing a definitive history of the country, participants felt that insufficient scholarly groundwork had been laid.

The research project that I participated in from 2001 to 2003 to study Rwandan secondary schools found that participants in both individual and focus group interviews – whether teachers, administrators, parents, or students – uniformly expressed a strong interest in bringing history back into the schools. But when we received funding to work with the Rwandan government to develop a new history curriculum and launched a curriculum development project in 2004, we confronted a contradiction inherent to official attitudes toward history in Rwanda today. The desire to foster critical thinking skills that would allow students to reason for themselves and thereby be capable of resisting manipulation ran into direct conflict with the idea that there was a “correct” version of Rwandan history that anyone who supported the ideals of reconciliation and peace must adopt. In two years of working with a diverse group of high school teachers and students, education and history professors, government officials, and civil society activists, we found repeatedly that the articulated support for the idea of history as a series of problems and opportunities for debate collided with the reality of a highly authoritarian society. Participants appreciated the idea of free discussion of history, but most did not feel sufficiently free in Rwanda’s contemporary political climate to challenge the newly developed orthodox version of Rwandan history. Debate could be tolerated, but only if it led to pre-determined answers.4

Memory, History, and Identity

That national histories are not sets of established facts but rather socially constructed narratives of the past is widely accepted in academic circles today. Popular historical narratives are not unbiased descriptions of events but subjective accounts shaped by the present needs and interests of societies. While history may be “a fable agreed upon,”5 the manner in which historical narratives are constructed has social and political significance. The process by which societies collectively develop and accept myths about the past that become their national history is not benign. The statement attributed to Winston Churchill that, “History is written by the victors,” emphasizes the ways in which the powerful shape history for their own political purposes. Not only do the victors in great wars interpret history in a way that ennobles their cause and vilifies their defeated enemies, but social victors – the rich and powerful who dominate societies – write history to justify their domination and undercut the pretensions to power of society’s losers.6 The construction of historical narrative thus has a coercive nature.

Scholars have employed the concept of collective memory to enlighten discussions of historical narratives and their social impact. Maurice Halbwachs first developed the idea of collective memory in the 1920s, arguing that an individual’s memories are developed in a social context that shapes the content of memory.7 Applying the lens of social psychology, Halbwachs contended that, “the mind reconstructs its memories under pressure of society. … Society from time to time obligates people not just to reproduce in thought previous events of their lives, but also to touch them up, to shorten them, or to complete them so that, however convinced we are that our memories are exact, we give them a prestige that reality did not possess.”8 Even events that we have personally experienced are shaped by the society within which we live.

The concept of collective memory gained new currency in the 1980s when Pierre Nora applied it to the study of nationalism, looking at the “sites of memory” – the memorials, holidays, anthems, and other symbols – that helped shape French Republican identity.9 Nora’s analysis contributed to a growing literature that regards nationalities as “imagined communities,” in which people are tied together not by any real fundamental social, cultural, or historical unity but rather by the idea that they share a common connection.10 Eric Hobsbawm argued that nations cannot ultimately be defined by racial differences or such cultural differences as language or religion but rather by a sense of shared history, “the consciousness of having belonged to a lasting political entity … a ‘historical nation.’”11

Developing a collective historical memory is key to developing national identities, but the process carries coercive tendencies. To build a shared national identity, a population must be re-educated and may ultimately need to be forced into accepting a particular vision of the past. Karl Deutsch’s classic study of nationalism in the aftermath of the Second World War noted that nationalism involves, “processes of social learning and control which are particularly subject to risks of pathological developments and trends to self-destruction.”12 Those engaged in a nationalist project seek to promote a particular collective memory about the past that serves to support their definition of national identity. Such nationalist projects are notoriously intolerant of open debate and discussion. As Katharine Hodgkin and Susannah Rodstone argue in the epigraph, arguments about the past reflect conflicts over the present.13 Nationalists who seek to marshal the past to promote a unified national identity do so ultimately to achieve a particular political goal, and as such they generally cannot tolerate individuals and ideas that seek to complicate the past or challenge aspects of the proposed collective memory.

In Rwanda, the post-genocide government has actively sought to shape collective memory, using a focus on the 1994 genocide as a focal point for constructing a new national identity. In subsequent chapters, I explore the various mechanisms being used to build collective memory, such as genocide memorials and genocide trials. In this chapter, I focus on the more obvious aspects of shaping collective memory, the development and promulgation of a new historical narrative. I first review the ways in which historical narratives served to justify the Rwandan genocide. While the historical myths central to the genocidal ideology did not push most people to participate in the violence, historical narratives did serve to delineate the distinctions between Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa without which the genocide could not have occurred, and for a small core group, the ideas that Tutsi did not belong in Rwanda and that Hutu needed to redeem their besmirched honor motivated participation. As I then analyze, since taking power in 1994, the RPF regime and its supporters have undertaken a major project to re-write Rwandan history. They have completely rejected previous historical narratives and sought to develop new ones; but these are no more based on historical fact than those that preceded them. Just as previous history overemphasized the centrality of ethnicity, the more recent history overemphasizes the historical unity of Rwanda’s population, inaccurately denying any historic social significance at all to ethnicity. More problematic is the attempt to re-imagine the RPF in heroic terms, seeking to expunge from popular memory abuses carried out by the RPF and portray RPF violence as motivated exclusively by the attempt to end genocide and bring peace and democracy to Rwanda. As I will develop in later chapters, this portrayal of the RPF – which is directly at odds with the lived experience of many Rwandans – ultimately undermines the public’s willingness to embrace the new official historical narrative.

History, Ideology, and the Rwandan Genocide

History played a key role in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The ideology used to justify the genocide drew on a historical narrative developed during the colonial period that saw Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa as clear and distinct racial groups and characterized Tutsi as recent arrivals in the region which had conquered and dominated the other groups. Based on this narrative, the instigators of the genocide asserted that Tutsi were foreigners who had no right to be in Rwanda and needed to be feared and opposed because of their history of dominating the majority Hutu.14

While the exact meaning of the categories “Hutu,” “Tutsi,” and “Twa” in pre-colonial Rwanda remains contentious, most scholars today agree that they were not ethnic groups in the modern sense. Current scholarship indicates that the terms reflected a status difference even in pre-colonial times,15 but the groups shared a common culture, spoke the same language, Kinyarwanda, and lived in integrated communities or in close proximity. Furthermore, Hutu and Tutsi were somewhat flexible categories, since intermarriage was possible and a family’s status could change as their fortunes rose or fell.16 The identities emerged as centralizing monarchies sought to extend their control by implanting a Tutsi aristocracy throughout the territory as representatives of the crown.17 Patterns of migration within the region were complex, and each group included both recent migrants and those long in Rwanda.18 Hutu or Tutsi were only one of a number of significant identities for Rwandans along with lineage, region, clan, and sub-clan.

When European missionaries and colonial administrators arrived in Rwanda around the turn of the twentieth century, their perspective on Rwandan society was shaped by then-contemporary European ideas about race and identity. Ignoring the actual complexity of identity within Rwanda, they believed that the Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa identities were paramount, regarding them as three distinct ethnic, or even racial, categories. Influenced by ideas of social Darwinism, that considered identity not merely social but biological, with each ethnic and racial group naturally possessing specific talents and characteristics, they saw in the Tutsi a superior Hamitic group, distant relatives of Caucasians who were more intelligent than their fellow countrymen and therefore natural rulers. They regarded the Hutu as a Bantu group, sturdy and simple, best suited for physical work such as farming, while they considered the Twa a Pygmy group, inferior, lazy, and untrustworthy, never having evolved beyond hunting and gathering.19

The Tutsi elite played on European prejudices to their own advantage, helping develop a historical narrative of Rwanda’s past adapted to European racist assumptions. As Des Forges wrote:

Not only did they use European backing to extend and intensify their control over the Hutu – whose faults they exaggerated to the gullible Europeans – they also joined with the Europeans to create the ideological justification for this exploitation. … In a great and unsung collaborative enterprise over a period of decades, European and Rwandan intellectuals created a history that fit European assumptions and accorded with Tutsi interests.20

According to this history, the Twa, the region’s original inhabitants, were subdued by Hutu who migrated from the west at the beginning of the first millennium. The Tutsi supposedly arrived from the northeast over a millennium later bringing with them cattle and a complex, centralized political system and, because of their natural intelligence and military superiority, subdued the other groups.21

Far from being merely of academic interest, this ideologically shaped historical narrative became a basis for public policy. The German and Belgian administrations established a system of indirect rule that left the Rwandan monarchy in place to facilitate their administration of the territory. At the same time, they reshaped the existing system, consolidating Tutsi social position and centralizing the power of the monarchy, eliminating existing vestiges of Hutu power. Much of Rwanda, and particularly the Hutu, experienced what Catharine Newbury has called “dual colonialism” of both the colonial administration and the central court.22 Both the government and Christian churches reserved most educational and salaried employment opportunities for Tutsi. In the 1930s, the colonial administration required all residents to carry identity cards that listed their ethnicity, hence administratively fixing group identities and eliminating their flexibility.23 These policies effectively increased the salience of Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa identities over other social identities, since they helped determine life chances, while the ideology provided different historical imaginaries for the groups that ultimately helped to convert them into ethnic identities.

For much of the colonial period, the myth of Tutsi conquest and superiority served successfully to justify the group’s privileged position. But following the Second World War, colonial administrators and missionaries influenced by social democratic political ideas began to change their sympathies to the Hutu, whom they now characterized as an oppressed working class who had suffered under the yoke of Tutsi domination for centuries. The same erroneous historical narrative that had been used to support Tutsi dominance was now used to support the emergence of a Hutu counter-elite and justify a shift in political control to Hutu hands following anti-Tutsi violence in 1959. The democratic principle of “majority rule” got distorted in Rwanda to mean rule by the Hutu ethnic majority, and after independence, the government of Kayibanda continued to draw on the historical narrative of Tutsi conquest and exploitation of the Hutu to justify his own consolidation of power as the defender of Hutu interests.24 The false histories of migration as the source of ethnic differentiation in Rwanda and of Tutsi as the long-time oppressors of Hutu continued to be taught in schools after independence.

After Juvénal Habyarimana became president in a 1973 coup, he sought to quell ethnic violence by implementing an ethnic quota system that limited Tutsi access to education and employment, but the basic ideology of Hutu majority rule remained unchanged. When both an internal movement for democratization and the invasion by the Rwandan Patriotic Front challenged the Habyarimana regime in the early 1990s, his supporters returned to the ideology of the Kayibanda years and sought to regain popular support by recasting themselves as the defenders of the Hutu majority against an attempt to re-establish a minority Tutsi dictatorship. They used targeted violence against the Tutsi to heighten ethnic polarization25 and undermined their critics by portraying them as traitors to Hutu interests. This strategy of using ethnic violence to mobilize Hutu support ultimately culminated in the 1994 genocide.26

The ideology used to justify the 1994 genocide and inspire popular participation drew heavily on the historical narrative developed during colonial rule. The message was promulgated as propaganda through meetings of Habyarimana’s political party, the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (Mouvement Révolutionaire National pour le Développement, MRND), and even more extreme Coalition for the Defense of the Republic (CDR), extremist publications, and both the official radio station, Radio Rwanda, and the ostensibly independent Radio-Television of the Thousand Hills (Radio-Télévision Libre des Milles Collines, RTLM), founded by MRND and CDR supporters. The ideology claimed that Tutsi were aliens who did not belong in Rwanda. In a notorious November 1992 speech to an MRND meeting in Gisenyi Prefecture recorded on a cassette and much replayed, Léon Mugesera, the prefecture’s party vice-president, said of members of the largely Tutsi Liberal Party, “I am telling you that your home is Ethiopia, that we are going to send you back there quickly, by the Nyabarongo” [a tributary of the Nile].27 Another major theme was the history of Tutsi conquest and the need for Hutu to revenge their humiliation and emasculation at Tutsi hands. Mugesera asserted that, “At whatever cost, you will leave here with these words … do not let yourselves be invaded. … I know you are men … who do not let themselves be invaded, who refuse to be scorned.”28

For those authors who regard the 1994 Rwandan genocide as a mass uprising in which huge portions – perhaps a majority – of Hutu participated, the genocidal ideology and its historical narrative are key to understanding popular support for the killing campaign. Mahmood Mamdani, for example, portrays the Rwandan genocide as unique because of its mass nature and extensive popular participation.29 He seeks in his text to “make popular agency … thinkable,”30 and contends that the genocide was deeply rooted in the history developed in the colonial era. What happened in Rwanda, “was a genocide by those who saw themselves as sons – and daughters – of the soil, and their mission as one of clearing the soil of a threatening alien presence.”31 Jean-Pierre Chrétien emphasized the role of hate radio in disseminating the message that the Hutu needed to defend themselves against Tutsi trying to re-establish feudalism.32

My own experience in Rwanda just prior to the genocide and my subsequent field research on the genocide (particularly the research I conducted in 1995–1996 for the book Leave None to Tell the Story), convince me that the level of popular participation in the genocide is commonly over-estimated and the role of ideology is exaggerated. Relatively small groups of committed (and trained) killers carried out most of the major massacres at churches, schools, and other central locations before mandatory participation in security patrols and roadblocks implicated a larger portion of the population. Many Hutu men participated in the patrols and roadblocks quite reluctantly, and most of those who participated were not involved in killing. Even those who did participate in the killing, however, were not necessarily driven by a deep hatred of Tutsi whipped up by the genocidal ideology. My own research confirms the findings of Scott Straus’s interviews with confessed genocide perpetrators that people participated primarily out of fear created by the RPF invasion of the country and fear of the consequences of resisting orders by authorities to kill.33 Lee Ann Fujii emphasizes the importance of social networks to explaining participation in the genocide, another factor where the ideology mattered little.34

Nevertheless, the historical narrative about Rwanda’s past and the ideology that drew upon it were significant to the genocide in several ways. Straus’s conclusion that “an ‘ideology of genocide’ did not drive participation in the genocide”35 seems accurate for the vast majority of Rwandans involved in the genocide, but many of the core group of committed killers and those who organized the genocide seem to have been influenced by ideas about a history of oppression and humiliation. For political and social leaders who found their authority slipping away in the early 1990s, the idea of a Tutsi conspiracy made sense. Like other African leaders, Habyarimana developed a neo-patrimonial structure in which he gained support from powerful individuals – principally Hutu from his home region in the north, but also others who were willing to back him – in exchange for opportunities, such as the chance for personal enrichment through embezzling public funds. When the democracy movement challenged this patrimonial elite, their response was not to admit to their own corruption, incompetence, and brutality but to question the motives of those who threatened their power. Because of discrimination, Tutsi were mostly excluded from the elite and widely supported the opposition. Leaders of the regime could thus dismiss the reform movement as a Tutsi conspiracy, particularly when a largely Tutsi army, the RPF, was invading the country. While some Hutu Power leaders may have embraced the ideology of genocide cynically as a tool to motivate popular support, many intensely hated Tutsi. They sincerely believed in the history of Tutsi conquest and domination and deemed themselves the defenders of Hutu interests against a malevolent power-hungry foreign presence on Rwandan soil. The anti-Tutsi ideology’s historical narrative may not explain most popular participation, but it does seem to have motivated many elite participants.

The historical narrative made an even more significant contribution to the genocide, however, in defining the very identity of victims and perpetrators. For scholars, the constructed nature of identities in Rwanda is particularly obvious. Hutu and Tutsi share the same territory and have a common language and culture. Even if claims of physical distinctions between the two groups had historical merit, which they do not, the historic flexibility of group membership and the frequency of intermarriage would have eliminated the reliability of judging individuals by their appearance. What distinguishes the two groups, ultimately, is the idea that they have different historical origins. The fact that historical and anthropological research disproves the assertion that the groups originated through separate migrations36 was politically less significant than the fact that people believed that the two groups were distinct. Jan Vansina’s claim that, “an ethnic group is a group of people who believe erroneously that they share a common history,”37 is quite telling in the Rwandan case. The belief that Hutu and Tutsi had different histories ultimately served to distinguish the groups from one another. Long after any occupational differentiation had disappeared, long after Tutsi had lost the reins of power in Rwanda, what separated them from Hutu was a belief in their difference rooted in the historical narrative of separate origins. Colonialists did not invent Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa as categories, but they worked with Tutsi elites to develop a history that endowed the groups with distinct origins and made it possible to think about them as separate races. This distinction, rooted in a historical narrative, ultimately made the genocide possible by delineating the boundaries of group membership.

The Official Historical Narrative

After the RPF swept to power in July 1994, tens of thousands of Tutsi who had been living as refugees, primarily in Uganda, Zaire, and Burundi, began flooding back into Rwanda. These repatriated Tutsi, widely known in Rwanda as the rapatriés, or returnees, had varying experiences abroad. Many had lived in exile for more than three decades, and a large portion was born abroad and had never set foot in Rwanda. Many refugees grew up in the limited confines of camps – particularly in Uganda – but some enjoyed considerable opportunity and prospered in their adopted lands, as in Congo where many Tutsi made successful careers in trade. Despite their diverse backgrounds, most Tutsi refugees shared, to at least some extent, a common vision of Rwanda and its past that was at sharp variance with the historical narrative widely accepted within Rwandan territory at the time. As Liisa Malkki has demonstrated through her perceptive study of Burundian Hutu refugees in Tanzania, the constructed memory of their homeland can be a powerful social force among refugees.38 In the perspective of the Tutsi refugees, the Rwandan population had been unified prior to colonialism, and the colonial state and the Catholic Church were largely to blame for the persecution and exclusion of the Tutsi. Corrupt post-independence governments worked in league with foreign powers to manipulate the uneducated and gullible population to prevent the return of Tutsi to their rightful place in Rwandan society. The idea of Rwanda as homeland remained central to the refugee community’s identity, and the desire to return was powerful, particularly during periods when the Tutsi faced discrimination because of their outsider status, as in the second Obote regime in Uganda in the early 1980s.39 As Gerard Prunier wrote, “As the years passed and memories of the real Rwanda began to recede, Rwanda slowly became a mythical country in the refugees’ minds.”40 For the young who had no personal experience of Rwanda, “Contrasting an idealized past life with the difficulties they were experiencing, their image of Rwanda became that of a land of milk and honey. Economic problems linked with their eventual return, such as overpopulation, overgrazing or soil erosion, were dismissed as Kigali regime propaganda.”41 As Malkki suggests, the context in which refugees live affects the degree to which they are driven by collective memory.42 The RPF had its roots in the refugee camps of southern Uganda, where life was hard and refugees faced repression. The experience of persecution and limited opportunity shaped the refugees’s view of their own past and the conditions that had forced them to flee into exile. Those who emerged to lead the RPF were motivated by a vision of the past in which the Tutsi were unjustly persecuted.

When the RPF took power in Rwanda, the returned refugees viewed Rwanda through the framework of the collective memory they had developed abroad but found a population whose understanding of the past was quite different from their own. The RPF and its supporters correctly perceived that history had been distorted and used to mobilize the population and enable the genocide.43 To achieve a durable peace, they recognized a need to re-educate the population about the country’s history and replace the previous historical narrative with a new narrative in which Tutsi were not foreign invaders but sons and daughters of the Rwandan soil. Immediately after taking power, the government placed a moratorium on the teaching of history in Rwandan secondary schools, while a group of repatriated intellectuals – including government officials, professors, and other intellectuals, such as priests – began to work on revising Rwanda’s formal history. Scholars with strong international reputations, such as Paul Rutayisire, Gamaliel Mbonimana, Faustin Rutembesa, Célestin Kalimba, and Déogratias Byanafashe, most of whom had been professors in Burundi or Zaire, sought to introduce their ideas to a new Rwandan audience.44 As Jean Nizurugero Rugagi asserted, “The current and urgent task for the historian is to place before the eyes of Rwandans and before international opinion the authentic course of Rwandan history to better denounce the manipulation that it experienced.”45 Dominican Father Bernardin Muzungu founded a quarterly journal, Lumière et Société, focused on correcting understandings of the Rwandan past, the Center for Conflict Management at the NUR in Butare undertook research on issues such as the migration of people into Rwanda and the historic sources of ethnic conflict, and major conferences on the history of Rwanda were organized at the NUR in 1998 and 1999. Government officials in their public addresses, the national radio in both news reports and special programing, and various newspapers and magazines have regularly discussed both Rwanda’s recent and more remote history, using the same historical narrative as the historians.46 In the remainder of this chapter, I provide a brief overview of the major themes raised in both the academic historical works and official government discourse.

The Essential Unity of the Rwandan People

The fundamental unity of Rwanda’s people in pre-colonial times is a major theme of the new historical narrative. The scholarship generally does not pretend that the region was entirely peaceful, as kingdoms rose and fell and various individuals and groups vied for political power, but conflicts did not occur along lines of identity. In fact, the narrative challenges the idea that ethnic divisions have a historic basis. Scholars draw on linguistic analysis and archeology to demonstrate that patterns of migration into Rwanda were complex and do not explain the emergence of the country’s ethnic groups.47 The fact that clans cut across ethnic lines is raised as proof of the historic unity of the three groups.48 The shared use of the Kinyarwanda language is offered as evidence of the cultural unity of the Rwandan people,49 as is the unifying belief in a high god, Imana.50 President Kagame has often asserted the unity of pre-colonial Rwandans, as in a 2003 speech in San Francisco, in which he stated, “The Bahutu, Batutsi, and Batwa were Banyarwanda until the colonial adventure.”51 Pre-colonial Rwanda was effectively a nation state, because it had a single national identity and clearly defined territory,52 which is said to have been considerably larger than the boundaries of Rwanda set in colonial times, encompassing much of eastern Congo and southern Uganda, a fact used to justify modern incursions into Congo.53

The narrative contends that while the categories Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa existed before colonialism, they emerged within Rwanda rather than through migration. Oral sources are cited to suggest that Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa come from common descent. According to Rwandan myths, the three social groups are descendants of the children of one father. Imana (God) gave them each milk to guard. Gatwa drank his milk, Gahutu spilled his, and only Gatutsi kept his milk safe, which is why Imana put Gatutsi in charge of his brothers. The story “shows that in the ancestral tradition, what we currently call ethnicities are not a question of race but of ‘wealth and social rank.’ In effect, the story speaks of three brothers, not of three races.”54 In pre-colonial Rwanda, the three groups lived in harmony, and their relations were not grossly unequal, with each fulfilling a defined social and economic function. In particular, the relationship between Hutu and Tutsi was not feudal, as colonial scholars purported, because relations were reciprocal and mutually beneficial.55 Many writers argue that Rwanda was like a large extended family with diverse members nevertheless intimately tied together. “It was on this natural line that national unity was grafted as a larger extension of the family. In this way, the king was considered not only as the political chief, but above all as the ‘supreme patriarch of all families.’”56

The idea that the monarchy served to unify Rwandans of all groups is key to the narrative. The royal Nyiginya clan gradually centralized its rule over the Rwandan population in the centuries before colonialism. “The result of this centralization and this increased uniformity of the management of the country was a consciousness of the unity of the population. One king, one law, one people – such was Rwanda in this pre-colonial ‘Nyiginya’ period. This step of development of the country was the supreme realization of Rwanda as a family whose members were named the Rwandans or Rwandan people.”57 The king was above ethnicity. As a presidential commission on Rwanda’s national unity concluded, “The King was the crux for all Rwandans. … [A]fter he was enthroned, people said that ‘he was no umututsi anymore,’ but the King for the people. … In the programme of expanding Rwanda, there was no room for disputes between Hutus, Tutsi and Twas. The King brought all of them together.”58 In sum, “The Rwandans constitute one ethnicity, not three, and have the same origin, a common biological relationship due to the numerous intermarriages over the millenniums.”59

The Divisive Role of Colonialism

If Rwandans were historically a unified people, the narrative clearly blames colonial rule for dividing the population, particularly along ethnic lines.60 As Gérard Nyirimanzi writes, “The current crisis has a cause exterior to our past: the racism inculcated in our united people for centuries by the colonizer.”61 The Catholic Church began the practice of ethnic segregation by establishing schools for Tutsi,62 and the colonial administration then adopted the idea of ethnic differentiation.63 Missionaries and others developed a historical narrative that sought to explain the different ethnic groups but that actually created the myths that gave the divisions social meaning. “Colonial historiography not only created cleavages between three social categories but, more seriously, conferred on them an ancient existence. The differences between these entities, rather falsified and unduly important, are explained in reference to the different historical origins.”64 The colonial idea that Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa were three separate racial groups that migrated into Rwanda at different times became the basis of colonial policy, and priests, teachers, and administrators ultimately duped the Rwandan population into believing the veracity of the racial origins of Rwanda’s differences.65 As Michaël Kayihura states, “The Western historians, ethnographers, and anthropologists accustomed us to a certain number of physical, moral, social, and cultural stereotypes, about which the least that one can say is that they have had a long life, since they still remain in the work of certain post-colonial authors.”66

The power and benefits that came to the Tutsi during the colonial period were not due to their own actions but part of the colonial strategy of domination. Once the Tutsi began to seek to wrest control of their country, the colonial rulers switched support to the Hutu in a cynical bid to retain as much power as possible. The Europeans in Rwanda created an “exacerbation through words and acts of the differences between Hutu and Tutsi, by the colony and the mission. The Roman tactic of ‘divide et impera’ (divide to better manipulate) was chosen to prevent the independence of Rwanda. To do this, it was necessary to raise up the Hutu who didn’t ask for it against the Tutsi who demanded it.”67 Cynical colonial manipulations cast the Tutsi as arrogant, dominating foreigners. “After the alliances were changed, the Tutsi were abandoned by the colonizers for having committed the fault of demanding the independence of their country, what were previously Tutsi qualities became faults or, more exactly, the opposite of an asset.”68

Even well-meaning colonials, such as progressive priests, acted out of a misunderstanding of the Rwandan situation. Flemish priests saw in the Hutu a working class like the Flemish and equated the Tutsi with arrogant Walloons who had historically dominated Belgium. They saw their fight for the Hutu as a fight for justice. “In this hope for justice, these young Flemish forget the great majority of Tutsi who lived in a low social condition at the same level as the Hutu.”69

The History of Genocide and Post-Independent Governance

According to the official narrative, the uprising of 1959 was not, as previously contended, a “revolution” but instead the first instance of genocide in Rwanda’s history.70 This first instance of ethnic violence in Rwanda’s history was due directly to European manipulations, as colonial administrators, missionaries, and others feared losing their control to a radicalized Tutsi political class who would not have allowed neocolonial domination. A key idea in the narrative is that colonial and post-colonial manipulation distorted democracy in Rwanda. Majority rule came to be understood not as government by the political majority but as rule by the ethnic majority, the Hutu. “The identification of the mass as only the Hutu was the fatal error for the country. This logic culminated in negating purely and simply the nationality of all Tutsi and ignored the existence of the Twa. We already have here the premises of the genocide of 1994.”71

The First and Second Republics are understood as pawns of neo-colonial authority. The Hutu who took power were handpicked by the Europeans and betrayed the interests of the Rwandan people for their own personal benefit. “The two first republics were simply extensions of colonization by imposed ‘natives.’”72 “The Rwandan social order created by colonization endured more than 30 years in the two first republics.”73

Violence against Tutsi began in 1959, and the governments of both Kayibanda and Habyarimana must also be understood in light of this violence. Nyirimanzi’s reference to, “the catastrophe that befell our country beginning in 1959 and the culmination of which took place in 1994,”74 is typical in regarding the period of 1959–1994 as a continuous time of violence against the Tutsi, gradually and inevitably building toward the 1994 genocide.75 Failure to hold anyone accountable for the earlier violence made possible the genocide in 1994. The anti-Tutsi ideology and policies of the regimes completely overshadow any other policies, such as the focus on economic development.76 Issues not related to ethnic violence are glossed over or entirely ignored. For example, Jean-Damascène Ndayambaje writes that, “Violence by the Parmehutu Party against the Tutsi marked the entire period 1959–1973,”77 ignoring the actual periodic nature of the violence and the general absence of ethnic violence between 1965 and 1973. The history of both republics is reduced to the aspects relevant to ethnic discrimination and ethnic violence, as though nothing other than identity issues were politically relevant.78 As Kagame has said, “The period of 1959 to 1994 is indeed a history of genocide in slow motion.”79

The Centrality of the Genocide

The genocide is the focal point of Rwanda’s current historical narrative. Much as the previous regimes referred endlessly to the 1959 “revolution” to justify their actions and interpreted contemporary history in light of this uprising against Tutsi and colonial oppressors, the RPF regime has identified the genocide as the key event against which all Rwandan history before and since must be considered. Colonial history is seen as laying the groundwork for genocide,80 and the First and Second Republics are understood to have built inevitably toward the 1994 genocide. President Kagame and other politicians regularly refer to the genocide as the primary source of Rwanda’s ongoing challenges and as justification for many current government policies. Kagame began his 2003 San Francisco speech with the line, “There is no greater crime than genocide,”81 using the genocide to frame all of his subsequent remarks. The RPF claims considerable moral authority for having stopped the genocide, and the threat of renewed genocide justifies many ongoing government policies.

The historical narrative offers an interpretation of the genocide that emphasizes its mass popular nature and its brutality. The government and its supporters have consistently insisted on the largest possible number of victims – usually over one million – to emphasize the very serious nature of the genocide.82 The editors of Cahiers Lumière et Société assert (without supporting evidence) that since 1959 two million people have been killed in Hutu–Tutsi violence in Rwanda.83 Along with a large number of victims, the narrative portrays the genocide as an event in which nearly every Hutu in the country was caught up and that involved extraordinary depravity. This emphasis implies that anyone in Rwanda at the time of the genocide is tainted by the violence. Only those who lost their lives opposing the genocide can be known to have truly challenged the violence. Survival implies cooption; one has to have done something to survive. Hence, not only all Hutu who survived are suspect, even if they seemed to actively oppose the genocide, but also by implication, so are Tutsi survivors.84

The narrative attributes the genocide to sources both external and internal to Rwanda. International responsibility for the genocide is assigned not simply to the role that colonialism played in creating ethnic divisions, but also to ongoing failures by the international community.85 France is singled out in particular for having supported the Habyarimana regime, cooperated with the FAR in combating the RPF, trained and armed the militia groups that carried out the genocide, and helped the Rwandan army and militia members escape into Zaire by establishing the Zone Turquoise.86 Kagame writes, “I hold the French government, in particular, responsible for helping to arm and train the militias that dispersed throughout the country to wipe out the Tutsi population.”87 The rest of the international community bears responsibility for failing to stop the genocide. Kagame asserted, “The UN and the international community as a whole abandoned Rwanda in 1994.”88 Gasana Ndoba, the president of the National Commission for Human Rights, asserted that, “the genocide was prepared and executed in the view of and with the knowledge of the international community.”89 In his speech on the ninth anniversary of the genocide, President Kagame, asked, “Fifty years ago they said, ‘Never again,’ but what did they do so that this would not be committed in our country?”90

The narrative attributes blame within the country in two distinct ways. Responsibility lies first with the elite, particularly government officials, who selfishly used their power for personal gain and served foreign interests rather than the national interest. Bad governance is a common theme in discussions of the genocide. The leaders of both the First and Second Republics are regarded as having set the stage for the genocide with their abuse of power and their ethnic discrimination. The discourse pays scant attention to the internal process of democratization from 1990 to 1994 other than to note that many politicians formerly in opposition ultimately re-aligned themselves with President Habyarimana and the Hutu-Power movement. The Democratic Republican Movement (Mouvement Démocratique Républicain, MDR) is particularly singled out for having maintained the anti-Tutsi values of its predecessor party Parmehutu.91 A few Hutu, such as Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, are recognized as martyrs, but the narrative sees most Hutu as having in fact been complicit in the genocide.

Elites outside the government are also condemned for their complicity. Members of civil society – even human rights organizations – are said to have participated in the genocide, indicating the total bankruptcy of the intellectual class. Paul Rutayisire makes a stinging critique of the Catholic Church and its complicity in the genocide, both for its historic and contemporary role, a perspective embraced by many of the former refugee intellectuals. “In the process that led to genocide, the Catholic hierarchy was complicit, as much in its behavior as in its teachings, in broadcasting the evil that ate away at Rwandan society. Even the most unconditional defenders of the Catholic Church do not contest this fact.”92 In general, the educated in Rwanda, whether in the government or outside, are considered to have led the country down the road to genocide.

The narrative walks a fine line between blaming the Rwandan population and vindicating them by blaming the international community and the national leadership. The masses are regarded as having participated widely in the genocide, but mostly because of their severe poverty and ignorance that made them vulnerable to manipulation by ill-intentioned elites. The masses were deceived by “an ideology of discrimination,”93 that claimed not only that the Tutsi were foreigners and that Rwanda belonged to Hutu,94 but that all Tutsi in Rwanda were enemies of the Hutu; killing Tutsi was therefore self-defense.95 The low level of education within the population limited the masses’ capacity to critically assess the false ideas being fed to them.96 Poverty is also considered a major cause of the genocide, as the wretched lives of the masses made them respond to promises of economic opportunity.

Given its centrality, the genocide must be highlighted and commemorated in order to prevent it from recurring. As the regional representative of the survivors’ group IBUKA reported in a radio interview, “Some people have even said that remembering [the genocide] does not coincide with the process of unity and reconciliation of Rwandans. This is not a good idea. People holding this opinion only take account of their own interests. … He who doesn’t know where he is coming from, doesn’t know where he is going.”97

The RPF as Agent of Peace and Democracy

The narrative depicts the RPF as Rwanda’s saviors who reluctantly used military force for the benefit of all Rwandan people. Rwanda was suffering under dictatorship and violence, and the Habyarimana regime was unwilling to accept real democracy or allow refugees the right to return to their homeland. “The RPF had to develop an armed wing, because the Rwandan regime did not understand the language of peace.”98 The goals of the RPF were the repatriation of refugees, the overthrow of the dictatorship, and the “elimination of the virus of divisionism.”99

The narrative portrays the RPF as serving a noble cause and acting out of self-sacrifice, and their invasion is called the “War of Liberation.” The beginning of the war in 1990 is commemorated as a national holiday annually on October 1, known as the Day of Patriotism. In a speech marking the holiday in 2002, President Kagame claimed, “[T]welve years ago to the day, Rwandans began to struggle against injustice in Rwanda and to proceed with the general reform of the bad politics that scatter the Rwandan people. … This day … reminds us that Rwandans who love their country whether in the interior or the exterior rose up to struggle against the bad leadership that existed in the country.”100 While the War of October, as it was known within Rwanda, was extremely unpopular within the country at the time, the RPF has attempted to use the Day of Patriotism to recast the war as a struggle not against the Rwandan people but by the Rwandan people against corrupt authoritarian governance and ethnic violence. Ignoring the pro-democracy movement that had begun months earlier, the narrative treats the RPF invasion as the beginning of efforts for reform.

The idea that the RPF stopped the genocide is a crucial element of the historical narrative. While the international community utterly failed to act on the promise of “never again,” the RPF acted boldly, renewing its attack on Rwanda with the sole purpose of stopping the genocide. According to Bernardin Muzungu, “While the machete and other instruments of death made the law in Rwanda and the international community waited with arms crossed, the RPF-Inkotanyi threw its youth into the fire. The dispersal of the killers was total.”101 The attack on Rwanda that the RPF renewed in April 1994 is reinterpreted as an “anti-genocidal campaign.”102

According to the narrative, the RPF has devoted itself since taking power to correcting the mistakes of the past and reforming Rwanda so that ethnic violence will never recur. As Kagame said, “When the RPF took over, Rwanda was in utter anarchy. … We quickly realized that our task was to restore hope to the Rwandan people and to return power to the population. We have restored trust in the judiciary and have therefore been able to avoid revenge. The long established culture of impunity, which made possible the 1994 genocide, has at last been broken. People now have complete security of life and property.”103 The RPF fought against ethnic discrimination and “divisionism,” establishing a multi-party, multi-ethnic “government of transition.”104 The mention of ethnicity was removed from national identity cards, and positions in schools and government employment are now determined by the principle of merit. Many articles on the history of ethnic violence include a statement on how the current regime has broken with the practice of discrimination. For example, Kayihura writes, “Today, four years after the genocide, the Government of National Unity is striving, against winds and tides, to restore the Rwandan society in a context of beneficial national reconciliation.”105

A corollary of the narrative depicting the RPF as noble and self-sacrificing seeks to obliterate any public memory of RPF abuses during and after the 1990–1994 war. As heroic saviors of the country, the RPF cannot also be villains. The idea that the RPF bears any responsibility for the genocide itself, for having attacked the country without regard for the consequences for Tutsi still within Rwanda, is categorically rejected.106 Furthermore, any apparent abuses during the war and its aftermath are either unfortunate casualties of a just war (generally seen as misunderstood or exaggerated) or the actions of rogue individuals who operated outside the approval of the RPF leadership. As Kagame said, “We acted to stop a genocide, but you cannot stop individuals from committing crimes individually.”107 His point is that any violence carried out against civilians by the RPF or its soldiers was incidental and not systematic. The idea of a “double genocide” advanced by some regime critics is vociferously rejected as a form of genocide denial; if both sides committed genocide, then blame is shared and the crime is less serious. As Kagame said in response to a question about potential indictments of RPF officials at the ICTR, “What in Rwanda we are opposed to is equating inequitable situations. … Don’t divert from the main purpose of the Tribunal, and that is to try those involved in the genocide.”108 Rwanda’s two incursions into the DRC in 1996–1997 and 1998–2002 were necessary for Rwanda’s security, particularly to prevent a recurrence of genocide. The troops “showed their courage and their sacrifice based on their patriotic love [of Rwanda]”109

Criticism of the RPF is treated as revisionist support for the “double genocide” theory. An article on the double-genocide theory equates criticism of the RPF with both genocide denial and support for the génocidaires.110 Those in the international community who criticize the RPF regime are hypocrites, since they did not oppose the regime that carried out the genocide but now dare to condemn the RPF, which stopped the genocide.111 Those Rwandans who criticize the RPF demonstrate their continuing adherence to genocidal ideologies. For example, when former President Bizimungu’s political party was banned for promoting “divisionism,” those who supported the new political party that he formed were accused of supporting genocide.112 A few months later, the MDR was similarly criticized for having, “always supported the divisions that have beset our country,”113 and its presidential candidate, former Prime Minister Twagiramungu was accused of having denied the genocide.114 The parliamentary committee ultimately concluded that the MDR should be suppressed, because the ideology of the party was merely a continuation of Kayibanda’s anti-Tutsi Parmehutu and the leadership was both implicated in the genocide and continued to support a genocidal ideology.115 Critics of the regime are also commonly accused of putting their own interests first and indulging in corruption. As one governor declared in a public meeting, “The ethnic divisions that have characterized Rwanda are hidden behind people who would simply fill their stomachs – for selfish interests.”116 In short, the RPF has the best interests of the country in mind, and those who would criticize the party and government hold only selfish interests and have yet to give up the divisive racist thinking of the past.

President Kagame’s forward to a book on transitional justice in Rwanda amply demonstrates the various points about the RPF that I have outlined here:

A new phenomenon has emerged in the form of individuals and groups who seek to revise history for their own gain, including many who deny outright that genocide took place in Rwanda in 1994. These revisionists, including Rwandan and non-Rwandan ideologues, academics, journalists and political leaders, now claim that the genocide was a myth; that what occurred in 1994 was simply a civil war between two equal sides or the spontaneous flaring of ancient tribal hatred. Even worse, some of these sources accuse the RPF, the force that halted the genocide, of seeking to exterminate the Hutu population. This is an absolute falsehood, sheer nonsense. While some rogue RPF elements committed crimes against civilians during the civil war after 1990, and during the anti-genocidal campaign, individuals were punished severely according to the RPF’s internal procedures of the day. To try to construct a case of moral equivalency between genocide crimes and isolated crimes committed by rogue RPF members is morally bankrupt and an insult to all Rwandans, especially survivors of the genocide. Objective history illustrates the bankruptcy of this emerging revisionism. The fact that there was no mass revenge in the post-genocide period – which could have easily occurred – is evidence of the clarity of purpose of the Rwandan leadership that actively mobilized the Rwandan population for higher moral purposes than the revisionists contend.117

The Official Narrative and Constraints on Historical Debate

I have attempted above to provide as accurate as possible a summation of the official historical narrative advanced by the RPF and its supporters with little commentary.118 My goal in this chapter is not to assess the accuracy of the historical discourse but rather to understand its main points in order to appreciate the major themes of the collective memory that the RPF has sought to promote. In fact, many of the points in the current official narrative diverge from or directly contradict the conclusions of most historians and other scholars outside Rwanda. The need to emphasize unity and reject the significance of ethnicity has led to distortions of historical reality. The narrative exaggerates the unifying role of the monarchy by denying the fluid nature of political boundaries in pre-colonial Rwanda, ignoring both the presence of autonomous Hutu kingdoms within the territory and the tenuous ties of peripheral areas to the central court. Placing the genocide at the center of Rwandan history treats the past hundred years as a linear progression toward that signal event, ignoring much of the actual complexity of events in both the colonial and post-colonial eras. The official interpretation of the genocide conceals the facilitating role of the RPF invasion and ignores atrocities committed by the RPF itself.

In promoting a singular narrative, Rwanda’s new elite seeks to develop a unified collective memory for the Rwandan population, one they hope not only creates a propitious environment for their continuing social, economic, and political dominance but will also ultimately reshape what it means to be Rwandan in a way that will prevent future ethnic violence. If, as I have argued, the belief in distinct historical origins made the genocide possible by delineating Hutu from Tutsi and Twa, then developing a belief in a unified history, it is hoped, will eliminate the basis for inter-group violence. Whatever their merits, the distinctly political goals of the effort to rewrite history leave little room for dissention and debate.

In the project that I helped direct to develop modules for a history curriculum for Rwandan secondary schools, we sought to encourage an alternative method of approaching history as a set of questions and problems rather than a list of facts.119 In the course of this project, however, my American colleagues and I witnessed exactly how the official narrative serves to constrain discussions of history even among trained historians. Two small incidents serve as examples. The first involves the choice of focus for the working group on pre-colonial Rwanda. David Newbury, a prominent historian of Rwanda, participated in the project as a consultant and advised the pre-colonial group. Newbury has written extensively on clans, and in a definitive work on the topic published in 1980, he argued that clans were not, as earlier histories had maintained, the most important social identifier in pre-colonial Rwanda. While clans were significant for the organization of power in the central court, for most people in what is today Rwanda they were less significant as social identifiers than region and lineage. In fact, the expansion of the clan structure throughout Rwanda was actually part of the process of the extension of central control by the monarchy.120

The official post-genocide narrative, however, has treated clans as a central aspect of Rwandan history. The fact that clans in Rwanda are multi-ethnic, most including all three groups, is used in the official narrative to support the ideas that the Rwandan people were historically unified and that ethnicity was an artificial creation of the colonial state. Furthermore, clans were important to competitions for power in the Rwandan royal court, even into the colonial period. Tutsi who fled Rwanda beginning in 1959 came disproportionately from the political elite, and in exile, particularly in Uganda, clan identity remained important to them. Inside Rwanda, clans diminished even further in importance, serving little purpose other than limiting marital choices (since Rwandans marry outside their clans). The refugees who returned to Rwanda beginning in 1994 brought with them the perspective that clans were central to Rwandan society. (President Kagame is from the clan of the queen mother, the Abega, and many people have said that his rise to power represents the final victory of the Abega over the Nyiginya clan.) Thus, despite the advice from the pre-eminent expert on clans in Rwanda that the pre-colonial working group focus on a topic less distorted by ideology, the pre-colonial group insisted on choosing clans as their focus and presented clans in a fashion consistent with the official narrative – though they did include a few references to the work of Newbury to indicate that there were divergent perspectives.

Another example from our project of how politicized history has become in Rwanda involved the working group charged with treating the post-independence period. The group included in the initial draft of their materials a section that sought to implicate one of Rwanda’s most respected Hutu human rights activists, Father André Sibomana, in a notorious case of anti-Tutsi discrimination in the late-1980s, the “Muvara Affair.” In 1988, the Vatican appointed as bishop Father Félicièn Muvara, a Tutsi priest, but just days before his installation, he withdrew, claiming “personal reasons.” In fact, rumors quickly spread that he had been pressured to withdraw by leaders in both the government and the church after a “whispering campaign” falsely accused him of fathering a child out of wedlock.121 The materials presented by the post-independence group asserted that Sibomana had instigated the rumors against Muvara.

I strongly believe that the accusations against Sibomana were driven not by the actual events related to Muvara but rather by a contemporary attempt to discredit Sibomana in the post-genocide context. I personally knew both Muvara and Sibomana and researched the Muvara affair during the period just prior to the genocide. Muvara was the curé of one of the Catholic parishes where I conducted research in 1992–1993, and I interviewed him several times, including an extended interview focused specifically on his abandoned appointment as bishop. The evidence that he and others provided me painted a very different picture that directly implicated the archbishop, a close ally of President Haybarimana.

Sibomana, meanwhile, had played an important role in inspiring opposition to the Habyarimana regime and encouraging support for democratic political reform as editor of the Catholic newspaper, Kinyamateka, beginning in 1988. He also became the founding president of the human rights group ADL in 1990, one of the most important human rights organizations in the period leading up to the genocide. During the genocide, death squads targeted Sibomana as an opponent of both the regime and the genocide, but he survived by going into hiding. After 1994, the Vatican named Sibomana acting bishop of Kabgayi, and he was widely expected to be named bishop. He earned the wrath of those in power, however, by continuing his advocacy for human rights, particularly by publicly denouncing the terrible condition of the prison in his diocese, where prisoners were dying in large numbers from dysentery and other diseases related to the unsanitary conditions. As a result, Sibomana ironically became himself an object of a “whispering campaign” by allies of the RPF regime who accused him of being anti-Tutsi and participating in the genocide – despite the reality that he was himself targeted by it. Ultimately, the Vatican passed him over for bishop, naming a mild-mannered Hutu unlikely to challenge the government. Sibomana returned to the editorship of Kinyamateka and his work with ADL, but he faced harassment and intimidation, and his health fell into decline. He died in 1988 after the government denied him the right to leave Rwanda for medical treatment.122 In response to international criticism surrounding his death, the government stepped up its campaign against him, seeking to discredit him posthumously and thereby justify their own hostility to him.

Having worked with Sibomana as director of the HRW and FIDH office in Rwanda, I was consistently impressed by his courage and principles, and I found the accusations against him poorly supported and inconsistent with widespread testimonies that I heard from Rwandans. Furthermore, the source for the section in our curriculum accusing Sibomana in the Muvara Affair was a notoriously unreliable, pro-RPF and anti-Catholic French press, Golias. Since the accusations against Sibomana were not essential to the text and seemed to serve no useful purpose, I spoke with the professor directing the project and urged that they be edited out. Nonetheless, in the final version, the accusations against Sibomana remained. These accusations served the purpose of discrediting a prominent moderate Hutu who had criticized the RPF government and had suffered as a result. Discrediting Sibomana helped to protect the image of the RPF as a supporter of human rights and democracy and also to promote the impression that Hutu elite were almost universally implicated in the genocide.

These are but two minor examples of the ways in which the official narrative constrains historical discussion, but they occurred in an academic setting that included the top Rwandan historians and education specialists in a project in which participants had committed themselves to developing more democratic approaches to the teaching of history. If even the country’s best historians are unwilling to complicate their discussions of the Rwandan past and allow for alternative perspectives, how much more difficult must it be for common citizens to articulate divergent narratives? As I demonstrate in the next several chapters, the main themes of the historical narrative developed here are reinforced through a variety of means. Genocide memorials, trials, political reform, and other government policies support the official narrative and seek to advance a collective memory that will both promote national unity and justify RPF rule. Given these political goals, alternative perspectives cannot be tolerated. In post-genocide Rwanda, the RPF and its supporters are clearly the ones who claim the right to speak for the past, and their aggressive political agenda does not allow contests over the past to challenge their dominance of the present.

1 From 2001 to 2003, I worked with a team of researchers headed by Sarah Freedman of the University of California, Berkeley School of Education on a project called “Education for Reconciliation,” part of the Communities in Crisis program that I directed in Rwanda. The information about the schools in this chapter is drawn from that research project. An analysis of this research can be found in Sarah Warshauer Freedman, Déo Kambanda, Beth Lewis Samuelson, et al., “Confronting the Past in Rwandan Schools,” in Eric Stover and Harvey Weinstein, eds., My Neighbor, My Enemy: Justice and Community in the Aftermath of Mass Atrocity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 248–264.

2 UNESCO Institute for Statistics, “UIS Statistics in Brief: Education in Rwanda,” www.stats.uis.unesco.org/unesco/TableViewer/document.aspx?ReportId=121&IF_Language=eng&BR_Country=6460; and UNICEF, “Rwanda: Education,” www.unicef.org/rwanda/education.html.

3 Freedman, et al, “Confronting the Past in Rwandan Schools.”

4 Sarah Warshauer Freedman, Henry M. Weinstein, Karen Murphy and Timothy Longman, “Teaching History after Identity-Based Conflicts: The Rwanda Experience,” Comparative Education Review, 52, no. 4, 2008, 663–669.

5 This quote is attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte by Ralph Waldo Emerson in “History,” The Essays of Emerson, vol. 1, London: Arthur L. Humphries, 1899, p. 8.

6 George Orwell, “As I Please,” February 4, 1944, for example, asserted in reference to the Spanish Civil War, that, “if Franco or anyone at all resembling him remains in power, the history of the war will consist quite largely of ‘facts’ which millions of people now living know to be lies.”

7 Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory, edited and translated by Lewis A. Coser, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1992, p. 40.

8 Ibid., p. 51.

9 Pierre Nora, ed., Les Lieux de Mémoire, Vols. 1–3, Paris: Gallimard, 1984–1992.

10 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, New York: Verso, 1983.

11 Eric J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 73.

12 Karl W. Deutsch, Nationalism and Social Communication: An Inquiry into the Foundations of Nationality, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1953, p. 163.

13 Katharine Hodgkin and Susannah Rodstone, “Introduction: Contested Pasts,” in Katharine Hodgkin and Susannah Radstone, eds., Contested Pasts: The Politics of Memory, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 1–21, citation p. 1.

14 Eltringham, Accounting for Horror, pp. 147–179, provides a helpful review of the meta-narratives represented in the ways in which Rwandans inside and outside the country have discussed Rwandan history since 1994.

15 The majority of scholars today argue that Hutu and Tutsi were status differences that were gaining in significance even before the advent of colonialism. C.f., Catharine Newbury, The Cohesion of Oppression: Clientship and Ethnicity in Rwanda, 1860–1960, New York: Columbia University Press, 1988; Catharine Newbury, “Ethnicity and the Politics of History in Rwanda,” Africa Today, 45, no. 1, January–March 1998, 7–24; Jan Vansina, Le Rwanda ancien: Le Royaume Nyinginya, Paris: Karthala, 2001.

16 Alison Des Forges, “The Ideology of Genocide,” Issue: A Journal of Opinion, 23, no. 2, 1995, 44–47.

17 Newbury, The Cohesion of Oppression, provides an excellent study of how ethnic differentiation was used to extend central court control into an outlying region of the Rwandan kingdom. “[T]he categories of Hutu and Tuutsi assumed new hierarchical overtones associated with proximity to the central court – proximity to power … More than simply conveying the connotation of cultural difference from Tuutsi, Hutu identity came to be associated with and eventually defined by inferior status” (p. 51).

18 Des Forges, “The Ideology of Genocide,” writes, “the elite that we now call Tutsi encompassed a number of competing lineages who had arrived in Rwanda at different times over a period of centuries and who had different interests as well as varied backgrounds. In the same way, the masses that are now known as Hutu included both peoples long resident within Rwanda and those who had just arrived from Zaire or Uganda” (p. 44).

19 For the definitive explanation of the development of the ideas of a Hamitic race, see Edith R. Sanders, “The Hamitic Hypothesis: Its Origin and Functions in Time Perspective,” Journal of African History, 10, no. 4, 1969. For more general discussions of the application of European racial ideas to Rwanda, see Mahmood Mamdani, When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001, especially chapter three, and Eltringham, Accounting for Horror, pp. 1–33.

20 Des Forges, “The Ideology of Genocide,” pp. 44–45.

21 Examples of this historical narrative can be found in Louis de Lacger, Le Ruanda: Aperçu historique, Kabgayi, 1959; Alexis Kagame, La Poésie Dynastique au Rwanda, Brussels: Institute Royal du Congo Belge (IRCB), 1951; Alexis Kagame, Le code des institutions politiques du Rwanda précolonial Brussels: IRCB, 1952; Alexis Kagame, L’histoire des armées Bovines dans l’Ancien Rwanda Brussels: ARSOM, 1963; Jacques J. Maquet, The Premise of Inequality in Ruanda: A Study of Political Relations in a Central African Kingdom, London: Oxford University Press, 1961; Albert Pagès, Un Royaume Hamite au Centre de l’Afrique: Au Rwanda sur les Bos du Lac Kivu, Brussels: Van Campenhout, 1933.

22 Newbury, The Cohesion of Oppression.

23 Timothy Longman, “Nation, Race, or Class? Defining the Hutu and Tutsi of East Africa,” in Joseph Feagin and Pinar Batur-Vanderlippe, eds., The Global Color Line: Racial and Ethnic Inequality and Struggle from a Global Perspective, JAI Press: Bingley, UK, 1999, pp. 103–130.

24 The best source on the 1959 “revolution” and the early independence era is René Lemarchand, Rwanda and Burundi, New York: Palgrave, 1970. See also Jean-Paul Kimonyo, Rwanda’s Popular Genocide: A Perfect Storm, Boulder: Lynne Reinner, 2016 on the conflation of majority rule with Hutu rule.

25 Research by both a team of international human rights investigators and a leading Rwandan human rights group revealed that ethnic massacres that occurred between October 1990 and February 1993 were not, as they were portrayed, spontaneous expressions of popular anger but rather actions undertaken by government officials with the approval of higher authorities. Africa Watch, Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH), Union Inter-Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples (UIDH), et al., “Rapport de la Commission Internationale d’Enquête sur les Violations des Droits de l’Homme au Rwanda depuis le 1er Octobre 1990 (7–21 Janvier 1993),” Paris: FIDH, March 1993; Association Rwandaise Pour la Defense des Droits de la Personne et des Libertés Publiques (ADL), “Rapport sur les Droits de l’Homme au Rwanda,” Kigali: ADL, December 1992.

26 On the early 1990s, see Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis.

27 Quoted in Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story, p. 85.

28 Ibid., p. 84.

29 Mamdani, When Victims Become Killers, pp. 3–7, implies that nearly every Hutu man participated. He quotes one survivor as saying, “There were about 5,000 in our secteur. Of the 3,500 Hutu, all the men participated,” (p. 4).

30 Ibid., p. 8.

31 Ibid., p. 14.

32 Jean-Pierre Chrétien, ed., Rwanda: Les medias du genocide, Paris: Karthala, 1995; Jean-Pierre Chrétien, Le défie de l’Ethnisme: Rwanda et Burundi: 1990–1996, Paris: Karthala, 1997.

33 Scott Straus, The Order of Genocide: Race, Power, and War in Rwanda, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006.

34 Lee Ann Fujii, Killing Neighbors: Webs of Violence in Rwanda, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011.

35 Ibid., p. 244.

36 David Lee Schoenbrun, A Green Place, A Good Place: Agrarian Change, Gender, and Social Change in the Great Lakes Region to the Fifteenth Century, Portsmouth, NH: Heinneman, 1998.

37 Personal communication, 1993.

38 Liisa Malkki, Purity and Exile: Violence, Memory and Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

39 On the Tutsi refugees in Uganda and the formation of the RPF, see Catharine Watson, Exile from Rwanda: Background to an Invasion, Washington: US Committee for Refugees, February 1991; Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis, pp. 61–74; and Mamdani, When Victims Become Killers, pp. 159–184.

40 Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis, p. 66.

42 Malkki, Purity and Exile found that memories of violence were a driving force for Burundian Hutu refugees living in refugee camps, but for refugees who had integrated into local communities, the memories were less important.

43 Josias Semujonga, “Le discours scientific comme porteur du stereotypes: Le cas de l’historiographie rwandaise,” in Rapport de Synthese du Seminaire sur l’Histoire du Rwanda, Butare, December 14–18, 1998.

44 One could also add to this list Joseph Gahama who, though Burundian, moved to Rwanda in the late 1990s and participated in the new historiography.

45 Jean Nizurugero Rugagi, “Decolonisation et democratization du Rwanda,” Cahiers Lumière et Société, no. 7, October 1997, 43–54.

46 Interestingly, until recently nearly all of the academic work was in French, since the Francophone territories of Burundi and Zaire allowed Tutsi to become professors, while discrimination in Uganda limited opportunities for educational and social advancement for Tutsi refugees. By contrast, most of the political discourse is in English or Kinyarwanda, as the RPF emerged in Anglophone Uganda and remains dominated by former Ugandan refugees.

47 Misago Kanimba, “Peuplement ancien du Rwanda: à la lumière de récentes recherches,” Cahiers du Centre de Gestion des Conflits, no. 5, ND, 2003, 8–44, for example, explains that many groups migrated to Rwanda “with different languages, Khoi-san, Sudanic, Cushitic, and Bantu. This last linguistic group progressively assimilated the other linguistic groups that were part of more scattered communities and thus less bound together. They had to adopt the language of a more stable group. The long coexistence of these groups (autochthonous and immigrant) ended in the fusion of cultural and linguistic elements as well as genes” (p. 37).

48 Bernardin Muzungu, “Ethnies et Clans,” Cahiers Centre Saint-Dominique, no.1, August 8, 1995: “There are no clans of a single ethnic group: the three are found in each clan.”

49 Alexis Gakuba, “Le Kinyarwanda: Instrument de l’Unité Nationale,” Les Cahiers Evangile et Société, no. 3, June 1996, 59–67.

50 Gérard Nyirimanzi, “Les solidaritiés traditionneles,” Cahiers Lumière et Société, no. 14, June 1999, 19–41, p. 33.

51 President Paul Kagame, “Beyond Absolute Terror: Post-Genocide Reconstruction in Rwanda,” Speech to the Commonwealth Club of California, San Francisco, March 7, 2003.

52 Gamaliel Mbonimana, “Le Rwanda état-nation au XIXe siècle,” in Rapport de Synthese du Seminaire sur l’Histoire du Rwanda, Butare, December 14–18, 1998.

53 Célestin Kalimba, “Rwanda: Les frontiers,” in Rapport de Synthese du Seminaire sur l’Histoire du Rwanda, Butare, December 14–18, 1998. The idea of a “Greater Rwanda” was a key justification for the incursions in Congo in 1996 and 1998, since it suggested that territories under threat of anti-Tutsi ethnic violence were a Rwandan concern rather than something purely internal to Congo. A map of pre-colonial Rwanda that suggests the borders included not only all of modern Rwanda but also most of North Kivu and a large section of southwestern Uganda was widely circulated in the mid and late 1990s, particularly in the period just preceding the invasion of Zaire in 1996. It appeared, for example, inside the cover of several issues of Cahiers Lumière et Société in 1999.

54 Bernardin Muzungu, “Les Mythes,” Cahiers Lumière et Société, no. 5, Mayu 1997, 23–36, citation p. 34.

55 Faustin Rutembesa, “A propos de l’usage du concept ‘féodalité’ dans l’etude de la société rwandaise,” in Rapport de Synthese du Seminaire sur l’Histoire du Rwanda, Butare, December 14–18, 1998.

56 Nyirimanzi, “Les solidaritiés traditionneles,” p. 23. Michaël Kayihura, “Composantes et relations socials au Rwanda pre-colonial, colonial, et post-colonial: Hutu, Tutsi, Twa, Lignages et Clans,” in Rapport de Synthèse du Seminaire sur l’Histoire du Rwanda, Butare, December 14–18, 1998, provides a nice summary of all of these arguments about the historic unity of the Rwandan people.

57 Dèogratias Byanafashe, “La famille comme principe de coherence de la société rwandaise traditionnelle” Cahiers Lumière et Société, no. 6, August 1997, 3–26, citation p. 21.

58 Republic of Rwanda, Office of the President of the Republic, The Unity of Rwandans: Before the Colonial Period and Under Colonial Rule; Under the First Republic, Kigali, August 1999, p. 6.

59 Jean Nizurugero Rugagi, “Les factuers favorables à l’identité citoyenne dans l’histoire du Rwanda des origins à 1900,” in Rapport de Synthèse du Seminaire sur l’Histoire du Rwanda, Butare, December 14–18, 1998, p. 1.

60 According to Helen Hintjens, “Post-Genocide Identity Politics in Rwanda,” Ethnicities, 8(1), 2008, “For the current regime, only one account of Rwandan history is acceptable, which is that all was well among Rwandans until the colonizers created pseudo-racial, later ethnic identities, in order to quite deliberately divide Rwandans against one another,” (p. 15).

61 Nyirimanzi, “Les solidaritiés traditionneles.”

62 Gamaliel Mbonimana, “Ethnies et Eglise Catholique: Le remodelage de la société par l’école missionaire (1900–1931),” Cahiers Centre Saint-Dominique, no. 1, August 8, 1995, 52–67.

63 Rugagi, “Décolonisation et democratization du Rwanda,” writes, “The Belgian administration, despite its preferences for the Hutu, preferred to align with the thesis of Mgr. Classe who affirmed that the Batutsi have an innate sense of command. He affirmed at the same time that the Bahutu were only good for manual labor, because they had a base spirit” (p. 46) (emphasis in original).

64 Misago Kanimba, “Le peuplement du territoire rwandais: a la lumière archéologiques,” Les Cahiers Lumière et Société, no. 5, May 1997, 68–79, citation p. 79.

65 Muzungu, “Ethnies et Clans,” writes, “Bantu, Hamite, and Pygmoid. These three races would be the source of our so-called three ethnic groups: Hutu, Tutsi, Twa. No one can ignore the political and colonial impact that weighed on these theories” (p. 25).

66 Kayihura, “Composantes et relations socials,” p. 1.

67 Octave Ugirashebuja, “L’ideologie du Tutsi oppresseur,” Les Cahiers Evangile et Société, no. 4, December 1996, 57–67.

68 Bernardin Muzungu, “Le prejugé de race,” Les Cahiers Evangile et Société, No. 4, December 1996, 20–29.

69 Nizurugero, “Décolonisation et democratization,” p. 48.

70 Pierre Mungarulire, “Le revolution de 1959 au Rwanda,” in Rapport de Synthèse du Seminaire sur l’Histoire du Rwanda, Butare, December 14–18, 1998, writes “This so-called ‘Revolution of 1959,’ even baptized by others as the ‘Popular Revolution of 1959,’ I call the ‘so-called’ revolution, because in my opinion … the bloody events that took place in Rwanda, as in November 1959, were not at all a revolution, much less a popular revolution.” See also, Pierre Kamanzi, “Révolution ou Régression?” Cahiers Lumière et Société, no. 16, December 1999, 61–72.

71 Rugagi, “Décolonisation et democratization,” p. 48.

72 Byanafashe, “La famille comme principe,” p. 23.

73 Bernardin Muzungu, “A qui profitent nos malheurs?” Cahiers Lumière et Société, March 1999, 35–54.

74 Nyirimanzi, “Les solidaritiés traditionneles.”

75 One speaker at a conference in Butare in preparation for the national week of mourning in 2003, for example, declared, “Even if the true genocide began on April 6, 1994, just after the death of Habyarimana, the genocide really began in 1959.” Quoted on Radio Rwanda, April 2, 2003.

76 For example, according to Radio Rwanda the participants in a 2002 meeting of former government officials in Ruhengeri, “found that the regimes that followed the colonial regime did nothing to correct these errors [of ethnic division], but rather they aggravated things to the point that the divisions launched the 1994 genocide.” Radio Rwanda, Morning News, September 19, 2002.

77 Jean-Damascène Ndayambaje, “Le genocide des Tutsi: Genese et execution,” in Rapport de Synthèse du Seminaire sur l’Histoire du Rwanda, Butare, December 14–18, 1998.

78 C.f., Ferdinand Kayoboke, “Le M.D.R. Parmehutu et la 1ère République,” in Rapport de Synthèse du Seminaire sur l’Histoire du Rwanda, Butare, December 14–18, 1998; Médard Rutijanwa, “Le MRND et la IIème République Rwandaise: Essai d’Analyse critique du Système Politique et Idéologique du MRND,” in Rapport de Synthèse du Seminaire sur l’Histoire du Rwanda, Butare, December 14–18, 1998. In addition to ethnicity, both authors discuss the relevance of regional discrimination among Hutu in the two regimes.

79 Kagame, “Beyond Absolute Terror.”

80 Muzungu, “A qui profitent nos malheurs?” writes, “Historically speaking, the Hutu-Tutsi antagonism was created by colonization” (p. 39).

81 Kagame, “Beyond Absolute Terror.”

82 Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story, p. 16, offers an interesting discussion of the conflict over numbers of victims.

83 “Conclusion Generale,” Cahiers Lumière et Société, December 1999, 73–76.

84 In a speech to commemorate the Day of Heroes, a national holiday created by the RPF to focus on those who have resisted ethnic violence, President Kagame declared, “The most essential things is to remember these heroes, because they are no longer living. It is unfortunate that they are no longer living … But their work, resting on their ideologies that they put into application, is not erased. This [commemoration] keeps them among us. We must follow their example.” Paul Kagame, Speech on the Day of Heroes, Nyange, Kibuye, broadcast on Radio Rwanda, February 1, 2003. The idea that those who opposed ethnic violence, the “heroes,” are all dead implies that those still living did not oppose ethnic violence. I develop the idea of collective guilt more fully in Chapter 4.

85 Bénoit Kaboyi, representative of the survivors’ group IBUKA, speaking at a “Solidarity Camp” for recently released prisoners, Nkumba, Ruhengeri, broadcast on Radio Rwanda, April 2, 2003, declared, “I don’t want to speak about the role of the colonizers, the French who trained the Interahamwe, the sellers of arms, etc.”

86 The culpability of France was a point of particular emphasis for the RPF leadership, as the French government is among the only international governments to challenge the RPF’s interpretation of the genocide and its moral position. The Rwandan government accused France of supporting the genocide (c.f., Jeevan Vasagar, “France Blamed as Rwanda Marks Genocide Date,” The Guardian, April 8, 2004), while the French government has accused the RPF of inciting the genocide by assassinating Habyarimana by shooting down his plane. The French ultimately issued warrants for the arrest of top RPF officials for their involvement in the assassination (“France Issues Rwanda Warrants,” BBC News, November 23, 2006). The tension ultimately led to a severing of diplomatic ties between Rwanda and France in November 2006 (“Rwanda Cuts Relations with France,” BBC News, November 24, 2006).

87 Paul Kagame, “Preface,” in Phil Clark and Zachary D. Kaufman, eds., After Genocide: Transitional Justice, Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Reconciliation in Rwanda and Beyond, London: Hurst, 2008.

89 Ndoba Gasana, reported on Evening News, Radio Rwanda, April 2, 2003.

90 Paul Kagame, speech given at the national commemoration of the ninth anniversary of the 1994 genocide, Mwurire, Rwangana, Kibungo, broadcast on Radio Rwanda, April 7, 2003.

91 Reyntjens, “Rwanda 10 Years On.” In April 2003, the Transitional National Assembly voted to ban the MDR after a parliamentary commission reported that the party had supported the genocide and retained a genocidal ideology. Republique Rwandaise, Assembleé Nationale, Rapport de la Commission Parlementaire de controle mise en place le 27 decembre 2002 pour enqueter sur les problemes du MDR, accepted by the National Transitional Assembly, April 14, 2003.

92 Paul Rutayisire, “Le catholicisme rwandais en proces,” in Rapport de Synthèse du Seminaire sur l’Histoire du Rwanda, Butare, December 14–18, 1998, p. 16. See also, Paul Rutayisire and Bernardin Muzumgu, “L’ethnisme au Coeur de la guerre,” Cahiers Centre Saint-Dominique, no. 1, August 8, 1995, 68–82.

93 JB Habyarimana, president of the National Commission for Unity and Reconciliation, cited on Radio Rwanda, January 21, 2003. “The genocide is the result of several influences that come together and the points of departure are social conditions, grave economic problems, conditions that drove toward the troubles, political problems, but equally the psychological conditions that were created by an ideology of discrimination.”

94 Bernardin Muzungu, “Un Mensonge politique,” Cahiers Lumière et Société, no. 10, May 1998, 26–46.

95 Rutayisire and Muzungu, “L’ethnisme au Coeur de la guerre.”

96 The fact that those who were educated are blamed for the genocide does not diminish the degree to which ignorance is considered a key cause.

97 Benoit Kaboyi, representative of Ibuka, Radio Rwanda, April 2, 2003.

98 Tito Rutaremara and Bernardin Muzungu, “Qui liberera le Rwanda de l’idéologie divisionniste?” Les Cahiers Evangile et Société, no. 3, June 1996, 46–56, citation p. 49.

99 Ibid., pp. 52–53.

100 Paul Kagame, “Speech on the Occasion of the Day of Patriotism,” Radio Rwanda, October 1, 2002.

101 Bernardin Muzungu, “Les signes d’espoir,” Cahiers Lumière et Société, no. 11, August 1998, 7–20, citation p. 14.

102 Kagame, “Preface.”

103 Kagame, “Beyond Absolute Terror.”

104 Muzungu, “Les signes d’espoir,” writes, “As an antidote against ethnic exclusion and racism, a Government of all Rwandans and all political formations, except the génocidaires, is at work. Alas those who would combat it and want to return us to the fire of tribalism” (p. 14).

105 Kayihura, “Composantes et Relations Sociales,” p. 30.

106 Rene Lemarchand, “Genocide in the Great Lakes: Which Genocide, Whose Genocide?” African Studies Review, 41, 1, April 1998, 3–16, asks, “Would the genocide have occurred if the RPF invasion had not taken place, threatening both the heritage of the 1959–62 Hutu revolution, and the state born of the revolution? Why should the genocide of the Tutsi, and their presumptive allies among the Hutu population, mask the countless atrocities committed by the RPF in the course of their military operations in Rwanda?” p. 4. Rutayisire and Muzungu, “L’ethnisme au Coeur de la guerre,” completely reject this idea.

107 Kagame, “Beyond Absolute Terror.”

108 Ibid.

109 Kagame, “Speech on the Occasion of the Day of Patriotism.”

110 “La nouvelle strategie du ‘double genocide,’” Cahier Lumière et Société, no. 9, March 1998.

111 “The humanitarian associations, many of which are linked to the churches and share their malaise, as well as organisms of the press that are close to them, believe themselves obliged to be all the more vigilant, demanding and scrupulous in the respect to human rights for the current government, when they were complaisant or passive in the past.” “La nouvelle strategie du ‘double genocide.’”

112 For example, the mayor of Gikondo in Kigali held public meetings with his constituents in July 2002 to denounce the party for sowing disorder. “The first problem concerns the political party PDR-Ubuyanja that wanted to form and that was stopped after its ethnically divisive teachings.” Radio Rwanda, Mid-Day News, July 28, 2002.

113 Evening News, Radio Rwanda, December 12, 2002.

114 A dissident MDR leader declared on Radio Rwanda that Twagiramungu, “dared to say to the ICTR that there was no genocide in 1994, the very genocide that he planned and that [former MDR Prime Minister during the genocide Jean] Kambanda as well as other genocidaires have themselves recognized and have accepted to be punished for.” Radio Rwanda, December 12, 2002.

115 I discuss the suppression of the MDR in greater detail in Chapter 5. See “Rapport de la Commission Parlementaire sur les problèmes du MDR,” Kigali, March 17, 2003, available at www.cnlg.gov.rw/fileadmin/templates/documents/MDR_RAPPORT_PARLEMENT_2003.pdf.

116 Boniface Rucagu, Governor of Kibuye, Radio Rwanda, September 19, 2002.

117 Kagame, “Preface.”

118 My account of the RPF narrative is consistent with Thomson’s summary of the post-genocide “official history” in Whispering Truth to Power: “The RPF-led government presents the genocide as a clear-cut affair: Hutu killed Tutsi because of ethnic divisions that were introduced during the colonial period (1890–1962) and hardened to the point of individual action during the postcolonial period (1962–1994) … Ethnicity is a fiction created by colonial divide-and-rule policies. Ultimate blame for the 1994 genocide therefore lies with Rwanda’s colonial powers, who instituted policies that made the Hutu population hate Tutsi. Divisive politics grounded in decades of bad governance resulted in deep-rooted ethnic hatred of all Tutsi by all Hutu” (pp. 81–82).

119 For this project, we brought in the US-based NGO Facing History and Ourselves, which develops teaching materials and trains teachers on confronting difficult histories to help students develop critical thinking skills and develop skills for responsible citizenship.

120 David S. Newbury, “The Clans of Rwanda: An Historical Hypothesis,” Africa: Journal of the International Africa Institute, 50, no. 4, 1980, 389–403.

121 I discuss this case in Longman, Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda, p. 96.

122 André Sibomana, Hope for Rwanda: Conversations with Laure Guilbert and Hervé Deguine, London: Pluto Press, 1999.

3 Symbolic Struggles

The dead. The body count. We don’t like to admit the war was even partly our fault because so many of our people died. And all the mournings veiled the truth. It’s not “lest we forget,” it’s “lest we remember.” That’s what all this is about – the memorials, the cenotaph, the two minutes’ silence. Because there is no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it.

– Tom Irwin in The History Boys

A tour of massacre sites has become an obligatory part of any business or tourist visit to post-genocide Rwanda. Both deeply affecting and also disconcerting, the genocide-site pilgrimage highlights the horrors of the genocide while at the same time revealing the crass uses for which the memory of the genocide is employed. Most genocide tours begin at the impressive Kigali Memorial Centre at Gisozi on the outskirts of the capital city. The genocide museum is a striking white stucco modernist structure perched atop a hill near the location of a major roadblock in 1994 where hundreds of Tutsi were slaughtered. It was built with foreign funds, using the latest in museum design, and informed by Holocaust museums in the United States, Europe, and Israel. The first portion of the museum traces the history of the genocide, in English, French, and Kinyarwanda, from pre-colonial times until 1994. There are sections on politics, propaganda, women, and other themes, in a presentation reminiscent of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The historical narrative is accompanied by a few primary documents, like the Bahutu Manifesto and photos, with appropriate interpretive commentary.

The rest of the museum uses less straightforward means to create an impression of the genocide that appeals more to the emotions than to the mind. One room is filled with abstract statues depicting the suffering of the genocide. Another room focuses on the children killed. Still another room contains photographs of people who died in the genocide, hung as if floating in space on wires that run from floor to ceiling. This image from the museum has become iconic, gracing the covers of books and appearing in discussions of genocide or violence. The museum is surrounded by a memorial garden providing beautiful views of Kigali. A wall of names lists all of the people from Kigali known to have been killed in the genocide, reminiscent of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Finally, there is a mass grave, large slabs of concrete that line the side of the garden with the best views, and on one side an open mausoleum, where families who were able to identify the remains of their loved ones have placed the bodies in coffins, draped in purple cloth and white lace, and stacked one on the other in crowded underground rooms, accessible by concrete stairs. (See Figure 1.) The museum documentation claims that over 250,000 “victims of the genocide” killed in Kigali are buried in the mass grave. The memorial center is both informative and evocative, an effective introduction to the genocide – or at least the government’s narrative of it – for those with little knowledge, not only stirring emotions but also providing careful direction as to how one should think about the events that led up to 1994.

Figure 1 Coffins exposed at the Kigali Memorial Centre

(Photo by author).

After the museum, the genocide tour generally continues to one of the memorialized massacre sites, most often one or both of the churches relatively easily accessed just south of Kigali in Bugesera, a region where the government resettled many Tutsi after violence in the 1960s and 1973. In April 1994 Tutsi fearing violence in Bugesera fled to the Catholic centers of Nyamata and Ntarama, and as in churches throughout the country, thousands were killed in the parish complexes. But, in contrast to much of the country, in Bugesera the death squads fled before they had disposed of the dead as the RPF rapidly advanced on the area. The bodies were left lying where they had fallen, a gruesome spectacle for the RPF troops to discover and strong evidence for them of the purpose of their armed intervention. After taking power, the RPF-led government retained control of the Nyamata and Ntarama churches, and for several years the bodies were left in place, sprinkled with powdered lime to stop them from rotting but otherwise left as testament to the horrors of the genocide. Unlike Murambi in Gikongoro, where the bodies were carefully laid out and displayed, at Nyamata and Ntarama the corpses were left in place – withered bodies with scraps of clothing still attached, mere skeletons, or in some cases scraps of bones – an arm, a leg. These sites were shocking, appalling, but also deeply offensive to the survivors who were not allowed to give their family members proper burials but rather had to leave them on public display.

In 2000, apparently bowing to pressure from survivors, the local communities, and the Catholic Church, the government allowed the bodies to be removed and the sites to be cleaned up. At Nyamata, a small center of commerce and education, the local Catholic community was forced to build a new church building just up the road so that the church where the massacres had taken place could remain a memorial. The churchyard at Nyamata is enclosed in a fence, and visitors must wait for a guide to come lead them on a tour. As at all the massacre sites, the guides at Nyamata are survivors of the massacres who tell their stories as they lead visitors through the building. The sanctuary has been decorated with reminders of the genocide. When I visited in 2002, the sanctuary was mostly bare, but the pews and part of the floor were later covered with piles of soiled clothes from genocide victims, creating a much more haunting and moving image. The altar cloth, a white cotton covering carefully decorated with cross-stitched flowers, had large blotches of brown that the guide explains are stains of the blood of those slaughtered here. On the walls too there were dark stains that the guide pointed out as remnants of blood, and the tin roof was riddled with holes, apparently caused by shrapnel from grenades. The basement crypt in the back of the church was lined with ceramic tiles, and there were several glass cabinets where skulls and other bones of victims were displayed. “There are plans to build a museum here,” the guide told me when I visited in 2002, but the museum has never been built.

The most affecting genocide memorial at Nyamata lay in the churchyard, which had been given over almost entirely to mass graves. Acceding to demands from survivors, the government agreed to clear the bodies from the church, but they did not allow a traditional burial. Under the supervision of the survivors’ group Ibuka, the bodies were placed in open mausoleums that were a compromise between the survivors’ desire to give their relatives a decent burial and the government’s desire to use the bodies of victims to demonstrate the horrors of the genocide. Unlike the Kigali center, where only caskets were exposed to public view, at Nyamata the corpses and skeletons were placed underground on tiered platforms, reminiscent of the catacombs of ancient Rome, and they are visible from above ground through large entryways. The top tier was filled with caskets containing the remains of those whose bodies were identified by their families. Should visitors wish to enter the crypts, stairs lead down inside, and there were neat passageways along the rows of corpses.

Less than ten miles away, the chapel at Ntarama was much smaller than Nyamata, not a full parish but merely a rural outpost for weekly prayer services or occasional Eucharist for those living too far from the central parish to attend mass on a regular basis. In 1994, some 5,000 people were killed at Ntarama. Like Nyamata, the chapel of Ntarama was initially left as it was found, with bodies grotesquely scattered around the building and grounds. Around 2001, the bodies were cleared from the church, but improvements had not yet been undertaken to create of Ntarama a sleek memorial like Nyamata or Gisovu. As a result, Ntarama was much more disturbing. When I first visited the church in 2002, several burlap bags in the back of the sanctuary were filled with bones. The guide, a rural Tutsi farmer who lived just down the road from the church, said that the bones were awaiting burial but that there were no funds available for a proper mass grave. The floor of the chapel was cluttered with the detritus of the people who had sought refuge in the place but instead found death – scraps of clothing, notebooks, and bones, some identifiable as ribs and finger-bones, others mere broken fragments. (See Figure 2.) It was still impossible to walk through the building without stepping on bones, creating a horrifying crunch under foot. At the front of the church, a cross was propped against the altar, where a solitary skull had been placed, creating a haunting monument. Just outside the entrance to the chapel, a shed held hundreds of skulls placed on display on a long platform. (See Figure 3.) In the buildings behind the chapel,there were piles of rotting clothes taken off the skeletons, and another pile of personal items – baskets, plastic basins, jerricans, and suitcases.

Figure 2 Skulls on display at Ntarama memorial site

(Photo by author).

Figure 3 The debris-strewn floor of Ntarama memorial site

(Photo by author).

Returning to Ntarama in 2005 with a group of colleagues, I found that the skulls had been moved into the chapel itself, displayed on open bookshelves in the back of the sanctuary, but few other changes had taken place. The piles of personal effects remained in the back buildings, and the floor of the chapel remained scattered with bones and other fragments of life. “Have the bones been buried?” I asked the guide, the same farmer I had met a few years before. “No,” he told me. “There is no money for that.” Since then, some improvements were made to the site. A large open metal shed was built over the chapel to protect the structure. The bones were taken out of the sacks, but rather than being buried, they were scattered around the floor of the church once again. Visitors had to step from bench to bench to avoid stepping on the remains. More bones were placed on the floor of a room behind the chapel, where the stained clothes of genocide victims were hung from the ceiling. The effect was disturbing and macabre, and the fact that the bones had been carefully placed on display was not obvious.

Driving back to Kigali, the genocide tour stops at a site just after the southern entrance to the city. There are several large mass graves here for people killed at a nearby school and at a roadblock that was situated on the road here. There is also a brick and cement monument to members of the human rights group Kanyarwanda killed in the genocide. Most moving, however, is a field filled with simple white crosses made of painted wood. This was an art installation, part of a consortium of African writers and artists brought to Rwanda in 1998 for three months to learn about the Rwandan genocide and produce works inspired by it. After several years, the white paint had faded and some of the crosses had tipped to the side or lost an arm, but this apparent disarray added to the effect of sadness and loss.

Of all these sites, Ntarama was undoubtedly the most affecting, because its unpolished rawness gave a sense of proximity to the genocide. The Genocide Memorial Center in Kigali was modern and sophisticated and very moving, but it also left one feeling a bit manipulated, rather like the reaction to Hollywood movies where events are orchestrated carefully to force tears but where the pathos does not ultimately seem genuine. Given the very true horror of the genocide, the sense of emotional manipulation is all the more disturbing. Perhaps it is the carefully worded script that lays out a single interpretation of the past that irritates, or the very polish that somehow seems to obscure a genocide that was in many ways low tech. And yet Ntarama, with its skulls on display and bone-strewn floor, is no less manipulative. It is merely that the lack of polish seems more visceral and therefore closer to the truth. There is no obvious transcript at Ntarama, and the hand of the government in creating an image of the genocide is less obvious.

At Ntarama, as at Nyamata and Murambi, visitors were asked to sign a guest book, where they could list their names and home countries and write reactions to the memorial – “Very sad.” “Never again” – and where their donations to the guide of one or two thousand francs were dutifully recorded. On my 2005 visit to Nyamata, I leafed through the book and noted the names of the visitors – mostly Europeans and Americans. The last visitors before me were United States officials – Pierre Prosper, the Special Ambassador for War Crimes, and Jendayi Frazier, the Undersecretary of State for Africa. These were the ultimate audience for these sites, it struck me.

Understanding Memorials and Memory

As the academic world has taken up the topic of memory, commemorations and memorials have become a major focus of scholarly analysis. In his comprehensive analysis of the “sites of memory” used to construct French Republican identity, Nora argued that in the past, people lived in close relationship with memory, in “milieux de memoire,” but that in the modern world, cut off as we are from family and places of origin and traditional values, we depend on “sites of memory” to construct a historical transcript of the past that serves to create a collective memory and, thereby, a shared national identity.1 Coming at a time when scholars were exploring the constructed nature of identities, particularly national identities,2 Nora’s work inspired many to analyze sites of memory in other contexts. Statues of prominent figures, war memorials, museums, and public holidays have all come under scrutiny for the narrative they seek to convey. As Jan-Werner Müller said, “Wherever ‘national identity’ seems to be in question, memory comes to be a key to national recovery through reconfiguring the past.”3

Some scholars have taken issue with Nora’s suggestion that memorials and other sites of memory create a shared transcript and instead emphasize the contestation that surrounds sites of memory. James Young’s influential analysis of Holocaust memorials, for example, argued that they create “collected memories” rather than “collective memories,” since the same space can be interpreted and experienced in vastly different ways, providing a source of pride for one, and a mark of shame for another.4 In societies where debate is possible, the creation of a memorial or a museum can become a focus for public debate about the past, as conflicting constituencies have divergent ideas that they hope to convey through a commemorative site. The erection of the Vietnam Veterans memorial in Washington, DC, in 1982, for example, inspired a debate over the legacies of the Vietnam War.5 The Smithsonian’s planned 1995 exhibit of the Enola Gay, the airplane that dropped the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, brought to the surface controversies over the American role in the Second World War and the appropriateness of the use of nuclear weapons.6 A memorial to victims of Peru’s political violence provoked conversations over who has the right to be considered a victim and who is labeled a perpetrator.7 In a comparative analysis, Turnbridge and Ashworth found conflicting ways in which the past was managed in different societies, often being used to exonerate perpetrators, even by blaming victims. Yet they also recognized the possibility for commemorations to provide opportunities for reconciliation between perpetrators and victims.8 These analyses suggest that memorials allow multiple interpretations and can be important vehicles for encouraging conversation about traumatic experiences of the past – but this assumes a context where open conversation is possible.

Many other scholars focus on the coercive nature of memorialization, looking at how political leaders and other elites dominate the presentation of the past and seek to manufacture politically useful collective memories. In his comprehensive argument for the importance of memory, Paul Riceour identified a number of “abuses of memory” related to commemoration and memorialization. He saw a danger in mere memorization taking the place of real historical memory, creating an “unnatural memory.”9 He decried the manipulation of memory, in which, “The heart of the problem is the mobilization of memory in the service of the quest, the appeal, the demand for identity,”10 and warned against forcing people to remember the past, which leads to its distortion.11 Forest and Johnson found that in Moscow after the fall of communism, political elites sought to reinterpret Soviet-era monuments in their efforts to build symbolic capital. Their research on popular reactions to the memorials found that elites were responsive to popular sentiment but that in critical periods where symbols are open for reinterpretation, “powerful political actors … impress their conceptions of the national character onto the public landscape.”12 In a study quite relevant for the analysis of memorials in Rwanda, Claudia Koonz compared memorialization and amnesia in East and West Germany following the Second World War. She asserted that “imposed official history … bears little resemblance to what people remember,” resulting in an “organized oblivion” that “vindicates leaders and vilifies enemies,” leaving “average citizens cynical and alienated.”13 After the fall of the Berlin wall, East German museums went under renovation, seeking to integrate the Jews into the history of the concentration camps. Jews remained nevertheless unrecognized in popular memory, illustrating a disconnect between official attempts at consensus and popular sentiment.14

Some scholars have analyzed the lacunae in official memorialization, the issues and events that are left out of memorials, that are – sometimes quite intentionally – excluded from the official historical narrative. Henry Roussou, for example, analyzed how in the aftermath of the Second World War, the French sought to exonerate themselves by emphasizing the heroism of the resistance while ignoring the collaboration of the Vichy regime and the fact that more people were involved in the Vichy regime than in the resistance.15 Anne Pitcher argued that in Mozambique, even as the government’s official narrative sought to erase memory of past Marxist-Leninist policies, a process she called “organized forgetting,” urban workers kept alive this memory as a basis for making demands for rights.16 The experiences of women have often been excluded from sites of memory. In particular, sexual violence against women is often a taboo subject and is sublimated in favor of narratives that highlight the heroics of men.17

The growing literature on the connections between official commemoration and collective memory raises a number of questions to consider in relation to the commemorations of the Rwandan genocide. In this chapter, I review the various sites of memory in Rwanda – massacre sites, museums, holidays, and other official commemorations established by the Rwandan government. I contend that the government used memorialization to promote the historical narrative described in the previous chapter as collective memory. I argue that the government also used what I term Rwanda’s “sites of forgetting,” pointedly excluding from public commemoration particular events, people, and experiences that it hopes the population will forget or disavow. This review of the government’s agenda lays the groundwork for my consideration in Chapter 7 of how the Rwandan population itself interprets the past.

Manufacturing Memory: Genocide Memorials and Commemorations

In the years immediately after 1994, the scars of war remained visible throughout the Rwandan countryside. Bodies lay unburied in some genocide massacre sites, and in many places, hard rains washed away soils and exposed bodies tossed carelessly in shallow graves either during the genocide or in the violence that surrounded the RPF’s accession to power. Primarily local governments took up the task of organizing the cleanup of genocide sites, burying bodies left exposed, and exhuming and reburying bodies unceremoniously dumped in latrines and hastily dug shallow tombs. Marked mass graves quickly became ubiquitous on the Rwandan landscape, many of them slabs of cement with flowers planted around, others merely covered in earth, with a stone marker or small garden. Reburials were usually accompanied by a solemn service that included both religious prayers and statements by government officials.

Many other reminders of the genocide could be seen throughout the country. Much of Rwanda’s infrastructure was destroyed by the war – bridges, water systems, power lines, roads. With substantial support from the international community, the government set about rebuilding. The remains of many demolished homes were more poignant reminders of the genocide. Those who carried out the genocide sought not merely to kill the country’s Tutsi minority but to eradicate their very memory, so they symbolically demolished Tutsi homes, distributing as looted goods the roof tiles and windows and doors as well as household items like furniture and cooking pots. In at least a few cases, the RPF itself sought to match the symbolic attempt to eradicate the Tutsi by demolishing the homes or businesses of genocide leaders.18 Post-1994 Rwanda was thus scattered with the carcasses of buildings, crumbling mud walls with weeds and brush growing in what had once been family homes and businesses.

Buildings also bore reminders of the war and genocide in other ways. The walls of homes and businesses in many of Rwanda’s cities were pocked by bullet holes and windows smashed or cracked. Most dramatically, the Parliament building perched atop a high hill in the administrative area of Kigali bore huge craters from bombs. The Parliament served as RPF headquarters during the failed transition begun under the Arusha Accords, and in April 1994 five hundred RPF troops fought their way out of the building to join the main force of RPF soldiers who advanced from the north as the FAR rained bombs on their encampment. Even as most buildings in Rwanda were repaired or torn down to make way for the massive building boom that swept the capital, and even as much of the Parliament building itself was refurbished, the tall office tower was left for years with its great bombed-out holes as a testament to the heroism of the grossly outnumbered RPF troops.

At the same time that the RPF oversaw the rebuilding of the country – the rehabilitation of the infrastructure, the return of people to their homes – they also sought to preserve at least some symbols of the events of 1994. The government established an Office of Memorials in the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture to monitor the process of genocide memorialization. The government initially attempted to retain control of most of the dozens of churches that served as massacre sites, but under objections from church leaders, they relented, ultimately focusing on only a few church buildings geographically distributed throughout the country. In most cases, the bodies of victims had been removed and the churches repaired and scrubbed clean long before the arrival of the RPF in July, since the massacres occurred primarily in April. In the handful of cases where the RPF nonetheless sought to convert the churches into memorial spaces, some compromise was reached. The sanctuary in Kibeho was reconfigured and a portion walled off to create a memorial chamber. After a protracted struggle, the Catholic cathedral at Kibuye was returned to the church, but a large mass grave, memorial garden, and cenotaph were placed in front of the entrance. Nyamata was ultimately the only parish church not resacralized and returned to religious purposes, along with the chapel at Ntarama and the convent of Nyarabuye.

A late addition to the pantheon of memorials was a lonely hill high above the shores of Lake Kivu in the province of Kibuye. While most massacres took place in churches or other public buildings, survivors of the initial massacres in some communities fled to forested hillsides, where they hoped to hide.19 Bisesero was an open hillside where the Tutsi of Kibuye Prefecture made a valiant last stand against their attackers. The Tutsi, most of whom had fled from massacres at places both nearby, like the Kibuye Stadium and Catholic cathedral, as well as further afield, such as Kibeho, gathered at this site because of its isolation and strategic position. Some 40,000 Tutsi are estimated to have taken shelter in the thick brush on this steep hill, and for six weeks, they successfully fought off the civilian militia with stones and rough-hewn spears and other improvised weapons. They organized themselves into a defense force and stood their ground against the better-armed militia groups. Yet with virtually all the other major massacres in Rwanda already complete, the militia, joined by soldiers and police, mounted a major assault on May 13 in which thousands were killed, but several thousand survived in hiding. Under repeated subsequent attacks, however, the numbers of Tutsi here were relentlessly whittled away until French soldiers arrived in late June 1994 as part of Operation Turquoise. When they arrived, the French found only about 1,000 survivors, bedraggled and starving, who emerged gradually from the bush, believing that the French had come to save them. In fact, after visiting the site, the French left, and the killing continued for several more days until the French sent another contingent to protect the few survivors.20

The government raised up Bisesero as a symbol both of Tutsi resistance and also the incompetence and complicity of the international community. An official biography of Kagame discusses Bisesero in a typical fashion, “One major exception to the pattern of defenselessness and desperation stands out in the annals of the grisly period of the genocide ... The resistance put up by thousands of mostly unarmed Tutsi at Bisesero in Kibuye Province in the west of Rwanda constitutes a memorial in itself to the determination of one major group of the population to not become victims.”21 While at the conclusion of the genocide corpses lay scattered across the hillside at Bisesero, shortly after the RPF victory, the bodies were buried in mass graves, and bodies of genocide victims from throughout the local area were brought to this location for interment. Around 2001, the government constructed a monument at Bisesero and renamed the site “The Hill of Resistance.” The monument consists of a path that mounts the hill with nine buildings representing the nine communes of Kibuye Prefecture at the time of the genocide. Each building contains bones said to be those of victims from each commune, though as in other sites, the exact source of these bones is unclear, since those killed at the site were buried a number of years before. As a website explaining the memorial stated, “These images of human remains … are a powerful reminder of the concept of ‘Never Again.’”22

In addition to the major genocide memorials, the central government encouraged local governments to develop their own memorials. The annual commemoration of the genocide in April became a popular time to rebury remains of genocide victims and dedicate mass graves as memorials. The sheer number of mass graves, however, challenged the ability of governments with limited resources to develop and maintain memorial sites. While some sites were developed with attractive gardens, statues, and other features, many mass graves were little more than a large cement slab. At the time of our research, other mass graves were merely marked with crosses, though the government was working to gather bodies from these dispersed sites and rebury them in central memorials. In Kigali, for example, bodies had been brought from throughout the municipality to be buried at the Genocide Museum at Gisozi.

The construction of memorials was not the only means Rwanda used to commemorate the genocide. A year after the onset of the genocide, the government organized a Week of Mourning that has since become a major annual holiday for Rwanda. The first week of remembrance was scheduled from April 7 through April 14, with a national commemoration taking place on April 7 in Kigali, where a formal burial of the moderate Hutu Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana took place as well as the reburial of about 200 Tutsi killed at the Kigali Hospital. Local communities throughout the country also organized their own commemorations at massacre sites, many of them taking the opportunity to dedicate mass graves. In the years since, the government has declared a Week of Mourning annually, with a national ceremony of commemoration taking place at a different massacre site each year and many local communities organizing their own ceremonies of commemoration. The activities during the week are overseen by both the Office of Memorials and the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, which organizes seminars and educational workshops. The commemoration ceremonies are accompanied by political speeches in which leaders such as President Kagame expound on the ongoing significance of the genocide and the need to remain vigilant lest genocide against Tutsi recur in Rwanda. Several times Kagame used the occasion of the annual commemoration to launch a harsh attack on those he claims promote a “genocidal ideology” that threatens the stability of Rwanda.23 While the first annual commemoration included a focus on moderate Hutus who were also killed in the genocide,24 subsequent commemorations focused increasingly on Tutsi victims and the heroism of the RPF in bringing the genocide to an end. These commemorations were an opportunity to reiterate the lessons that the government hopes the population takes from the memorials and the historical events that they memorialize. An address by President Kagame at the commemoration of the eighth anniversary of the genocide in 2002 held at the Catholic seminary at Nyakibanda in southern Rwanda gives a good idea of the sort of political messages pronounced at these events. Kagame explained that in 1994, even churches were not sanctuaries for those fleeing the violence:

This is what made the 1994 atrocities different from the horrors of the past, but there were also similarities. The similarities are that all those things that we are in the process of doing, for example the dignified burial of the dead, speaking about the massacres that took place, but also in trying to distinguish them by their size or people choosing to call them by another name, and this makes people want to forget the roots of the killings. All this finds its origins in bad politics and bad governance …

A professor of history has written about Africans, because of the many African problems, saying that Africans who studied or read history in books, read it only to pass their exams. They did not read history to learn something from it. It is useful to read history to understand something that can change life and leave behind the bad in moving toward the good … There are Rwandans who have read history without learning anything from it. If you look at the present, the astonishing thing … is that there are Rwandans who try to tell us their predictions that in five years, in ten years, it will not be surprising if there is again a genocide, and saying this in a manner that they think is political! These people who say this were the authorities. They stand here and speak about extraordinary things. These people, I ask myself what history they have read? … They say these things, but they say it is just politics! But it is politics that sows division among Rwandans. And after this they run to the embassies saying that they were just engaging in politics, and these embassies welcome them, these people who consider themselves very intelligent. They share tea saying that they are just engaging in politics. But this is the politics that kills people like the people who are dead here. It is not just machetes that killed; they were merely carrying out the program. People were killed first by politics.25

The message of this and other commemorations is clear: without the leadership of the RPF, Rwanda would once again experience genocide.

In addition to the Week of Mourning, the RPF government decreed several other holidays related to the genocide. Liberation Day on July 4 celebrates the day that the RPF took control of Kigali in 1994. Although the genocidal government had fled Kigali weeks before and fighting continued for two more weeks before the FAR were routed from the country, the capture of Kigali after a three-month battle symbolically represented the effective seizure of power. Even as the Week of Mourning commemorates the beginning of the genocide, Liberation Day celebrates the end of the genocide and clearly links this to the RPF victory. The Day of Heroes held in February recognizes Rwandan heroes, mostly Hutu killed resisting the genocide or other instances of anti-Tutsi ethnic violence, such as Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana.

The Kigali Memorial Centre

In 2004, on the tenth anniversary of the genocide, the annual national ceremony of commemoration took place in conjunction with the dedication of the new Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, which has since become an important tool for conveying interpretations of the 1994 violence. (See Figure 4.) The center was built in cooperation with the Kigali municipality under the direction of the Aegis Trust, an NGO based in the United Kingdom. The Aegis Trust is the initiative of two English brothers, Stephen and James Smith, who initially built a Holocaust center in London in 1995 and then became interested in the Rwandan genocide and founded the Aegis Trust in 2000, seeking to memorialize the Rwandan genocide and use the Rwandan example as a means of preventing further genocides in Rwanda and elsewhere. As the center’s website explains:

Aegis observed that if [Rwanda] is to make a sustainable recovery, memory and education are critical factors. Memory, because survivors need time and space. They need to be heard within their own society and further afield. So too, Rwandan society needs to reckon with its collective conscience, to be clear about what it is remembering and why. Education, because new and emerging generations, on all sides of the genocidal divide, need to feel comfortable confronting the country’s past and absorbing its demanding lessons.26

While formally working with the municipality of Kigali, the Aegis Trust put their clear imprint on the Kigali Memorial Centre, which they, “modeled on the Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre”27 that they had earlier built in the United Kingdom. As Stephen Smith, director of Aegis Trust, said in a 2004 press release, “We do not create museums for the sake of museums. We create museums to dignify the past, to ensure the historical record and to provide an educational tool for future generations.”28 The center’s website claimed that in 2000, “The Aegis Trust then began to collect data from across the world to create the three graphical exhibits. The text for all three exhibitions was printed in three languages, designed in the UK at the Aegis head office by their design team, and shipped to Rwanda to be installed.”29

Figure 4 The room of victim photos at the Kigali Memorial Centre

(Photo by author).

Despite this international origin, the text in the exhibitions clearly reflected the historical narrative promoted by the RPF regime. A panel printed on a sepia-toned photograph of Rwandan children highlighted the significance of clans in pre-colonial Rwanda and argued that Rwandans lived in peace before colonial rule and that colonialism introduced ethnic differentiation:

The primary identity of all Rwandans was originally associated with eighteen different clans. The categories Hutu, Tutsi and Twa were socio-economic classifications within the clans, which could change with personal circumstances. Under colonial rule, the distinctions were made racial, particularly with the introduction of the identity card in 1932. In creating these distinctions, the colonial power identified anyone with ten cows in 1932 as a Tutsi and anyone with less than ten cows as Hutu, and this also applied to his descendants. We had lived in peace for many centuries, but now the divide between us had begun …

Another panel had a photo of Rwanda’s first president, Kayibanda, with an unattributed quote, perhaps from one of his speeches:

The Hutu and the Tutsi communities are two nations in a single state. Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy, who are ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings as if they were the inhabitants of different zones of planets.

Yet another panel stated:

Over 700,000 Tutsis were exiled from our country between 1959–1973 as a result of the ethnic cleansing encouraged by the Belgian colonialists. The refugees were prevented from returning, despite many peaceful efforts to do so. Some then joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) who, on 1 October 1990, invaded Rwanda. Civil war followed, which resulted in the internal displacement of Rwandans, many of whom were held in internal refugees camps by the Government of Rwanda. Times were tense.

Here, not only is colonialism blamed for the genocide, but the idea is put forward that the RPF was motivated by noble purposes, founded only after the failure of “many peaceful efforts” to allow repatriation of refugees. The unfounded claim that those internally displaced by the RPF’s attacks on the country “were held in internal refugee camps” deflects negative criticism away from the RPF’s attacks and onto the government that was forced to house and provision more than a million people affected by the war.30 The next panel continues the exoneration of the RPF, building on the reality that President Habyarimana exploited social divisions:

The RPF were intent on establishing equal rights and the rule of law, as well as the opportunity for the refugees to return. Habyarimana used the tension to exploit divisions in the population, launching campaigns of persecution and fuelling fear among the people. The war on the Tutsi minority was going largely unnoticed, even though many Tutsi and Hutu opponents of the divisive ideology were in prison, tortured or murdered.

The terminology used in the museum reflects the shift in public discourse about the events of 1994. In the years immediately after 1994, the government, media, and other sources referred to the genocide as itsemba bwoko, literally meaning “ethnic killing,” a new term created out of existing Kinyarwandan words. When referring to itsemba bwoko officials and others often made reference as well to itsemba-tsemba, an established Kinyarwanda term for massacres, acknowledging that while genocide had taken place against the Tutsi because of their ethnicity, many Rwandans were killed by the armed forces because of their moderate political views or caught in the war or in RPF attacks on civilians. The Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, however, used the term jenoside, a Kinyarwanda transliteration of the word genocide that officials began actively promoting several years before the tenth anniversary. Officials argued that itsemba bwoko was not an accurate term to describe what happened in 1994, because the killing was not merely an ethnic massacre but genocide. At the same time, the discussion of itsemba-tsemba was dropped from public rhetoric. A few years later, the regime began to promote another more specific term, jenoside y’Abatutsi, genocide of the Tutsi. This terminology was added to the constitution in 2008 and incorporated into the Memorial Centre.31 The Memorial Centre exhibits did mention the killing of moderate Hutu but made no reference at all to massacres carried out by the RPF.

In addition to the museum, with its educational purpose, the center also is a memorial to those killed in the genocide. The municipal government decided to gather together the remains of all those killed in Kigali in 1994. Bodies were exhumed from mass graves throughout the city and brought to Gisozi to be placed in the large crypts built in the gardens surrounding the museum. As the website for the center explained, “The Center provided an opportunity to offer a place in which the bereaved could bury their families and friends, and over 250,000 victims of the genocide are now buried at the site – a clear reminder of the cost of ignorance.”32 The clear implication is that the bodies buried at Gisozi are those of genocide victims, but in fact Kigali was the site of protracted battles between the Rwandan Armed Forces and the RPF from April through June 1994, and many civilians were caught in the crossfire. In addition, a large portion of Kigali was under RPF control, where Tutsi enjoyed safe haven but many Hutu faced arbitrary execution or other attacks.33 In other words, while 250,000 bodies may be buried at Gisozi, there is no evidence that they are in fact “victims of the genocide.” If this claim were true, then Kigali would have suffered at least a quarter of the casualties in the genocide (if one even accepts the inflated figure of one million dead). Yet the population of Kigali according to the 1991 census was 235,664, and only a minority of that number was Tutsi.34 Furthermore, when the genocide began and the civil war renewed, much of the population fled the city. Hence, the basis for the claim of 250,000 genocide victims buried at Gisozi remains entirely unclear.

Sites of Forgetting

A few miles south of the important Catholic center of Kabgayi, near the former regional capital Gitarama in the central part of the country, a house perched prominently on a small hill just off the main highway was left to fall to ruins. Though only one story, the house was spacious by Rwandan standards, and modern looking, spreading in a large U-shape around an open flat lawn. While not demolished, in contrast to many of the homes touched by the genocide, this house was neglected, with many windows broken out and the roof collapsing in some places. No plaque marked the spot, but most Rwandans knew this house, because it was the home of Rwanda’s first president, Grégoire Kayibanda. After being deposed from office in 1973, Kayibanda lived out his last few years here, and this is where in 1976 he died a quiet death.

In the mythology of the current Rwandan regime, Kayibanda holds a special vilified place. He is regarded as the father of the country’s anti-Tutsi ideology, having helped write the Bahutu Manifesto in 1957 and led the Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement (Parti du Mouvement de l’Emancipation Hutu, Parmehutu) that championed Hutu majority rule and dominated the country from 1960 to 1973. He is blamed for inspiring the “first genocide” of Tutsi in 1959 with his anti-Tutsi ideas. Kayibanda is also regarded as a stooge of the Europeans, a puppet of the Catholic missionaries who promoted his political ascendancy and the leader who allowed Belgium and other foreign powers to retain their neo-colonial control over Rwanda.

While President Habyarimana justified his removal of Kayibanda as necessary to restore order and promote development, his own rhetoric spoke of “finishing the revolution,” building on the legacy that Kayibanda had begun, but focusing on economic development rather than ethnic exclusion. Habyarimana did not execute Kayibanda but kept him under house rest and, despite rumors that the former president died of starvation and neglect, after his death the house was maintained, the walls kept painted, the gardens tended. Until 1994, travelers along the Kigali–Butare road saw a prosperous, well-kept, but unoccupied home whose upkeep seemed to signal a concession to the First Republic. After the RPF took power, however, the Kayibanda home was abandoned – not destroyed or taken over by an official of the current regime, but left to fall into disrepair, serving as a symbol of the rejection of the ideas that Kayibanda represented.

Just as the landscape of Rwanda is scattered with mass graves and memorials that serve as reminders of the 1994 genocide and highlight its centrality to Rwandan society and politics, the countryside is full of sites, like the Kayibanda home, that have been conspicuously neglected and send an equally powerful message about what the current regime rejects. While mass graves associated with the genocide were carefully marked and tended, mass graves of those killed by the RPF were pointedly ignored and neglected. While genocide massacre sites were marked by plaques and memorials, sites of other massacres were ignored. Kibeho, for example, was a religious pilgrimage site prior to the genocide, where the Virgin Mary was believed to have appeared to several schoolgirls and local peasant farmers.35 During the genocide, the Kibeho church was the site of a major massacre early in the genocide, where an estimated 17,500 people were killed.36 Both of these events are commemorated at Kibeho. The Catholic Church has constructed a new chapel at the site of the apparitions, while both the church and the government have built memorials – one inside the church building and another at the mass grave in the church yard. (See Figure 5.) Yet Kibeho was also the site of the most publicized RPF massacre in post-genocide Rwanda. Following the RPF rise to power, thousands of internally displaced people (IDP) camped at Kibeho, which was part of the French area of occupation, the Zone Turquoise. When the French left in August 1994, the RPF called upon the IDPs to leave the camps and return to their homes. When people refused, the RPF forcibly closed the camps. RPF soldiers opened fire on the IDPs at Kibeho in April 1995, killing an estimated 2,000–4,000.37 Yet Kibeho today has no sign whatsoever of those killed by the RPF. There is no mass grave, no plaque, nor any other indication that a massacre took place at this location.

Figure 5 Kibeho genocide memorial and church

(Photo by author).

Kibeho, like every other location where the RPF massacred people, serves as a site of forgetting, a site where leaders have pointedly ignored past events and removed their traces in an effort to obliterate their memory. Like “disavowed” memorials to a deposed regime, where traces “are literally or symbolically erased from the landscape either through active destruction or through neglect by the state,”38 mass graves of RPF victims are allowed to disappear from public view, growing over with weeds and brush until they are indistinguishable from the surrounding landscape. In many cases, the bodies have simply been disinterred and added to those at genocide mass graves, under the pretense that they too were killed in the genocide rather than victims of the RPF. The RPF regime is certainly not exceptional in avoiding commemorating its own abuses and failures, but in a regime obsessed with memorialization, the choice not to memorialize significant events must be regarded as intentional and politically significant. Considering the brutal dictatorships of Latin America, Elizabeth Jelin noted that, “Erasures and voids can … be the result of explicit policies furthering forgetting and silence, promoted by actors who seek to hide and destroy evidence and traces of the past in order to impede their retrieval in the future … In these cases, there is a willful political act of destruction of evidence and traces, with the goal of promoting selective memory loss through the elimination of documentary evidence.”39 Visiting Kibeho or sites of other RPF massacres, one cannot help but note “the presence of an absence,”40 the pointed decision to erase the memory of the events that took place there. Jennie Burnet calls this practice of chosen forgetting “amplified silence” and argues that, “While amplified silence has served the RPF regime in the short term, in the long term it has undermined the state’s legitimacy and perpetuated divisions in Rwandan society. Amplified silence prevented Rwandans from discussing the past openly.”41

Memorials as Narrative

Just as the official narrative discussed in the previous chapter promotes a particular version of the past, the choice of what to memorialize and what to ignore in post-genocide Rwanda sends a clear message. In contrast to many cases discussed by scholars of memory and memorialization, Rwanda has not been a place where open debate has been tolerated. Political repression has limited the level of public participation in the process of memorial conceptualization. The government has built the vast majority of memorials, and even those built by churches or other groups received strict oversight and had to accord with government expectations. Hence, memorials represent a means for the government to articulate its narrative of the past. They complement the government’s efforts to revise public thinking about Rwandan history, particularly the events of 1994.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre at Gisozi, with its texts and photos presenting Rwandan history, comes closest to presenting a traditional historical narrative. The main points of the narrative are quite consistent with the official discourse: Rwanda’s people historically got along, colonialism divided the country by creating the division between Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa, the post-colonial national leaders bought into the colonial definition of ethnicity and betrayed the interests of the Rwandan people, and the RPF waged war only reluctantly and with the noblest of intentions. Yet in addition to this written narrative, the museum seeks to touch the emotions with the haunting display of photos, abstract art, and open graves. Like the other large memorials at Murambi, Nyarabuye, Nyamata, and Ntarama, Gisozi seeks to demonstrate the horror of the genocide. The display of bodies and bones at most of the sites is meant to shock and offend. The presentation of skulls with machete wounds and women’s bodies with legs spread and a branch inserted seeks to define the nature of the genocide for those who visit, to express the extreme brutality of the crimes. The shock of row upon row of skulls or room after room of ghostly bodies is meant to show the extraordinary numbers of people killed. Bisesero, with its large white monument high above Lake Kivu sends a different message, the fact of Tutsi resistance intended to dispel the idea that Tutsi were merely passive victims of the violence.42

To understand these sites fully, though, requires understanding their audience. Average Rwandans rarely visit the sites; the local communities avoid them. As the guides at Nyamata, Ntarama, and Murambi told me – and their visitors books backed them up – only two groups of people came to the genocide memorials: foreigners and repatriated Tutsi. While local people might have questioned the authenticity of the display of bodies and bones, to those unfamiliar with the community, they served as clear evidence of the genocide. As my interview with the Director of Memorials made clear, a primary purpose of these memorials is to serve as proof of the genocide, to refute those who would deny the genocide.43 In “proving” the genocide and highlighting its magnitude and brutality, these memorials serve to justify not only the RPF’s leadership of the country but also its tactics. These memorials serve as a backdrop to politicians who seek to explain the need to rein in criticism, to limit civil society and political parties, since they demonstrate the continuing legacies of genocide that might not otherwise be obvious.

Rwanda’s memorialization also has a message for the Rwandan population as a whole. The ubiquity of smaller genocide memorials reminds Rwandans that the genocide occurred throughout the country and keeps the genocide always in mind. Almost every community now has a mass grave or monument commemorating the genocide. One cannot drive far along Rwanda’s highways without passing a memorial site. On the short road from Butare to Gitarama alone includes memorials at the Institute for Scientific and Technical Research at Rubona, the Institute for Agronomic Sciences in Rwanda at Songa, the former royal capital of Nyanza, the market town of Ruhango, and the entrance to the Catholic complex at Kabgayi. During the Week of Mourning, officials pressure the general public to attend ceremonies held at each of these sites, compelling people not only to come to a genocide memorial that they might otherwise avoid but also to participate in a public ritual acknowledging and condemning the genocide.44

A crucial purpose of the genocide memorials and commemorations is to reinforce the centrality of the genocide to Rwandan history. With memorials present in most communities, people are regularly reminded of the genocide. Tutsi, particularly rapatriés, are reminded of the peril that they face as a minority group, while Hutu are reminded of the atrocities for which they are responsible and that explain their need to remain silent and accept RPF rule. The pointed refusal publicly to commemorate those killed by the RPF sends a message that these deaths, while perhaps unfortunate, are not socially meaningful. The erasure of the physical traces of RPF massacres underlines the government’s rhetoric about the historical insignificance of deaths outside the genocide as accidental and non-systematic, and thus not worth remembering.

The Director of the Office for Genocide Memorials expressed many of these goals:

There are some people who deny that there was a genocide. But we must not forget, because if we forget it can be very dangerous, not just for Rwanda but for all humanity… We don’t keep memory alive for vengeance but to show people what happened. It is important that future generations know what happened and why. There are those who deny the genocide… You can’t have justice without proofs. We must demonstrate who did what… When you lose someone in a war, it is war. It is not the same thing as genocide.45

For the government, then, the memorials serve as proof of the genocide and maintain its centrality. Those who died at the hands of the RPF are merely the unfortunate collateral damage from a war whose deaths do not warrant commemoration.

As I discuss in Chapter 7, the message that the government intends to send through memorials and commemorations does not necessarily dictate how the public itself “reads” them. Mass graves and public remembrances seek to shape popular interpretations of the events of 1994, but individuals’ own experiences affect how they understand the past. Some people do accept the government’s message, but others reject it as inconsistent with their own experience, while still others reinterpret the memorials according to their own needs and ideas. What is clear to nearly everyone, however, is that the government regards the genocide as definitive and a justification for its actions.

1 Nora, Les Lieux de Memoire.

2 C.f., Anderson, Imagined Communities; Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983; Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780.

3 Jan-Werner Müller, “Introduction: The Power of Memory, the Memory of Power, and the Power over Memory,” in Jan-Werner Müller, ed., Memory and Power in Post-War Europe: Studies in the Presence of the Past, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp. 1–35, p. 18.

4 Young, The Texture of Memory.

5 Robin Wagner-Pacifici and Barry Schwartz, “The Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Commemorating a Difficult Past,” American Journal of Sociology, 97, no. 2, September 1991, 376–420.

6 Otto Mayr, “The Enola Gay Fiasco: History, Politics, and the Museum,” Technology and Culture, 39, no. 3, July 1998, 462–473; Robert C. Post, “A Narrative of Our Time: The Enola Gay ‘and after that, period,’” Technology and Culture, 45, no. 2, April 2004, 373–395. For a different example, see Daniel J. Sherman, “Art, Commerce, and the Production of Memory in France after WWI” in John R. Gillis, ed., Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994 on struggles over World War I memorials in France.

7 Katherine Hite, “‘The Eye that Cries’: The Politics of Representing Victims in Contemporary Peru,” A Contra Coriente, Fall 2007, 108–124.

8 J. E. Tunbridge and G. J. Ashworth, Dissonant Heritage: The Management of the Past as a Resource in Conflict, Chichester; New York: J. Wiley, 1996.

9 Paul Ricouer, Memory, History, Forgetting, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2004, p. 58.

10 Ibid., p. 81.

11 Ibid., p. 87.

12 Benjamin Forest and Juliet Johnson, “Unraveling the Threads of History: Soviet-Era Monuments and Post-Soviet National Identity in Moscow,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 92, no. 3, 2002, 534–547, quote p. 527.

13 Claudia Koonz, “Between Memory and Oblivion: Concentration Camps in German Memory,” in John R. Gillis, ed., Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994, citation p. 258.

15 Henry Rousso, The Vichy Syndrome, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991.

16 M. Anne Pitcher, “Forgetting from Above and Memory from Below: Strategies of Legitimation and Struggle in Postsocialist Mozambique,” Africa, Winter 2006, 88–112.

17 For example, Marlene Epp, “The Memory of Violence: Soviet and East European Mennonite Refugees and Rape in the Second World War,” Journal of Women’s History, 9, no. 1, Spring 1997, 58–88, looks at the various ways in which memory of sexual violence against Mennonite women in Eastern Europe is suppressed.

18 On the main road in the city of Butare, several businesses were in ruins even a decade after the genocide. When I asked local residents why they had not been rebuilt considering their prime locations, I was consistently told that the buildings had been destroyed by the RPF as a warning. Such demolitions, however, were much less common than the systematic destruction of Tutsi homes undertaken during the genocide.

19 In Nyakizu, for example, many people who fled from the attack on Cyahinda Church took refuge on Nyakizu and Gasasa Hills. See the chapters I wrote on Nyakizu in Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story.

20 Siméon Karamaga, Testimony gathered by the Survivors’ Fund UK, available at www.survivors-fund.org.uk/assets/docs/testimonies/simeon_karamaga.pdf.

21 Colin M. Waugh, Paul Kagame and Rwanda: Power, Genocide and the Rwandan Patriotic Front, London: McFarland and Co., 2004, p. 74.

22 According to a website about this memorial, “In 1996 soon after the genocide, survivors gathered together with members of a survivors’ association called ‘Kibuye Solidarity’ and came up with the idea of gathering all the victims who were scattered over different hills and valleys into one place in order to bury them with dignity. Today, a large number of those remains have been buried. However, a small number have been conserved in order to be placed in the memorial where they will be displayed in order to preserve the memory of what happened in Bisesero.” www.museum.gov.rw/2_museums/kibuye/bisesero/pages/bisesero.htm.

23 In the 1999 commemoration held at Kibeho, President Bizimungu accused Catholic Bishop Augustin Misago, who was in attendance, of participation in the genocide. In 2002, Kagame denounced Bizimungu himself for criticizing the RPF and forming a new political party. Lars Waldorf, “A Justice ‘Trickle Down’: Rwanda’s First Post-Genocide President on Trial,” in Ellen Lutz and Caitlin Reiger, eds., Prosecuting Heads of State, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, pp. 151–175.

24 Chris McGreal, “Survivors Condemn Tribute to Top Hutus: Rwanda’s Government ‘Wants to Forget the Genocide,’” The Guardian, April 5, 1995.

25 Paul Kagame, Speech by the President of the Republic for the commemoration of the Eighth Anniversary of the 1994 Genocide, broadcast on Radio Rwanda, April 7, 2000.

27 Aegis Trust, “10 Years On.”

29 www.kigalimemorialcentre.org/centre/, accessed on October 20, 2007.

30 Living in Rwanda in 1992–1993, I can personally attest to the extraordinary disruption created by the RPF invasions. People in Ruhengeri and Byumba who had been able to return to their homes after the August 1, 1992, ceasefire were again displaced by the February 7, 1993, attack, along with thousands of others. Visiting these camps for the internally displaced and interviewing people whose families were being housed in schools and other facilities, public anger was clearly directed against the RPF and not the government.

31 Lars Waldorf, “Revisiting Hotel Rwanda: Genocide Ideology, Reconciliation, and Rescuers,” Journal of Genocide Research, 11, no. 1, 2009, 101–125.

33 Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story.

34 National Census Service, “The General Census of Population and Housing, Rwanda: 16–30 August 2002: Report on the Preliminary Results,” Kigali: Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, February 2003, p. 16.

35 Gabriel Maindron, Des Apparitions à Kibeho: Annonce de Marie au Coeur de l’Afrique, Paris: O.E.I.L., 1984; Augustin Misago, Les Apparitions de Kibeho au Rwanda, Kinshasa: Faculté Catholique de Kinshasa, 1991.

36 ICTR, “Judgement and Sentence,” The Prosecutor versus Aloys Simba, Case No. ICTR-01-76-T, p. 16.

37 Human Rights Watch, “Human Rights Watch and FIDH Commend Peaceful End to Kibeho Crisis but Warn Rwandan Judicial System Needs Immediate Action,” New York: Human Rights Watch, May 11, 1995.

38 Forest and Johnson, “Unraveling the Threads of History,” p. 525.

39 Elizabeth Jelin, State Repression and the Labors of Memory, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003, p. 18.

40 Richard S. Esbenshade, “Remembering to Forget: Memory, History, National Identity in Postwar East-Central Europe,” Representations, no. 49, Winter 1995, 72–79, citation p. 73.

41 Burnet, Genocide Lives In Us, p. 216.

42 Sabine Marschall, “Gestures of Compensation: Post-Apartheid Monuments and Memorials,” Transformation 2004, 78–95, writes that, “By emphasising resistance and triumph, post-apartheid South African identity transcends the mould of eternal victim. The focus on resistance and triumph functions as a powerful and affirmative counterpoint to the narrative of oppression, sadness and reproach” (p. 88).

43 Interview in Kigali, June 2003.

44 See Chapter 7.

45 Interview in Kigali, June 18, 2002.

4 Justice as Memory

Closure is not possible. Even if it were, any closure would insult those whose lives are forever ruptured. Even to speak, to grope for words to describe horrific events, is to pretend to negate their unspeakable qualities and effects. Yet silence is also an unacceptable offense, a shocking implication that the perpetrators in fact succeeded, a stunning indictment that the present audience is simply the current incarnation of the silent bystanders complicit with oppressive regimes. Legal responses are inevitably frail and insufficient… But inaction by legal institutions means that the perpetrators prevailed in paralyzing the instruments of justice. Even new waves of massive violence turned upon the oppressors would offer more hope than inaction for the resurgence of ideals, of justice, of humanity. Yet new cycles of revenge and violence in the name of justice kill even that hope.

– Martha Minow, Between Vengeance and Forgiveness
The Prison on a Hill

Gisovu Prison lies on a high mountain along the continental divide between the Nile and Congo River basins several hours’ drive from the capital of the former Kibuye Province. The prison is in a beautiful setting, surrounded by tea plantations and perched high above the banks of Lake Kivu, but also remote, on steep gravel and dirt roads that become impassible after heavy rains. Built with international funds after the genocide as a second prison for Kibuye to help solve problems of overcrowding, Gisovu became the province’s only prison when government officials determined that the Kibuye Central Prison’s position in the center of town detracted from plans to develop Kibuye, with its breathtaking lake views, as a major tourist site.

In my years as a human rights worker and researcher, I have visited many prisons. In 1995, I walked through the squalor of the Butare Prison that had been built for 1,000 prisoners but was housing more than 8,000 individuals, with people forced to sleep on the roof and in the bathrooms and showers. I have seen the fresh scars of prisoners who have been whipped and beaten. I have searched prisons for individuals arrested secretly and now missing. I have interviewed many prisoners, some of whom I was convinced were innocent, others I was sure were murderers. But I approached Gisovu Prison with particular trepidation and excitement. I had been told that this was the prison where the people who had murdered my friends were being kept, people I had known before the genocide but who had turned on their own neighbors and friends. I wanted to find them, and I wanted to confront them.

I lived in Rwanda shortly before the genocide, conducting research for my dissertation on religion and politics. During a yearlong period of fieldwork, I studied in several communities in various parts of the country, but Kirinda, a small village in Kibuye, was where I made a home in Rwanda. Kirinda, the site of the first Protestant parish in the country, housed two secondary schools, a hospital, and several national offices for the Presbyterian Church. I spent my first months in Rwanda there, studying Kinyarwanda, getting to know the population, and making good friends, and I came back there often during my fieldwork. Kirinda and the neighboring village of Biguhu became the center of my analysis and ultimately my first book.1 In Kirinda, I most clearly saw the rise of ethnic and political tensions in the country and the way that ethnic politics became entwined with struggles to preserve individual power and privilege. Local leaders of the church and schools allied themselves with the increasingly racist anti-Tutsi Habyarimana regime, while the general population of all ethnicities joined parties in opposition to Habyarimana. Tensions in the community rose with every RPF attack on Rwanda, and Tutsi students came to me expressing their fear at the changing climate in Rwanda.

During the genocide, the Tutsi of both Biguhu and Kirinda gathered at one of the Kirinda schools, and a few gathered at the parish itself, where community leaders promised that they would be protected. Instead, these same leaders organized a gang of mostly unemployed and disenfranchised local youths into a militia group to attack and kill the Tutsi. The gang attacked the school and later the church and killed Tito, the former hospital chauffeur, and his wife and children. They killed the Biguhu pastor’s wife and all seven of his children, though he himself managed to escape and flee into hiding. Géras, the agronomist I worked with closely in Biguhu, paid the head of the hospital to save him, but as he and his wife and daughters were led away, they were betrayed and killed anyway. His youngest daughter, who was born while I was staying in Biguhu, survived for a while until she was murdered in her hospital bed during a campaign in May to finish off the survivors. The local government organized a security committee, composed of the principal of one of the high schools, the head of the hospital, and Musa, a local businessman, and they organized the local community to work barricades and carry out patrols that helped to root out survivors of the first massacres. Church leaders supported these efforts, urging their parishioners to defend the country from the RPF menace. In the end, only four or five of Kirinda’s Tutsi survived, while all the rest were slaughtered by their neighbors. One close Tutsi friend survived, but was gang raped. Another friend lost his entire family.

When I returned to Rwanda in 1995 as head of the HRW office, I researched what happened in this community where I had found a home. I located the Tutsi survivors, most of whom lived outside Kirinda, and they told me their stories of murder, rape, and torture. I went back to Kirinda and interviewed other people in the community and searched through the records at the communal office. The leaders of the communal government clearly worked closely with the leaders of the church, its school and hospital, and the local business community to organize the genocide in Kirinda. As the RPF arrived, the community fled en masse to Zaire, where the village gathered in a single refugee camp and the leaders maintained their hold over the population. When the RPF bombed and closed the camps in 1996, most of the leaders of Kirinda returned to the community, and many were arrested and eventually ended up in Gisovu. Amani, the young businessman who had led the militia death squad, escaped into Congo and was never found, but Fidèle, the high school principal, Léonidas, the regional church president, Musa, the businessman who supplied the killers with machetes, and Antoine, the hospital chief, were all imprisoned in Kibuye and then moved to Gisovu. These were people I knew before the genocide. Both eyewitness testimonies and written records proved them responsible for the murder of my friends, for the rape of my friends, for using the genocide as a tool to build their personal power and wealth at the expense of everyone else. I wanted to see these people, to confront them, to hear directly from them what happened in Kirinda and why they did what they did.

In January 2005, I traveled to Gisovu with a research team and film crew from the Internews Newsreel Project, a program to raise consciousness on justice issues and the judicial process and to develop journalistic skills by producing and showing films about gacaca, the ICTR, and Rwandan courts. The Internews group was scheduled to screen a film for the prison population and interview several prisoners for a future film. My research team was to conduct focus group interviews with prisoners after the screening for an assessment of Internews that I had been hired to undertake.2 The film screening was set for the early afternoon, and my research team and I planned to meet the Internews crew at the prison. We left Kibuye town just after lunch and set off going south along the shores of Lake Kivu, on the poorly kept rocky road that linked Kibuye with Cyangugu. Even with a four-wheel-drive Landcruiser, our progress on the rocky road was slow. After some distance along the lake, we turned inland off the main road and began to climb up toward the continental divide. We passed Bisesero, where Tutsi had resisted the genocide and a monument now stood, and kept going. As the road went on and on, we stopped periodically to ask directions, to make sure we were not lost. Eventually, more than three hours after leaving Kibuye, we arrived at a tea plantation in the high mountains, and there in the middle of the beautiful verdant tea fields sat, incongruously, the Gisovu prison.

While we waited for the Internews film crew to arrive, I arranged the focus groups and explored the prison. I struck up a conversation with the assistant warden, who, it turned out, had attended high school in Kirinda before the genocide. We compared notes on people we knew in common and where they were today, and we talked about what had happened in Kirinda in 1994. I told him that I would like to interview some of the leaders of Kirinda, those I held responsible for the genocide there, and he just shook his head. “There are only peasants here now. All the important people, all those with influence, they have been released. People have intervened for them, and they are now free. So it is only the poor and powerless who are left.” He confirmed that Léonidas and Musa and Fidèle had all been imprisoned in Gisovu at one point, but they had used their wealth and connections to gain their freedom. Now it was only the minor actors, those who had followed their orders, who were left in prison.

When the Internews team arrived, the entire prison population of over 3,000 gathered in the central prison courtyard, crowded together on small wooden benches, or looking in from the windows of the surrounding buildings. My research team and I were seated in the front of the crowd, and the warden introduced us, along with the Internews workers. He mentioned that I had lived in Kirinda before the war and asked those from Kirinda to stand. A few young men in bright pink prison uniforms stood shyly here and there in the crowd, and I saw that the assistant warden had been right. These were not the pastors and teachers and doctors and businessmen who had overseen the killing in Kirinda. These were the poor, unemployed youths who had been the mere foot soldiers of the genocide. Promised opportunity and power in exchange for their cooperation, they were now abandoned to undefined terms in prison awaiting trial, while those who had led them astray walked free. My vision of confronting the people who killed my friends was not to be, at least not here at Gisovu Prison on this day.

Justice and the Rwandan Genocide

The Rwandan genocide has become the most heavily adjudicated mass atrocity in history. In the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, the United Nations established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to try the genocide’s organizers, while Belgium, Finland, France, Sweden, Canada, and Switzerland have tried Rwandan citizens in their national courts for genocide offenses. In Rwanda itself, more than 125,000 people were imprisoned on genocide charges in the years immediately after the RPF took power.3 The Rwandan courts began to try cases in 1996, but the extraordinary caseload overwhelmed the system, that would, it was predicted, need 100 years to try all of the accused. To speed up the prosecutions, Rwandan officials developed an innovative popular form of justice based loosely on a traditional dispute resolution mechanism. Set up throughout the country, gacaca courts had popularly elected panels of non-professional judges charged with determining how the genocide occurred in their community and sitting in judgment over the majority of those accused. The gacaca courts represented a massive undertaking, involving over 170,000 judges in more than 9,000 jurisdictions.4

For both the international community and the Government of Rwanda, judicial action has become the most significant and far reaching means of seeking to promote the reconstruction of Rwandan society. Yet the motives for holding trials have been mixed, and their actual impact on Rwandan society is poorly understood. Like the memorials reviewed in the last chapter, trials contribute to public discourse about the past and attempt to shape public perceptions. In Chapter 8, I explore the public reaction to the many trials held in Rwanda and discuss their impact. In this chapter, I review the scholarly analysis of trials in the aftermath of mass atrocity then explain the various judicial processes that have been undertaken in response to the Rwandan genocide. I explore the motives of various parties for holding trials and argue that for the Rwandan government, the goal of “seeking justice” was less important than securing the authority of the regime and controlling the population. The rhetoric from government officials about the trials and the extraordinary reach of the prosecution implied collective guilt for the Hutu population that effectively disempowered them politically and socially.5

Trials after Mass Atrocity

The military tribunals held in Germany and Japan following the Second World War set an important precedent for holding individuals, particularly national leaders, accountable to international standards of propriety.6 Although they represent the classic cases of victors’ justice, carried out by the victorious armies at the conclusion of war, these trials established several important principles that have become foundations for modern international law. In the most famous of these trials, the Trial of Major War Criminals held in Nuremberg from November 1945 to October 1946, the Allies prosecuted twenty-four prominent German leaders on four charges: conspiracy to “crimes against peace”; “waging wars of aggression” in violation of various peace treaties; “war crimes,” the violation of the Geneva Convention’s protections of prisoners of war and injured soldiers; and a newly developed category of “crimes against humanity,” for their treatment of civilians, particularly in occupied territories. This last category of crimes allowed the prosecution to enter evidence about the massacres of Jews, Roma, and other groups the Germans deemed undesirable, but the legal basis for these charges was questionable, since there were no treaties that defined the offenses, and there was no precedent for holding national leaders accountable for their treatment of their own citizens.7

The limitation in international law highlighted by the Nuremberg Trials and the international reaction against the horrors of the Holocaust inspired the adoption of a series of human rights declarations and treaties in the next several decades – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948), International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), and a growing list of additional human rights documents. Despite the growth in international human rights law, the precedent of the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials lay fallow for more than four decades. Genocides in Indonesia, Cambodia, and Iraq were largely overlooked by the international community, as were mass atrocities in places such as China, Congo, and Biafra. Yet the creation in May 1993 of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) inspired a new wave of prosecutions, both national and international, that has quickly transformed judicial action into an essential part of post-authoritarian and post-conflict transition. Following the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 1994, the international community helped organize trials in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Timor Leste, and Cambodia. Countries such as Ethiopia, Argentina, and Peru have prosecuted members of former regimes for abuses during their tenure. Charges were brought against the former presidents of Chile, Chad, and Liberia. Following the Rome Convention in 1998, the International Criminal Court (ICC) came into existence in 2002, and the ICC has investigated cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo, northern Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Darfur region of Sudan, Libya, Kenya, and Côte d’Ivoire.8 Trials have become the cornerstone of transitional justice, the now ubiquitous approach to promoting peace and reconciliation through accountability for the past that also includes truth commissions, memorialization, reparations, and historical revision.9

Despite the widespread use of trials as a response to mass atrocity, little agreement exists over what exact purpose holding perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their actions serves in the aftermath of violence. In her celebrated work on the trial of Adolf Eichman, Hannah Arendt wrote that, “The purpose of a trial is to render justice, and nothing else; even the noblest of ulterior purposes … can only detract from the law’s main business: to weigh the charges brought against the accused, to render judgment, and to mete out due punishment.”10 Leaving aside the question of what “rendering justice” means,11 many scholars agree with Arendt that justice is a good in and of itself. Many human rights activists and legal scholars claim that people should be held accountable for violating human rights, because allowing impunity is unjust. For example, Aryeh Neier, head of the Open Society Institute, criticized societies that do not hold trials after mass atrocities for failing to “do justice.”12 The leading international human rights organizations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International regularly call for accountability following massive human rights abuses and denounce attempts to grant amnesties to offenders.13

Yet the pure interest in “rendering justice” is not the primary purpose driving the recent wave of transitional justice. Even the most ardent supporters of justice as a motive in and of itself see other important reasons for holding trials. Neier, for example, touched on another reason for holding trials, probably the primary reason they have been implemented so widely after mass violence, the idea that accountability helps to fight impunity and establish rule of law. He argued that, “A retributive theory of justice turns on the arguments that society punishes to restore equilibrium of benefits and burdens in a society unfairly disrupted by crime and that it needs to demonstrate the seriousness with which it regards its laws against criminality, its condemnation of transgressions, and its respect for victims.”14 If people are allowed to get away with human rights violations, then the law itself loses value, and people will not respect it. In the aftermath of conflict, fighting impunity and establishing rule of law can contribute to building a peaceful society, since if there is accountability, people who might otherwise want to carry out crimes will be deterred from doing so, while building the rule of law encourages people to settle disputes through legal means rather than through violence. Martha Minow argued that trials can help to stop cycles of revenge, because they take the role of seeking vengeance out of the hands of individuals. According to Minow, “A trial in the aftermath of mass atrocity … transfers the individuals’ desires for revenge to the state or official bodies. The transfer cools vengeance into retribution, slows judgment with procedure, and interrupts, with documents, cross-examination, and the presumption of innocence, the vicious cycle of blame and feud.”15

Another major reason that people advocate for trials after mass atrocity is to promote reconciliation. The idea that trials contribute to reconciliation is based on several results that many advocates assume trials produce. By identifying specific perpetrators guilty of specific crimes, trials are thought to help avoid collective guilt, thus allowing those not found guilty – even if they are from the same ethnic or religious community as the perpetrators – to be reintegrated into their communities. As Antonio Cassese, first president of the ICTY, wrote, “trials establish individual responsibility over collective assignation of guilt, i.e., they establish that not all Germans were responsible for the Holocaust, nor all Turks for the Armenian genocide, nor all Serbs, Muslims, Croats or Hutus but individual perpetrators.”16

Many advocates of trials contend that trials help victims by allowing them to move on with their lives. Some advocates argue that trials demonstrate that society takes the crimes committed seriously, recognize the suffering of the victims, and provide valuable information, such as how people died, who is responsible, and where bodies are buried.17 Some claim that after trials, “victims are prepared to be reconciled with their erstwhile tormentors, because they know that the latter have now paid for their crimes.”18

Another way that trials are seen as supporting reconciliation is in encouraging dialogue within a society over the nature of the violence they experienced. Mark Osiel is a strong advocate of trials as a means of getting a society to talk about what went wrong. He argued that trials of key leaders of mass atrocities may be used effectively after conflicts to, “stimulate public discussion in ways that foster the liberal virtues of toleration, moderation, and civil respect.”19 While many other scholars feel that Osiel goes too far in arguing that post-conflict trials should focus on their didactic purposes, even at the expense of fair trial standards, many advocates do believe, like Osiel, that trials help to open a conversation about social conflict.20

Finally, advocates urge trials after mass atrocity to help establish a collective understanding of the truth surrounding human rights violations. Juan Mendez, UN Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide, has argued that because trials allow confrontation and cross-examination and ultimately end in a verdict, “the truth thus established has a ‘tested’ quality that makes it all the more persuasive.”21 Some advocates of trials believe that developing an official transcript about past crimes can allow societies to move forward and avoid future atrocities. Naomi Roht-Arriaza, for example, argued that investigation of abuses for trials, “allows the ‘air to be cleared’ of the rumors, fear, and mutual suspicion created by years of repression, so that the country may move forward on a firm footing.”22

Other writers and activists have challenged the decision for trials in the aftermath of mass violence and human rights abuses. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), implemented by South Africa in 1996, has inspired considerable focus on forms of transitional justice that are less confrontational than trials.23 Truth commissions have been chosen generally in cases of negotiated transition, where those who committed atrocities retain considerable power, but some claim they are a more effective means of encouraging public dialogue without exacerbating social divisions.24 Truth commissions are promoted as a form of restorative, rather than retributive, justice, a more effective means of rebuilding community bonds and promoting reconciliation. In Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Peru, and elsewhere, often with the assistance of the international community, truth commissions have sought to establish a public record of atrocities that have taken place, hoping that this will allow societies to build a collective memory of the past that can become a basis for a more peaceful and just future.25 While truth commissions are sometimes portrayed as opting for truth over justice,26 initiatives in Sierra Leone, Timor Leste, and Peru have challenged this dichotomy by combining truth commissions and trials.27 Other tools of transitional justice have also been attempted as alternatives to trials. Following the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the primary form of accountability for past human rights abuses was lustration, a policy that forbids former communist officials or others implicated by files from the secret police from holding public office.28 In other cases, reparations for victims of abuse have been a means of seeking accountability,29 in some cases including symbolic reparations.30

Some scholars challenge the effectiveness and fairness of all forms of transitional justice, whether trials or other means. Reviewing the array of recent trials and truth commissions across the globe, Charles T. Call argued that, “New international tribunals, truth-telling mechanisms, and post-transition hybrid courts have recurrent, structural problems. These problems range from a lack of resources to politicization to virtual impunity for rich countries.”31 Call in particular decried the selective application of transitional justice, its use against those groups and individuals who lose armed conflicts while the winners enjoy impunity and the reality that, “Individuals from powerful or wealthy countries, particularly the United States, enjoy significantly more immunity from international criminal prosecution.”32 Bronwyn Anne Leebaw argued that transitional justice mechanisms, whether trials or truth commissions, are hampered by their conflicting interests in simultaneously trying to promote rule of law and political transformation. She wrote that, “in evaluating the political role of transitional justice institutions, more attention should be given to the ways in which their efforts to expose, remember, and understand political violence are in tension with their role as tools for establishing stability and legitimating transitional compromises.”33 She went on to note the political purposes for which legal mechanisms are often employed. “While law can be a tool for regulating violence and exposing abuses of power, law is also utilized to obfuscate and legitimate abuses of power.”34

A review of the decision to opt for prosecution in the Rwandan case reveals a multiplicity of motives. The apparently noble purposes of “rendering justice,” promoting rule of law, acknowledging the suffering of victims, encouraging dialogue, and promoting reconciliation lauded by advocates of trials are tempered in the Rwandan case by a desire to divert attention from negligence and human rights abuses. In addition, for the Rwandan government, trials have served as an important means of exerting control over the population. While gacaca may have been influenced by ideas of restorative justice, the decision to prosecute Hutu for even the most minor genocide-related offenses while completely excluding the prosecution of offenses against Hutu has effectively intimidated and silenced the Hutu population. Some observers have described the use of legal mechanisms to dominate Rwanda’s population as “lawfare,” the use of law as a tool of war.35 In this chapter I contend that, like memorialization and commemoration, trials have served the government of Rwanda as another means of promoting a narrative that stresses the centrality of the genocide and obliterates memory of RPF abuses. In Rwanda, trials have more to do with promoting a particular national narrative and reinforcing the authority of the state and regime than in promoting justice or accountability.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

In the aftermath of the 1994 war and genocide, the Rwandan judicial system lay shattered. Not only were many judicial buildings literally in ruins, but the vast majority of judges, magistrates, and lawyers had either been killed or were in exile, some of them implicated in the genocide. Both the international community and leaders of the RPF felt that the genocide was a sufficiently serious atrocity that perpetrators had to be held accountable, yet the Rwandan judicial system was incapable of organizing trials at the time. Furthermore, the vast majority of perpetrators had fled Rwanda as the RPF advanced and were now outside the country and thus outside the reach of Rwandan law. As a result, after the RPF took control of the country, the UN ambassador from Rwanda, which had a seat on the Security Council at the time, formally requested that the Security Council create an international criminal tribunal, like the one recently created for the former Yugoslavia. In August 1994, the Security Council mandated a commission of experts to investigate the case that found that “there exists overwhelming evidence to prove that acts of genocide against the Tutsi group were perpetrated by Hutu elements in a concerted, planned, systematic, and methodical way.”36 On November 8, 1994, the Security Council voted 14 to 1 to amend the statute creating the ICTY to expand its jurisdiction to include crime committed in Rwanda from January 1 to December 31, 1994.37

In Chapter 8, I consider how successful the ICTR has been at influencing the process of reconciliation within Rwanda. In this chapter, however, my interest is in how the ICTR contributes to public discourses on justice and history. To approach this topic, considering the motives for creating the ICTR is useful. The Preamble of the Security Council resolution creating the ICTR suggests several of the motives for holding trials discussed above:

Determining that this situation continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security,

Determined to put an end to such crimes and to take effective measures to bring to justice the persons who are responsible for them,

Convinced that in the particular circumstances of Rwanda, the prosecution of persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law would enable this aim to be achieved and would contribute to the process of national reconciliation and to the restoration and maintenance of peace,

Believing that the establishment of an international tribunal for the prosecution of persons responsible for genocide and the other above-mentioned violations of international humanitarian law will contribute to ensuring that such violations are halted and effectively redressed.38

The resolution indicates goals for the tribunal both in the international community and within Rwanda. At one level, the resolution suggests that the ICTR is needed by the international community to protect against the “threat to international peace and security.” In stating a desire “to put an end to such crimes” and to see that “such violations are halted and effectively redressed,” the resolution seems to refer not only to the specific crimes in Rwanda but to the same sorts of crimes in other contexts, that is, to serve a deterrent function internationally by showing that crimes like those committed in Rwanda will not go unpunished and thereby to fight impunity internationally. At another level, however, the ICTR was clearly intended to assist Rwanda in its rebuilding, as the resolution claims that the Tribunal can, “contribute to the process of national reconciliation and to the restoration and maintenance of peace.” The Rwandan ambassador to the United Nations himself argued during the Security Council debate in favor of the creation of the Tribunal as a means of combating impunity in Rwanda, stating that people “who were taught that it was acceptable to kill as long as the victim was from a different ethnic group or from an opposition party, cannot arrive at national reconciliation unless they learn new values.” This could only occur, he argued, “if equitable justice is established and if the survivors are assured that what has happened will never happen again.”39

In addition to the ostensibly noble purposes of fighting impunity internationally and promoting peace and reconciliation within Rwanda, scholars have noted several less laudable goals behind the Security Council’s decision to create the ICTR. Having not simply failed to end the genocide but empowered the perpetrators through mischaracterization of and disregard for the violence in international diplomatic contexts and through the withdrawal of both most foreign nationals from Rwanda and the majority of United Nations troops stationed in the country at the time of the genocide, the world powers – particularly the United States – felt the need to atone for their previous failures. Having sent troops initially only to evacuate non-Rwandans from the country, France – which Samantha Power correctly called, “perhaps the least appropriate country to intervene because of its warm relationship with the genocidal Hutu regime”40 – sent a contingent of troops into southwest Rwanda in late June 1994 to create a “safe zone,” supposedly to protect the civilian population but in actual fact facilitating the safe withdrawal into Zaire of the genocidal government and army. The United States joined other countries to deploy troops to Eastern Zaire in response to the terrible humanitarian crisis created by the flight of over a million Rwandan refugees across the border in advance of the RPF seizure of power.41 These interventions, however, merely reinforced the perception of the international community’s failure to protect Rwanda’s Tutsi minority during the genocide. In supporting the creation of the ICTR, the United States and other international actors could appear to be taking the strong action that they had failed to take when the genocide was actually underway. Support for the ICTR seems to have been motivated both by sincere remorse over the failure to stop the genocide and by a political interest in concealing this major policy failure.42

Despite having initially called for the creation of the ICTR, Rwanda ultimately cast the sole dissenting vote in the Security Council against the ICTR resolution, and relations between the ICTR and the Government of Rwanda were publicly antagonistic ever after. The Rwandan government objected to the primacy given to the tribunal over Rwandan courts, the decision to locate the tribunal outside Rwanda, and the absence of the death penalty in the ICTR statute. More broadly, however, as Victor Peskin stated, “The central political dispute concerns the United Nations’ failure to intervene to stop the genocide.”43 Since the international community had failed to stop the genocide, the Government of Rwanda resented their intervention, even as they needed substantial financial and logistical support not just to rebuild their country, but also to guarantee that those responsible for the genocide would be held accountable. The fact that most of the main perpetrators of the genocide were outside Rwanda made the ICTR necessary, but despite having called for the ICTR’s creation, the RPF leadership begrudged what they perceived as the arrogance of the international community, particularly in claiming judicial primacy over Rwandan courts.44 After the ICTR’s creation, President Kagame and others regularly criticized the court in public settings, particularly over the amount of money being expended on the ICTR given its relatively small number of cases when compared to the national courts of Rwanda.45 Gerald Gahima, then the Attorney General, told me in an interview, “When we look at the resources the international community provides to the Tribunal, and that money is intended to promote rule of law in Rwanda, they are not getting their money’s worth.”46

Certainly many of the criticisms leveled by the Rwandan government have merit. I have elsewhere discussed the substantial problems that plagued the operations of the ICTR – ranging from inadequate finances and personnel to bad management to the lack of a prosecutorial strategy.47 Nevertheless, I would contend that the government’s public condemnations of the ICTR were a form of political theater. In practice, the government allowed the ICTR to operate freely within Rwanda and generally cooperated on the prosecution of cases. The public hostility was calculated to play on guilt in the international community for its failures in the genocide and thereby to shame donors into continuing to provide financial assistance to the Rwandan judicial system and other government programs. Highlighting the failures of the ICTR undermined the legitimacy of the international community in criticizing the Rwandan government for its ongoing human rights abuses. Finally, significantly, the antagonism from the RPF effectively prevented the ICTR from pursuing criminal cases against the RPF.

Despite the tensions between the Government of Rwanda and the ICTR – in fact, in part because of them – by avoiding pursuing cases against the RPF, the ICTR actually contributed to the vision of justice promulgated by the RPF. The mandate of the ICTR was to prosecute those responsible for “genocide and other serious violations of humanitarian law.” This mandate included crimes committed by the RPF. While the attacks on Kibeho in early 1995 and on the refugee camps in Zaire in 1996 fell outside the timeframe of the ICTR mandate, RPF attacks on civilians as the troops advanced across Rwanda during the genocide and summary executions, revenge attacks, and other violations immediately after the RPF took power fell clearly within the mandate. Nevertheless, no charges were ever brought by the ICTR prosecutors against any figures in the RPF. The RPF leadership strongly condemned suggestions that its members should face prosecution at the ICTR as an attempt to equate the behavior of those who orchestrated the genocide with the RPF. The first two Chief Prosecutors, Richard Goldstone and Louise Arbour, both discussed bringing charges against the RPF but left office before any indictments were announced. When the third Chief Prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, sought to initiate investigations of RPF officials in 2003, the Government of Rwanda pressured the United Nations into reorganizing the ICTR, removing Del Ponte’s responsibility over the ICTR and setting up a separate prosecutor. President Kagame argued forcefully at the time against the ICTR pursuing cases against the RPF. “What’s done in this Tribunal is politics, rather than rendering justice. It is unimaginable to compare crimes of vengeance and reprisal committed by individual members of the RPF, who have faced severe punishment, with the genocide.”48 Del Ponte’s replacement, the Gambian judge Hassan Jallow, showed no interest in pursuing prosecution of RPF officials.49

Despite its weak beginning, the initially very slow pace of trials, and the flaws in the prosecution of many of the cases,50 the ICTR ultimately built an impressive judicial record. In contrast to the ICTY, where few of the chief organizers of the violence were available for prosecution, countries around the world apprehended most of those sought by the ICTR, allowing the tribunal to pursue cases against a wide range of those responsible for the genocide – military leaders, government ministers, the media, businesspeople, religious leaders, and officials from the various regions of the country. The ICTR made important contributions to international law, bringing the first conviction of an individual for genocide and the first conviction of sexual violence as a form of genocide. The ICTR indictments and prosecutions also contributed to the international isolation of Rwanda’s deposed government, preventing the former leaders from establishing an effective government in exile to mount a serious challenge to the new regime.51

Yet in failing to bring any indictments against RPF officials, the ICTR contributed to an unbalanced application of justice. While the RPF has vociferously rejected parallels between their own actions and those of the genocidaires, they did use extensive violence against the civilian population, particularly as they took control of the country and in the first years of their rule. The RPF has deflected criticism by characterizing their own violence as the result of rogue agents or as necessary to establish order and understandable because of the genocide. In fact, while the RPF did not engage in killings as systematic or as extensive as the genocide, as HRW asserted, “The Rwandan Patriotic Army murdered thousands in 1994, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity,”52 for which they have not been held accountable. ICTR and ICTY adviser Payam Akhavan argued that in addition to isolating the perpetrators of the genocide:

The ICTR’s other key role in postconflict peace building is in moderating Tutsi revenge killings against Hutu. Although the fighting in the DRC has claimed many more civilian lives, international accountability has made the Tutsi government more cautious about violent anti-Hutu reprisals. In effect, the international recognition of the Tutsi’s status as victims of genocide has made moral credibility a valuable political asset for the present regime and increased the costs of anti-Hutu revanchism. The interests of the Tutsi government are clearly served by distinguishing itself from the previous rulers of Rwanda and avoiding any suggestion of moral parity.53

I find no evidence for Akhavan’s assertion that the ICTR prosecutions have constrained the RPF. Instead, as Thierry Cruvellier effectively argues, the RPF actively used and manipulated the ICTR for its own political purposes.54 The lack of accountability for RPF crimes seems to have promoted impunity. My own research confirmed RPF involvement in massacres of thousands in the DRC in both Congolese civil wars. In 1996, the RPF bombed the Rwandan refugee camps along the border, ordered the refugees to return to Rwanda, then systematically hunted down those who fled further into Congo.55 The RPF also participated in attacks on civilians and other war crimes and crimes against humanity during the second war in Congo, which began in 1998.56 Further, by failing to hold RPF soldiers accountable for any human rights abuses, the ICTR has contributed to the discourse that regards the genocide as the only politically and legally important crime and uses the genocide to excuse other abuses. For serious crimes other than genocide, the ICTR actually promoted impunity. Drawing on the lessons of Rwanda, activists working on Darfur spent much energy trying to prove that the violence there was genocide precisely because genocide has become the only crime that the international community seems committed to ending.57

Trials as Tools of Reconciliation

While the ICTR prosecuted the most important leaders of the genocide, it tried fewer than 100 individuals by the time it officially closed in 2015. By contrast, courts inside Rwanda have tried tens of thousands of cases. Within five years after taking power, the Rwandan authorities had detained over 120,000 individuals on genocide charges. Both the Rwandan government and the international community committed considerable attention and resources to rebuilding the domestic judicial system, building new court facilities and expanding prisons, training judges, lawyers, and other judicial personnel, and revising the legal codes, including adopting a genocide law to serve as a basis for prosecution and establishing special genocide courts.58 The first genocide trials began in December 1996, amid considerable criticism for their failure to respect fair trial standards.59 Groups were tried together, many defendants lacked access to defense attorneys, trials were sometimes carried out in a language that defendants did not understand without translation, and defense witnesses were sometimes intimidated into withholding testimony.60 The Rwandan government gained additional criticism when, on April 24, 1998, Rwanda carried out the public execution of twenty-three people in several stadiums around the country.61

Over time, however, some of the human rights concerns related to Rwanda’s legal system were mitigated. Observers reported that trial standards did improve, in part because judges, magistrates, and others gained experience.62 Furthermore, no additional executions took place, and in 2007, in response to negotiations with the ICTR on extradition of suspects, Rwanda adopted a law abolishing the death penalty.63 However, the extraordinary number of people detained on genocide charges created a massive backlog of cases that posed a major challenge to the right to a speedy trial.64 Maintaining such a large number of people in prison drained government resources, and even after the construction and expansion of prisons, facilities were not adequate to the needs, creating overcrowding and sanitation problems. Most of the prisoners were men who might otherwise be working their farms or otherwise contributing to the national economy, and their detention created a burden on their families, with thousands of women left as head of household and thousands of families deprived of their main income earner.

The idea to adapt gacaca, Rwanda’s historic local conflict resolution mechanism, into a modern judicial instrument to try genocide suspects within their communities was first discussed immediately after the genocide.65 The specific proposal to create the gacaca court system, however, emerged from the 1998–1999 Village Urugwiro meetings. The prime initial motivation for creating gacaca was the interest in speeding up the prosecution and release of the prisoners, though other justifications were subsequently promoted as well.66 The official website for the gacaca courts stated that, “The classic justice didn’t meet expectations because after approximately a five years period only 6,000 files out of 120,000 detenees [sic] were tried. At this working speed, it would take more than a century (+ 100 years) to try these detenees.”67

Gacaca literally means “small grass,” after the lawns where community elders historically gathered to settle conflicts in their communities. In contrast to more official dispute resolution mechanisms, like the Bashingantahe system in neighboring Burundi, in which the position of judges was more permanent and more formally integrated into the legal structure of the court,68 the position of gacaca judges, Inyangamugayo, literally “those who detest dishonesty,” was less established and the institution itself less formal. In gacaca, respected elders in a community came together when necessary to settle disputes over stolen property, contested dowries, and other issues. When the colonial regime established formal Western-style courts, gacaca continued but was limited to settling smaller disputes within families or between community members. In the 1980s, Filip Reyntjens observed gacaca meetings in southern Rwanda and found that they received informal support from both public authorities and the formal courts.69

The new system of gacaca courts represented a compromise between traditional gacaca and modern Western courts. As a justice of the Sixth Chamber of the Supreme Court charged with overseeing gacaca told me, “Gacaca is composed of traditional [Rwandan] ways, but also classical judicial ways, of solving social problems. Before, gacaca was never written down, but now we have a law governing gacaca jurisdictions in place.”70 Like traditional gacaca, the new gacaca courts were made up of non-professional jurists, but in the new system, the Inyangamugayo were formally elected and could include women and young people. Whereas traditional gacaca was a grassroots institution organized by the community, the new gacaca courts were created by the national government and charged with enforcing national law. The rules that governed the gacaca courts themselves were spelled out by law.71 Recognizing the differences with traditional gacaca, the new system was known as Inkiko gacaca, “gacaca courts.”72

An ad hoc committee under the direction of the Minister of Justice developed the formal proposal for gacaca courts for the Village Urugwiro meetings, where it gained approval from the entire gathering. Within a year, on October 12, 2000, the Transitional National Assembly adopted a new organic law for gacaca, and in October 2001, each of the country’s smallest political units, the cell, of which there were 9,001, elected nineteen Inyangamugayo. Judges from the cell level selected representatives for the next highest level, the country’s 1,545 sectors, who in turn selected judges for the 106 districts. In total, more than 250,000 judges were selected for the gacaca courts throughout Rwanda.73 The genocide law of August 30, 1996, established four categories of genocide crimes, and the gacaca law gave gacaca courts jurisdiction over all but the most serious cases, category one crimes – those accused of organizing the genocide, participating with particular vigor, or participating in rape. Reacting to pressure from human rights groups and the international community, the government launched the gacaca process in a trial phase in one sector in each of the eleven provinces in June 2002. Gacaca was then revised and expanded to one sector in each district in the country in November 2002.74 The government suspended gacaca proceedings in 2003 during the electoral process. The suspension continued throughout 2004, while revisions to the gacaca law were undertaken, then, on January 15, 2005, gacaca was formally launched throughout the country.75

The gacaca courts were established as a participatory system, involving weekly community meetings to process genocide cases. Attendance was initially optional, with a quorum of one hundred in each community, but after problems with low participation arose in the test phase, the revised gacaca law required attendance and the quorum requirements were dropped but attendance was required. The Gacaca court proceedings involved several stages. In the first part of the process, the information gathering stage, the community drew up a list of all of the crimes that occurred in the community and a list of all those who died in the genocide. People had an opportunity to confess to having committed genocide crimes, and the community then put together a list of those accused of participating in the genocide, categorizing their alleged crimes into one of the four categories. The cell-level gacaca then moved into the trial phase, adjudicating category four cases, property crimes, while the sector-level gacaca courts dealt with category three cases, bodily injury, and district-level gacaca courts dealt with category two cases, participating in killing but not organizing the genocide. Subsequent revisions to the gacaca law reorganized and consolidated the courts, expanding the jurisdiction of the lower-level bodies.76

The explicit reasons that leaders of the RPF opted to make trials the centerpiece of the country’s social reconstruction reflect the diverse goals for trials articulated in the transitional justice literature. The theme of preventing ethnic violence by fighting impunity and building rule of law has been central to official discussions of post-genocide justice. In a 2002 Washington Post editorial, the Rwandan ambassador to Washington made this point clear:

To say we faced moral dilemmas in our quest for justice would be the ultimate understatement. On the one hand, Rwandan President Paul Kagame had made clear that revenge killings were not an option. On the other, the justice system had been completely destroyed in 1994… Furthermore, during Rwanda’s history, successive regimes had promoted people, even in the justice system, who had been the most zealous during the anti-Tutsi pogroms of 1959, 1963, 1967, 1973, and 1992. To prevent a repeat of the genocide, we had to eradicate the idea that people could kill with impunity.77

In his editorial, the ambassador endorsed trials for two main reasons. First he saw trials as a means of fighting impunity – of creating negative consequences for engaging in ethnic violence that will dissuade people from participating in the future. Second, like Minow, the ambassador argued that using trials “cools vengeance into retribution,”78 allowing the targets of the violence – Tutsi – to feel that justice had been done so that they would not feel a need to seek revenge and take justice into their own hands in ways that might undermine rule of law and perpetuate a cycle of violence.79 Kagame himself has made similar arguments about the need to fight impunity, build rule of law, and divert vengeance into justice. In a 2004 speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center, he saw the failure to punish perpetrators of ethnic violence in the past as one of the key causes of the genocide. “[T]here was a culture of impunity to the extent that the criminals who killed were rewarded.”80 He went on to claim that promoting justice helped to establish rule of law in Rwanda. “After genocide, law and order had completely broken down, but we have managed to restore peace and stability in the whole country. We not only reformed our legal system, we have also restored public trust in it, and the Rwandan people now know and enjoy their fundamental rights.”81 Holding trials, he suggests, has not simply helped to prevent future ethnic violence but has also built respect for the law and for legal institutions more generally. In his speech at the inauguration of the trial phase of gacaca, Kagame similarly argued that gacaca is intended, “to uproot the culture of impunity.”82 The official gacaca court website also lists eradicating the culture of impunity as one of the five objectives of gacaca:

In their cells, the citizens will play an important role in the reconstruction of the facts and in the accusation of those who perpetrated them. None of those who took part in them will escape punishment. Thus, people will understand that the infringement implies the punishment for the criminal without exception.83

In addition to building rule of law, Rwanda’s leaders believed that trials could contribute to reconciliation by helping to demonstrate that justice had been done and by establishing the truth about the genocide. They regarded gacaca as even more effective for promoting reconciliation than courtroom trials. In a speech officially inaugurating the gacaca courts, Kagame argued that gacaca would, “unify Rwandans on a basis of justice while reinforcing unity and reconciliation” and would “demonstrate the capacity of the Rwandan family to resolve its own problems.”84 Then Attorney General Gahima told me that, “Gacaca is a process to promote rule of law but also to promote reconciliation and bringing people together… Our justice is not justice for the sake of implementing the law alone but is a justice that is intended to accomplish certain political goals as well.”85 The National Authority for Gacaca Jurisdictions asserted that, “In relation to genocide, the gacaca process is a cornerstone for reconciliation among Rwandans.”86

While gacaca was initially viewed as an expedient solution to the problems of prison overcrowding, delayed justice, and economic costs,87 many officials and other advocates of gacaca came to regard it as providing a different type of justice than classic trials, one more adapted to promoting reconciliation. Whereas courtroom trials provide retributive justice, focused on punishing people for offenses, gacaca was regarded as providing restorative justice, an increasingly popular approach to justice that brings victims, perpetrators, and communities together to resolve criminal issues rather than leaving justice exclusively to the state.88 The work of South Africa’s TRC raised the profile of alternative means of seeking justice, often called restorative justice. Rwandan leaders initially rejected the idea of a TRC because of the need to provide justice in the face of the genocide,89 but as gacaca was being developed, many pointed out resemblances to South Africa’s TRC. In early discussions in 1996 about the possibility of adapting gacaca to deal with the genocide, the Minister of Justice reportedly told members of parliament that the new courts could help in “establishing the truth on the number and identity of the victims as well as their lost possessions.”90 The first purpose that President Kagame listed for gacaca was, “To make known the truth about what happened.”91 The National Service of the Gacaca Jurisdictions directly linked establishing truth to the process of reconciliation. “The unity and reconciliation of the Rwandans that are targetted [sic] are based on justice for all. But, this justice can become true only if the truth about the events is established.”92

Like the TRC, gacaca trials also involved large public community gatherings where victims and perpetrators had an opportunity to confront one another. As in the TRC, where perpetrators of human rights abuses were granted immunity in exchange for their testimonies,93 gacaca relied heavily on confession, offering reduced sentences and the possibility of community service replacing prison time to lower-level perpetrators who would admit their participation in the genocide, testify in gacaca hearings, and implicate others. For early advocates of gacaca, the benefits of public confrontation and conversation about the genocide were closely tied with the elimination of collective guilt made possible by identifying those who were actually culpable in the genocide. As the National Service of Gacaca Jurisdictions claimed:

The Gacaca Courts system will allow the population of the same Cell, the same Sector to work together in order to judge those who have participated in the genocide, identify the victims and rehabilitate the innocents. The Gacaca Courts system will thus become the basis of collaboration and unity, mainly because when the truth will be known, there will be no more suspicion, the author will be punished, justice will be done to the victim and to the innocent prisoner who will be reintegrated in the Rwandan society.94

The Tyranny of False Accusations

“Aloysie” came to me for help when I was the head of the Rwanda office for HRW and FIDH in Butare. Before the genocide, Aloysie had been a teacher, and one of her former primary school students sent her to me. Aloysie came to ask for assistance in negotiating a delicate situation where she needed support from government officials. In July 1994, as the RPF approached her community, she and her family had fled to the “Zone Turquoise.” Along with thousands of others, Aloysie and her family gathered at the camp for the displaced at Kibeho until RPF soldiers forcibly closed the camp in April 1995. In the violence that surrounded the camp closure, the family became divided. Aloysie’s husband made it back to their home community just across the border from Burundi before his wife, but he found that the family house had been taken over by a neighboring family of Tutsi genocide survivors. He went to stay with a relative, but when word came of his return, the new occupant of his home went to the police to accuse him of being involved in the genocide. He decided to flee across the border into Burundi, but he never returned. According to reports that Aloysie heard, he was arrested across the border, returned to Rwanda, and turned over to RPF soldiers who summarily executed him. When news came of her husband’s disappearance, Aloysie chose not to return to her community. Her home had been occupied by the family of survivors ever since.

Before 1994, Aloysie and her husband had built a nice home and acquired a sizable amount of land. For over a year, Aloysie had been living in another part of Butare Province with a friend. She had found employment and had no intentions of returning permanently to her home, but now she was faced with a problem. Her adult daughter had returned to their home commune and needed land to cultivate. Realizing that she could not lay claim to her old home without facing retribution, Aloysie hoped that she could at least secure the right for her daughter to once again farm the family’s land – even a small portion of it. The family of survivors occupying the house and land had no legal right to it. They were not, as was the case in some property disputes at the time, former refugees who had abandoned the land when they fled the country and were reclaiming it upon their return. In fact, the family had never had claims to this land, but had merely taken advantage of the owners’ absence in the months after the genocide to grab their land and their home. While they had no legal right to the land, as survivors, they enjoyed a certain moral authority in the community that discouraged authorities from intervening. More significantly, the father in the family of survivors held a political office, having been named the councilor for the sector. Because of his position, Aloysie did not feel that she could ask him to vacate the house, despite her legal right to do so. Instead, she had met with the man to ask whether he would allow her daughter to farm some of the land. He had refused outright.

Aloysie came to me hoping that I could help her to intervene on this matter. She wanted to meet with the burgomaster, the top political leader of the commune, to ask him to grant her rights to the land. But she was afraid of returning to the community, fearing what might happen to her. She wanted me to accompany her, to help add weight to her claims with the burgomaster, but also to provide protection, so that nothing bad could befall her. While I was reluctant, doubting that I could be of much use, she insisted, and my interpreter – her former student – asked that I go as a favor to him.

The three of us thus set out late on a Friday morning to drive down to her community, about forty-five minutes from Butare. We stopped first at the office of the commune to meet with the burgomaster. Aloysie had scheduled an appointment, but the burgomaster was not in the office when we arrived, so we went to a nearby parish to speak with the priest to see whether he could use his influence in the case. A Hutu who himself felt vulnerable, he was polite but demurred that there was little he could do. After stopping for sodas at a small kiosk not far from the communal office, we finally saw the burgomaster’s car returning to the office, so we headed there for a meeting. Aloysie filled him in on her situation and her request to gain access to some of her land. After listening to her story, the burgomaster told her that she had to go through the appropriate channels. She needed an official request signed by the councilor of her sector – who was, of course, the man occupying her home and land. The burgomaster said that she needed to at least attempt to get his signature and that, if she was not successful, she should come back to make a formal appeal to him, and he would then grant the request. It was, however, important, he told us, to go through the appropriate steps so that no one could challenge the final decision.

Aloysie’s former home was some distance from the office of the burgomaster on poorly maintained roads, so the afternoon was already late by the time we arrived at her house. We parked in front of the house and sent for the counselor. He had been a poor farmer before the genocide, poorer certainly than Aloysie and her family. As Aloysie explained, because of the proximity of the community to Burundi, he and all of his family had been able to flee into Burundi before the violence spread into their commune. As a Tutsi who had lived in Rwanda at the time of the genocide, he was known by the term “survivor,” but his experience was much more fortunate than that of most survivors. The man arrived a short time later. A tall, thin man in a shabby suit jacket with graying hair, he looked quite old but was probably only in his fifties. When he arrived, it was obvious that he was quite drunk, his gait unsteady, his eyes deeply bloodshot. Aloysie demurely approached him and greeted him. He did not greet us, nor invite us into his compound, nor offer us anywhere to sit, as Rwandan custom would dictate. Aloysie began to explain her request and her need for his signature. He interrupted her and began to shout. He condemned her for coming to harass him. Pointing at me, he accused her of bringing foreign spies into the community. He demanded that we leave and then went into his house.

We got back into the truck and headed back to Butare. By this time, it was too late to go back to the communal office. Aloysie said that she would return the next week and speak to the burgomaster. I offered to go with her again, but she said that she would be fine. Unfortunately, she was mistaken. As my interpreter later told me, when Aloysie returned to the communal office the next Tuesday, she was promptly arrested. The councilor, who was in Burundi when the violence in his community began, had lodged charges against her for participating in the genocide, so she was thrown into the communal jail. I returned to the commune and spoke to the burgomaster a week later, but he said that there was nothing that he could do; the justice system would simply have to sort it out. He would not even allow us to visit her, since our government authorization to visit prisons did not specify that we could visit communal jails. When I left Rwanda five months later, Aloysie was still sitting in the jail awaiting formal charges but with no prospect of a trial in the near future, one of thousands imprisoned in Rwanda on false charges.

Trials as Instruments of Control

The objectives that officials in Rwanda publicly articulated for holding genocide trials are laudable. Building rule of law, promoting justice, advancing reconciliation, establishing a truthful account of the past, encouraging dialogue, and avoiding collective guilt by identifying specific guilty individuals are all goals described in the literature on transitional justice. Yet these widely lauded goals, as much as they may have sincerely motivated Rwanda’s leaders, have not been the only factors driving the policy of genocide prosecutions. Other less openly articulated objectives have been at least as influential in shaping judicial policy. They have little to do with justice and much more to do with political power and control.

After coming to power in July 1994, the RPF opted to pursue a policy of aggressively arresting and prosecuting individuals facing genocide accusations. By their nature, the trials that were undertaken in Rwanda were punitive. Like trials everywhere, they were part of a legal system that exercised the coercive force of the state. Even the gacaca courts were ultimately part of a retributive judicial system, since despite the discussion of restorative justice, gacaca courts were able to sentence those found guilty to prison terms as long as life in prison.95 Setting aside arguments that challenge the ability of trials to contribute to reconciliation,96 the punitive nature of the trials in Rwanda would not, in itself, raise concerns about their ability to contribute to social reconstruction. After all, many advocates of trials argue that punishment of perpetrators of atrocities is essential to achieving justice, fighting impunity, and building rule of law in the aftermath of mass violence, factors considered essential as a basis for sustained peace and reconciliation.97 Yet the transitional justice literature pays little attention to the authority overseeing trials, assuming that trials are conducted from a position of neutrality with a goal of promoting recovery from conflict. In post-genocide Rwanda, however, such neutrality cannot be assumed. As I discuss in the next chapter, despite government rhetoric that denied the significance of ethnicity and embraced democracy, Rwanda remained an authoritarian state where identity politics were highly salient. The judicial system was used to promote both the control of those in power and the interests of a specific social group. The point that I want to demonstrate in the remainder of this chapter is that the ability of genocide trials in Rwandan to contribute to reconciliation was tempered by the fact that the judicial system was an important tool of political domination by a specific social group.

The political use of the judicial system was most obvious in the first years of RPF rule. When the RPF took power in 1994, much of the population remaining in Rwanda was open to supporting the new regime. The RPF leadership, however, decided to impose their authority with force. Arresting large numbers of people on genocide charges was one way that the RPF established its authority. The RPF opted for large-scale arrests even though the majority of genocidaires had fled the country as the RPF advanced and those left in Rwanda were a few low-level perpetrators and many people who had not participated in the genocide. The decision to begin widespread arrests was particularly troubling because of the sad state of Rwanda’s judicial system. Much of the judicial personnel was killed in the genocide or fled the country, with one government source reporting that by November 1994, the number of prosecutors in Rwanda had declined from 70 before the genocide to 12, while the number of judges had dropped from 758 to 244.98 As a result, arrest on a genocide charge was tantamount to a conviction to a long prison term, since the first trials did not begin until two years after the RPF came to power, and the pace of trials remained extremely slow. Those accused had no opportunity to defend themselves, even when the charges against them were extremely weak. When I visited a number of prisons for HRW and FIDH in 1995 and 1996, police investigators and prison officials openly admitted that a majority of prisoners had no formal case files; in some instances, even the formal charges that had led to the arrest of an individual were not known. Thousands of people were, thus, in prison indefinitely, often not knowing the charges against them, with no opportunity to defend themselves in a court of law or to otherwise gain release.

Between July 1994 and October 1996, when RPF attacks on the camps in the DRC forced thousands of people back into Rwanda, including many of the genocidaires, the government arrested over 83,000 people.99 During 1995, the rate of incarceration was 1,500 people per week.100 Since most of the genocidaires were outside Rwanda and most of those arrested would not stand trial in the foreseeable future, arresting such large numbers of people in the immediate aftermath of the genocide had little to do with a sincere desire to see justice done. The massive number of arrests had much more to do with the new regime’s desire to consolidate its control over the Rwandan population. The regime used arrest in part as a means of eliminating those who challenged its authority. Furthermore, with little possibility of a trial and with extraordinary overcrowding contributing to terrible prison conditions, the mere threat of imprisonment was enough to pressure individuals to cease political activities or even flee the country.101

In the office of Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights where I worked from 1995 to 1996, I found myself dealing on a weekly basis with people facing accusations that they claimed were false. In many cases, the evidence suggested that they were being sincere. A prosecutor in Nyanza who had ordered the release of prisoners who lacked charges against them was himself arrested on genocide charges that my investigations in his home community in Gitarama proved could not be true. A judge on the Supreme Court in Kigali who had criticized fair trial standards was denounced on the radio as a genocidaire and contacted me worried not simply about arrest but fearing for his life after several attacks on his home. The moderate leader of a human rights group was accused of participation in the genocide; fearing arrest and with no means to defend himself, he and his wife eventually fled the country. While the cases like these that I encountered in my work are only impressionistic, they are consistent with findings by other observers and suggest a troubling pattern of using genocide accusations for political purposes.102

The government was not alone in using accusations of participation in the genocide for purposes other than promoting justice. There were numerous cases like that of Aloysie Niyonshuti where individuals were imprisoned under false accusations because someone wanted their house or wanted to eliminate them as a business rival or merely wanted to settle an old score. When I worked for HRW and FIDH, I learned of several individuals blackmailing others by threatening to lodge genocide charges against them; the victims of the extortion scheme paid handsomely to avoid being condemned to prison. There were also stories in a number of cities of individual genocide survivors who sent hundreds of Hutu to prison on false accusations not for personal gain but as a means of exacting vengeance on Hutu as a group, particularly those who emerged from the genocide relatively unscathed and still benefited from family and employment while the survivors themselves had lost their families and their homes and lived in poverty.

While no statistics are available on the number of people imprisoned under false charges,103 the evidence shows that RPF officials used arrest as a means to demonstrate their power. They kept people in prison despite the efforts of some civilian authorities to apply human rights standards. A human rights report in early 1995 documented efforts by prosecutors and others to seek the release of individuals against whom there were no formal charges but reported that “the military blocks the release of detainees.”104 The government chose to begin its prosecutions by starting not with the people who seemed to be most likely falsely detained but with “the worst cases,” prominent genocidaires who were more easily proven guilty.105 The government itself ultimately seemed to acknowledge the problem with a growing emphasis on speeding the release of prisoners beginning in early 1997, when a few thousand children, elderly, and sick prisoners were released from detention.106 The problem of prisoners unjustly in prison was one of the reasons that Village Urugwiro participants supported the idea of gacaca courts to speed up trials. In fact, the first action in the gacaca process was a “pre-gacaca” exercise, where prisoners without case files were presented to their communities and, if no one had any accusations against them, released on the spot.107 Prisoners who confessed to all but the most serious crimes were also eligible for provisional release.

Despite the emphasis on using gacaca to release prisoners and the discussion of gacaca as a type of restorative justice, in practice, gacaca was an even more effective and far-reaching instrument for exercising state power than classical courtroom trials. Gacaca had elements of restorative justice, in that it engaged the community and allowed confrontation between victims and perpetrators, but it also involved harsh sentencing guidelines that included long prison terms. Only prisoners who confessed were eligible for provisional release and community service in place of prison time; those who wanted to prove their innocence had to languish in prison until they could defend themselves in front of a gacaca trial. Furthermore, community service was available only for people who had already served time in prison. Mere confession was also not sufficient to gain provisional release; gacaca courts had the discretion to reject confessions that were too limited or implicated too few individuals. The more new names that prisoners could add to the list of the accused, the more likely they would be granted a reduced sentence.108

One important aspect of both the courtroom trials and gacaca courts was the strict limitation of their focus on genocide crimes. When challenged on whether RPF soldiers would be tried for war crimes or other abuses, government officials denied any equivalency between RPF abuses and the genocide, asserting that offenses by the RPF were not the result of policy but the action of rogue soldiers, and that they were rare and not systematic. They also claimed that, since they were not extraordinary, such cases could be dealt with in regular courts or military courts – and that all reported abuses had in fact been dealt with.109 If it is true that RPF soldiers have been tried for human rights abuses, then their cases have been kept very quiet indeed and are little known by the Rwandan public.110 In one of the few cases of this sort, the commander of RPF troops that opened fire in April 1995 in the camp Kibeho, killing as many as 8,000, was tried in a military court and acquitted of personal responsibility but found guilty of failure to stop the violence; he was released for time supposedly already served after paying a $30 fine.111

Gacaca has also been focused exclusively on crimes related to the genocide. The law defining gacaca courts asserts that they are “charged with prosecuting and trying the perpetrators of the crime of genocide and other crimes against humanity committed between October 1, 1990 and December 31, 1994.”112 This left open the possibility of trying Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) soldiers or others involved in massacres of civilians, summary executions, and other crimes perpetrated during the RPF advance and in the first months of RPF rule. Yet the government made clear as it initiated the gacaca system that the trials would focus solely on the genocide and would exclude crimes committed by the RPF. The specific focus of gacaca was made clear in the training of the Inyangamugayo and reiterated regularly by officials overseeing gacaca. The manual used for training gacaca judges in 2002 explains that those who confess must be asked whether they killed victims because of their ethnic identity or political party. Only itsemba bwoko and itsemba tsemba were included.113 As one lawyer who served as a gacaca trainer explained, “Those killed not for ethnicity or ideology would be judged in regular courts. The local population doesn’t know the [RPF] soldiers [who carried out massacres].”114 The first phase of gacaca called on communities to make lists of those killed in 1994, but when people attempted to list community members killed by the RPF either in the community or later during the 1996 RPF invasion of Congo, officials intervened to insist that those deaths were not germane to gacaca. Since many people were killed away from their homes, sorting out who died in the genocide and who died at the hands of the RPF was not always easy.

Given the one-sided nature of the trials since 1994, they have, I contend, been less concerned with making “known the truth about what happened,” as President Kagame asserted, than promoting a particular version of the past that serves the interests of those in power. The rhetorical and institutional strategies utilized by the regime have sought to promote a specific narrative about the genocide and war. Like the memorials and commemorations, legal processes have sought to emphasize the centrality and importance of the genocide and to negate the significance of RPF crimes. The national leadership used trials to develop as complete an account as possible of crimes related to the genocide, bolstering their claims of the extent and brutality of the crimes committed. At the same time, the strict refusal to allow any discussion of crimes committed by the RPF reinforced the idea that these crimes were rare and insignificant, making trials sites of forgetting. Government officials were swift to condemn any efforts to call for accountability for RPF crimes as an attempt to diminish or deny the genocide by equating it with other violence. A circular logic prevails: officials deny the need for trials for RPF crimes because of their supposedly limited extent and historically insignificant nature, while the absence of trials for RPF crimes reinforces the idea that these crimes were limited and insignificant.

The framing of the various trials not only added to the erasure of RPF crimes, but also helped to shape perceptions of the genocide itself by obscuring the degree to which RPF action influenced the conduct of anti-Tutsi violence in Rwanda. The 1994 genocide is best understood as the culmination of a process of ethnic exclusion and violence that began in 1990. The first massacres of Tutsi in nearly twenty years occurred in Rwanda after the RPF attack in October 1990, and massacres occurred repeatedly in 1991–1993. These attacks were organized with government support,115 and they served as a blueprint for how to carry out the genocide, innovating, for example, on the use of radio to incite violence.116 Including the entire 1990–1994 period in genocide prosecutions would thus make sense, and officially the genocide laws, including the gacaca laws, gave the courts jurisdiction over crimes committed from 1990 through 1994.117 To approach the genocide in this fashion, however, would have drawn attention to the role the RPF’s invasion of Rwanda played in inciting the population to anti-Tutsi violence. The War of October was a primary feature of the anti-Tutsi ideology promoted by supporters of the Habyarimana regime beginning after the 1990 attack. Habyarimana had lost considerable popularity among Hutu, but the repeated and increasingly successful RPF attacks on Rwanda fanned popular anti-Tutsi sentiments. Reports of RPF attacks on civilians created substantial anger in the population.118 The idea that Tutsi were seeking to re-establish dominance over the Hutu masses was only credible in the context of the RPF invasion. This is not to blame the RPF for the genocide, since clearly members of the regime then in power bear responsibility, but it does raise questions about the RPF’s decision to pursue combat in a context where they knew the impact it could have on Tutsi within Rwanda. Some critics of the RPF, including some survivors I have interviewed, believe that, contrary to the way they portray themselves, the RPF leaders were not primarily interested in saving Rwanda’s Tutsi or bringing democracy but instead were greedy for power. Yet by limiting the focus of the special genocide courts and gacaca courts to the period from April to July 1994, the relationship of RPF attacks on Rwanda to anti-Tutsi violence within Rwanda from 1990 to 1993 was suppressed. The RPF thereby preserved its image as the savior of the Tutsi within Rwanda rather than having crassly determined to ignore the fate of their Tutsi brethren and pursue war no matter the cost.119

Rwanda’s genocide trials contradicted the public rhetoric of the regime in another important way. Although the rejection of ethnicity was a central component of the RPF’s public rhetoric, the genocide trials actually served to reinforce the centrality of ethnicity within Rwandan public life. The crime of genocide is defined as an attacked on individuals because of their perceived membership in an identity group.120 In the Rwandan case, the victims of the genocide were Tutsi, defined by their perceived ethnic identity. By contrast, most of the victims of RPF violence were Hutu. The regime claimed that these victims were not targeted because of their ethnic identity but rather were killed in revenge attacks or because they were seen as a security threat, and my research provides no reason to doubt these claims. To be clear, I reject the assertions that some people have made of a “double genocide.”121 However, excluding RPF attacks from judicial consideration and focusing solely on crimes of genocide made ethnicity the defining characteristic for determining which crimes were to be adjudicated and which were to be excluded. In effect, Hutu who committed crimes against Tutsi were to be held accountable, while Tutsi who committed crimes against Hutu were unlikely ever to face judgment. The crimes related to the genocide were not merely considered more important and more demanding of judicial action – a reasonable assertion, given the brutal nature of the genocide and its extent. Instead, since there was no effort whatsoever to seek justice for Hutu who suffered at the hands of the RPF, the trials served to broadcast a clear message that these crimes did not matter, at least not to the current regime. The decision to ignore RPF crimes was not dictated by any principles of justice and could not be justified on the basis of human rights law. Instead, the exclusion of RPF crimes from judicial consideration seems to be a political decision driven by the interests of those in power with preserving their own authority and with dominating the population.122 The claims that trials served to build rule of law and fight impunity were undermined by the reality that military officers and government officials then in power faced no consequences for their own actions during the war, no matter how many civilians were killed.

The reality that trials in post-genocide Rwanda focused only on some crimes – those committed against Tutsi – committed by one ethnic group – Hutu – undermined the ability of trials to promote justice and reconciliation. While advocates of trials after mass atrocity claim that they help to individualize guilt and thereby prevent the imputation of collective guilt,123 the organization of Rwandan trials in fact helped to promote a generalization of guilt for the Hutu population. The regime has regularly maintained that participation in the genocide was extremely widespread, a line that many scholars sympathetic to the RPF regime embraced.124 Focused as they were exclusively on Hutu attacks on Tutsi, gacaca courts were organized in every community in the country, even in communities that were occupied by the RPF, where the only massacres that occurred were carried out by the RPF against Hutu. The gacaca trials pushed communities to identify as many suspects as possible. Prisoners were offered diminished sentences if they confessed to crimes, but those who confessed were required to name others who participated to gain the preferential treatment. Over time, accusations were made against more and more people. In some cases long-detained prisoners were angry with those on the outside who had remained free and used gacaca to get revenge and get others imprisoned.

The government encouraged widespread accusations not only through their exhortations for confession, but in public speculations about the massive numbers involved in genocide crimes.125 Attorney General Gahima told me, “If one million people died, easily another two or three million were involved in the crimes. If you implement the law strictly, hundreds of thousands of people would be harmed and shot.” He went on to assert that gacaca provided an alternative to retributive justice, claiming that, “A genocide in which a large number of people participated is not something you can deal with just through trials.”126 In practice, gacaca was used to reinforce his initial point about the massive number of guilty Hutu. At the time of the genocide, Rwanda had 7.7 million people, around 7 million of whom were Hutu. Since over half were too young to be criminally culpable and half of those remaining were women, and thus rarely the focus of genocide charges, the claim that one million would be tried suggested that more than half of Hutu men who were adults at the time would face judgment in gacaca courts. Gahima’s claim that as many as three million participated suggested that virtually all adult Hutu women and men participated.127

Having carefully studied the development of the genocide in a number of communes in Butare, Gikongoro, Kibuye, and Byumba prefectures for the HRW/FIDH book, Leave None to Tell the Story, and for my own research, I find the widely held argument of mass participation to be exaggerated. In fact, the vast majority of Tutsi were killed in the initial massacres, which were carried out by relatively small groups of militia members, soldiers, and police.128 Although the government forced nearly all adult men to participate in patrols and manning barricades, and these patrols and barricades finished off many of the survivors of the initial attacks, the mere fact of participating in the patrols and barricades did not mean that all participants joined in killings. Since every community had militia groups under government control, thousands of people were certainly involved in the killing, but the implication that one million were involved is simply baseless, while the claim that two-to-three million were involved borders on the ludicrous – though it serves the government effort to generalize guilt to all Hutu (or at least all Hutu men). Yet whatever the realities of participation in the genocide, in the end, nearly two million cases were tried in gacaca courts against more than one million individuals.129

While generalizing Hutu guilt, the gacaca courts still allowed the RPF to promote the image of itself as a populist, multi-ethnic movement, while securing government control over the population. By requiring the entire population to participate in the gacaca meetings, every Rwandan citizen became implicated in the process of judging those who participated in the genocide – and also ignoring RPF abuses. The RPF, meanwhile, gained credit for offering provisional release to prisoners, giving diminished sentences, and involving the population in the process of dealing with the genocide (something which is, in fact, worthy of praise!).130 Yet at the same time, the RPF maintained strict control over what is discussed in gacaca sessions and quickly quashed anything that incriminated the RPF. Participants in gacaca became vested in the government’s project – regardless of what their personal opinions may have been before their participation. Meanwhile, the accused were offered incentive to buy into the RPF’s project by admitting guilt (whether or not they were guilty) in exchange for the opportunity to leave prison and rejoin their communities. Without ever discussing ethnicity explicitly, the gacaca process encouraged people to admit their fault in embracing an ethnic ideology and instead to buy into a nationalist ideology where ethnicity has no significance – though the trials themselves were defined by ethnicity. By seeking to implicate the largest number of Hutu possible for even the most minor offenses committed against Tutsi – the looting of property, for example – while completely ignoring even the most serious of crimes committed by Tutsi against Hutu – the RPF slaughter of tens of thousands of unarmed civilians in eastern Congo131 – the genocide courts, gacaca courts in particular, effectively defined all Tutsi as victims and all Hutu as genocidaires. If, as I contended earlier, nearly all positions in the administration, business, higher education, civil society groups, and other areas of social and economic advancement are occupied by Tutsi returnees today, this is not, according to the logic of the regime, directly because of ethnic discrimination but rather because the entire generation of Hutu adults disqualified themselves from social advancement through their implication in the genocide.

As I learned at Gisovu Prison, the interest of the regime in preserving its power was certainly not the only factor undermining the administration of justice in post-genocide Rwanda. As the assistant warden at the prison told me, “All the important people, all those with influence, they have been released … So it is only the poor and powerless who are left.” By the end of the first decade after the genocide, most of those who could afford to pay a bribe or who had the right connections had gained their release, while the poor languished in prison. Even the Attorney General admitted that corruption in courts was a problem. As he told me, “Just because you’ve changed the law, you do not translate the intent of the law into the values of the judges. Important people try to influence the process.”132 Those Hutu who had been powerful individuals before the genocide and gained their release through bribery or other means were tainted and diminished by their time in prison and no longer posed a threat to the regime. Because of their association with the genocide and the reality that they could be imprisoned again at any time, they must be careful to keep a low profile. They cannot aspire to positions of prominence in the new Rwanda but might hope to occupy more modest positions as a teacher rather than a principle, a doctor rather than a hospital director, an assistant pastor rather than a regional minister. The justice system was used effectively to neutralize them as community leaders, which allowed Tutsi, particularly the former refugee population, to occupy their posts.

Corruption is not generally as serious a challenge in Rwanda as in other countries in the region, such as Kenya and the DRC, but the cases that I encountered of false accusation and arrest at the front end of the judicial process and of purchased release at the back end of the process are sufficiently abundant to raise serious concerns about the degree to which corruption may have compromised the judicial process. People like Aloysie, having lost her husband at the hands of the RPF, having herself been imprisoned on obviously invented charges, are unlikely to feel that the genocide courts in Rwanda have anything to do with justice. As I discuss in Chapter 8, the plan for gacaca courts was initially popular with the population, because it implied that they could take justice away from political intrigue and into their own hands. In practice, however, as gacaca was manipulated by those who sought to use gacaca to implicate the largest possible number of people, popular support waned. Nearly every Hutu I have ever worked with in Rwanda – human rights activists, university professors, civil society organizers, church workers, students, most of them moderate people, supportive of democracy and opposed to ethnic discrimination, having been critics of the pre-genocide government (often at the risk of their lives) and appalled by the genocide – was charged in gacaca courts for participating in the genocide. Many of these Hutu now live in exile, having been harassed and threatened by the current regime. Most of the others who remained in Rwanda were imprisoned.

Some cases of miscarried justice were so egregiously unreasonable that they gained international attention. Guy Theunis, a priest from the White Father order, had been an outspoken critic of the Habyarimana regime and a founding member of a major Rwandan human rights organization, having used his position with the Catholic monthly Dialogue to promote democracy and condemn ethnic violence. On a return visit to Rwanda in 2005, he was charged in a gacaca court and detained in a Rwandan prison for several months before being released into Belgian custody for a review of his case.133 François-Xavier Byuma, longtime leader of the Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Ligue Rwandaise pour la Promotion et la Défense des Droits de l’Homme, LIPRODHOR), gained condemnation from many for supporting the government effort in 2004 to purge the membership of LIPRODHOR, Rwandan’s last independent human rights organization, by accusing its members of either having participated in the genocide or supporting a “genocidal ideology.”134 A list of accused LIPRODHOR activists was published, and most fled abroad. Several of those accused told me at the time that Byuma was only trying to protect his own skin. Yet ironically, he was himself accused in 2007 and convicted of genocide crimes in a gacaca court in the district where he lived during the genocide in Kigali. The case was so obviously fabricated and the publicity surrounding it so negative that the National Service of Gacaca Jurisdictions felt it necessary to issue a press release defending the case.135

Over time, the punitive possibilities of the gacaca courts became more prominent, while their potential to promote reconciliation was de-emphasized. Rhetoric claiming that many gacaca judges themselves were guilty of genocide crimes created a climate of intimidation in which the judges worried that leniency against the accused might be taken as evidence of their own complicity.136 Even the goal of using gacaca to speed up prosecutions became secondary, as the regime introduced numerous delays, particularly surrounding the 2003 elections that solidified the RPF hold on power. Before being allowed to return to their communities, confessed genocidaires released provisionally from prison were required to attend ingando re-education camps in which the RPF combined lessons in its official historical narrative with paramilitary training intended to integrate the former prisoners into a pro-RPF reserve militia. The entire judicial process, thus, contributed to a climate of intimidation and fear in which people did not feel free to openly discuss the past but rather felt constrained to repeat the official rhetoric and to participate in the conviction of their neighbors, regardless of the actual dictates of justice.

Bonaventure Bizumuremyi, a Tutsi genocide survivor who edited the paper Umuco, expressed disappointment with gacaca in late 2005:

I was hoping to finally understand why people had attacked my poor family. Above all, I was hoping that these people would express their regrets and I wanted to be reassured that the same thing would never happen to us again. I am not so optimistic anymore. Gacaca has become a very repressive form of justice. For the accused, it’s a matter of defending themselves through all means possible in order to get the minimum sentence or be acquitted. At the same time, there has been a major push to get people to turn in suspects, and people are being encouraged, sometimes even forced, to plead guilty and to testify against as many neighbors as possible. So much for the truth!137

As if to reinforce the point that judicial processes in Rwanda were used more for social control than for promoting rule of law and justice, Bizumuremyi was charged with defamation in 2008 and forced to flee Rwanda.

Conclusion

Institutions, including states, are never fully coherent, since whatever their relative autonomy and whatever constraints they place on office-holders, they are composed of individuals with diverse perceptions, abilities, and motivations. To suggest that trials have been used to exercise the power of the regime and to promote a particular narrative of the past is not to deny that officials who have supported trials have also been motivated by the desire to see justice done and promote reconciliation. The leaders of the country are driven by varied and competing – often contradictory – concerns, and different leaders are driven by different concerns to varying degrees. The desires to build rule of law, to avoid future ethnic violence by reforming the mentality of the population, and to stay in power by intimidating the population into submission all function simultaneously.

The contradictions in the post-genocide judicial initiatives in Rwanda are the central contradictions at the heart of the Government of Rwanda’s project of social reconstruction. In post-genocide Rwanda, justice in the face of atrocities was demanded – but only a selective justice was implemented and only for some atrocities. The truth about the past was required, but only a partial accounting of the past was allowed, while other truths were suppressed. The reality of ethnicity was denied even as in practice the impact of ethnicity as a lived reality was reinforced. To understand what impact the contradictory programs of the regime have had on the population requires looking in depth at the processes of social reconstruction within Rwandan communities. In the final part of the book, I turn to this task, focusing on three communities in different parts of the country. Looking at how the population in these communities has reacted to political reform, memorialization, trials, and other programs, I find that the regime has effectively asserted control, pushing the population into compliance, and their policies have shaped popular discourse to an extent. At the same time, the government has not been able to dictate a collective memory and create a unified national Rwandan identity. The inconsistencies between the official narrative and people’s lived experience have left “average citizens cynical and alienated.”138 As the review of their impact will demonstrate, the extensive transitional justice initiatives implemented in Rwanda have actually exacerbated social divisions and increased tensions. Rwanda stands as a warning about the limitations – or even the dangers – of transitional justice.

1 Longman, Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda.

2 On the work of Internews in Rwanda, see www.internews.org/regions/africa/default.shtm#rwanda. Their documentary films on justice in post-genocide Rwanda are available in a number of US and international libraries and provide an excellent overview of the ICTR and Rwandan national trials.

3 Alison Des Forges and Timothy Longman, “Legal Responses to Genocide in Rwanda,” in Harvey Weinstein and Eric Stover, eds., My Neighbor, My Enemy: Justice and Social Reconstruction in Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 49–68.

4 On the gacaca courts see Phil Clark, The Gacaca Courts, Post-Genocide Justice and Reconciliation in Rwanda: Justice without Lawyers, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011; Lars Waldorf, “Mass Justice for Mass Atrocity: Transitional Justice and Illiberal Peace-Building in Rwanda,” PhD Dissertation, National University of Ireland, Galway, November 2013; and Chakravarty, Investing in Authoritarian Rule.

5 Eltringham, Accounting for Horror, pp. 69–99 explores how post-genocide language has served to imply collective guilt for Hutu and collective victimization for Tutsi.

6 Although commonly known as the Nuremberg and Tokyo Military Tribunals, the United States and other allied powers actually organized a number of military tribunals in a number of locations in Germany and Japan.

7 Donald Bloxham, Genocide on Trial: The War Crimes Trials and the Formation of Holocaust History and Memory, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001; Drexel A. Sprecher, Inside the Nuremberg Trial: A Prosecutor’s Comprehensive Account, Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1999.

8 Kathryin Sikkink, The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions are Changing World Politics, New York: WW Norton, 2011, explores the development of the idea of putting perpetrators of mass atrocities on trial.

9 For other useful reviews of the legal initiatives in the area of transitional justice, see Teitel, Transitional Justice; Naomi Roht-Arriaza and Javier Mariezcurrena, eds., Transitional Justice in the 21st Century and Beyond, Cambridge University Press, 2006; Steven R. Ratner and Jason S. Abrahams, Accountability for Human Rights Atrocities in International Law: Beyond the Nuremberg Legacy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001; and Melissa Williams, Rosemary Nagy, and Jon Elster, eds., Transitional Justice, New York: New York University Press, 2012.

10 Hannah Arendt, Eichman in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, New York: Penguin, 1991, 1992, p. 253.

11 For example, Brad R. Roth, “Peaceful Transition and Retrospective Justice: Some Reservations: A Response to Juan Méndez,” Ethics and International Affairs, 15, no. 1, 2001, 45–50, critiques human rights lawyer and activist Juan Méndez for assuming that the content of “justice … derived by reference to established international human rights standards, is taken to be unproblematic.”

12 Aryeh Neier, War Crimes: Brutality, Genocide, Terror, and the Struggle for Justice, New York: Random House, 1998, writes critically in an overview of political transitions that, “For the most part, civilian governments in the other Latin American countries that underwent transitions from military rule in the 1980s also failed to do justice” because they did not hold trials (p. 85).

13 The reports available at HRW.org and Amnesty.org regularly call for trials as part of their recommendations.

14 Neier, War Crimes, p. 83.

15 Minow, Between Vengeance and Forgiveness, p. 26. While recognizing that trials can add to reconciliation in certain circumstances, Minow sees serious limitations in the ability of trials to rebuild social relations.

16 Antonio Cassese, “Reflections on International Criminal Justice,” Modern Law Review, January 1998, 1–10, citation p. 7.

17 See Jose Zalaquett, “Confronting Human Rights Violations Committed by Former Governments: Principles Applicable and Political Constraints,” in Neil J. Kritz, ed., Transitional Justice, Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1995, pp. 3–31; Naomi Roht-Arriaza, “State Responsibility to Investigate and Prosecute Grave Human Rights Violations in International Law,” California Law Review, March 1990, 449–513, argues, “Investigation of past violations is essential to provide victims’ families with some relief, especially in cases of disappearance where the victim’s fate may still be unknown” (p. 508).

18 Cassese, “Reflections on International Criminal Justice,” p. 7. Laurel E. Fletcher and Harvey M. Weinstein, “Violence and Social Repair: Rethinking the Contribution of Justice to Reconciliation,” Human Rights Quarterly, 2002, 573–639 and Minow, Between Vengeance and Forgiveness, p. 5, strongly criticize the idea that trials bring closure for victims.

19 Mark Osiel, Mass Atrocity, Collective Memory and the Law, New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 1997, citation p. 2.

20 See review of Osiel by Samantha Power, “The Stages of Justice,” The New Republic, March 2, 1998, 32–38.

21 Juan Mendez, “Accountability for Past Abuses,” Human Rights Quarterly, 19, no. 2, 1997, 255–282, citation p. 278.

22 Roht-Arriaza, “State Responsibility to Investigate and Prosecute,” pp. 508–509.

23 Lyn S. Graybill, Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: Miracle or Model?, Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002; Martin Meredith, Coming to Terms: South Africa’s Search for Truth, Washington: Public Affairs, 19; Beth Lyons, “Between Nuremberg and Amnesia: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa,” Monthly Review, 49, no. 4, September 1997, 5–23.

24 Minow, Between Vengeance and Forgiveness.

25 Priscilla B. Hayner, Unspeakable Truths: Confronting State Terror and Atrocity: How Truth Commissions Around the World are Challenging the Past and Shaping the Future, New York and London: Routledge, 2001; Tina Rosenberg, “Recovering from Apartheid,” The New Yorker, November 18, 1996, 86–95; Desmond Tutu, “Healing a Nation”, interview, Index on Censorship, 5, 1996, 39–51.

26 Reed Brody, “Justice: The First Casualty of Truth? The Global Movement to End Impunity for Human Rights Abuses Faces a Daunting Question,” The Nation, April 30, 2001; Heribert Adam, “Trading Justice for Truth,” The World Today, January 1998, 11–13; Adeale Maja-Pearce, “Binding the Wounds: Resentment, Anger and the Desire for Revenge Threaten to Undermine the Truth Commission’s Attempt to Reconcile Victims and Oppressors,” Index on Censorship, 5, 1996, 48–53.

27 Roht-Arriaza and Mariezcurrena, Transitional Justice in the 21st Century and Beyond.

28 Vojtech Cepl and Mark Gillis, “Making Amends After Communism,” Journal of Democracy, October 1996, 118–124; Roman David and Susanne Choi Yuk-ping, “Victims on Transitional Justice: Lessons from the Reparation of Human Rights Abuses in the Czech Republic,” Human Rights Quarterly, May 2005, 392–435; Adam Michnik, “Reflections on the Collapse of Communism,” Journal of Democracy, January 2000, 119–126.

29 Naomi Roht-Arriaza, “Reparations in the Aftermath of Mass Violence,” in Eric Stover and Harvey Weinstein, eds., My Neighbor, My Enemy: Justice and Community in the Aftermath of Mass Atrocity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 121–139; Christian Pross, Paying for the Past: The Struggle over Reparations for Surviving Victims of the Nazi Terror, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

30 Hite, “The Eye that Cries.”

31 Charles T. Call, “Is Transitional Justice Really Just?” Brown Journal of International Affairs, Summer/Fall 2004, 101–111, citation p. 102.

32 Ibid, p. 109.

33 Bronwyn Anne Leebaw, “The Irreconcilable Goals of Transitional Justice,” Human Rights Quarterly, January 2008, 95–118.

35 Jens Meierhenrich, Lawfare: Gacaca Jurisdictions in Rwanda, unpublished manuscript; Constance Morrill, “Show Business and ‘Lawfare’ in Rwanda: Twelve Years after the Genocide,” Dissent, Summer 2006, 14–20.

36 UN Document S/1994/1125 cited in Payam Akhavan, “The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda: The Politics and Pragmatics of Punishment,” American Journal of International Law, 90, no. 3, July 1996, 501–510, citation p. 502.

37 The official name of the ICTR is “the International Criminal Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Genocide and Other Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of Rwanda and Rwandan Citizens Responsible for Genocide and Other Such Violations Committed in the Territory of Neighbouring States, Between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 1994.” Akhavan, “The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda,” p. 502.

38 United Nations Security Council Resolution 955 (1994), adopted November 8, 1994, available at www.un.org/ictr/english/Resolutions/955e.htm, accessed November 7, 2007.

39 Quoted in Akhavan, “The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.”

40 Samantha Power, A Problem from Hell: The United States in the Age of Genocide, New York: Basic Books, 2002, p. 380.

41 Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story, pp. 668–690; Power, A Problem from Hell, p. 381.

42 My own conversations in November 2001 with officials who were in the State Department at the time of the Rwandan genocide confirms Power’s assessment of the Clinton administration’s failed policy process but also indicates a widespread awareness on the part of both foreign service officers and politicians of the Rwandan genocide representing a major policy failure.

43 Victor Peskin, “International Justice and Domestic Rebuilding: An Analysis of the Role of the International Tribunal for Rwanda,” The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance, October 1999.

44 On the issue of primacy, see Madeleine H. Morris, “The Trials of Concurrent Jurisdiction: The Case of Rwanda,” Special Symposium on Justice in Cataclysm: Criminal Trials in the Wake of Mass Violence, Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law, Spring 1997, 349–374.

45 C.f., Government of Rwanda, “The position of the government of the Republic of Rwanda on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR),” originally published on the website of the Rwandan Embassy to the US, now available at www.metafro.be/grandslacs/grandslacsdir600/0608.pdf, 1997. The ICTR was also regularly criticized on the official radio station, Radio Rwanda, in the Evening News on Radio Rwanda, July 24, 2002; August 15, 2002; August 20, 2002; November 20, 2002; December 13, 2002. On December 4, 2002 Evening News on Radio Rwanda reported that the government representative at the ICTR, Martin Ngoga, “said that the government of Rwanda has always criticized the fashion in which Madame [Chief Prosecutor] Karla Del Ponte has worked.”

46 Interview in Kigali, August 27, 2002.

47 Des Forges and Longman, “Legal Responses to Genocide in Rwanda.”

48 President Paul Kagame, Press Conference broadcast on Radio Rwanda, July 2, 2002.

49 “Prosecutor Loses Rwanda Role,” London: BBC News, August 28, 2003, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3189045.stm; “New Rwandan Prosecutor Named,” London: BBC News, August 29, 2003, www.newsvote.bbc.uk/mpapps/pagetools/print/news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/af/3190833.stm; Integrated Regional Information Networks, “Rwanda: Focus on UN Tribunal,” OCHA, Dar es Salaam, February 3, 2004.

50 For critiques of the ICTR, see International Crisis Group, “International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda: Justice Delayed,” Brussels: International Crisis Group, June 7, 2001; International Crisis Group, “Tribunal Penal International pour le Rwanda: Pragmatisme de Rigueur,” Brussels: International Crisis Group, September 26, 2003.

51 Payam Akhavan, “Beyond Impunity: Can International Criminal Justice Prevent Future Atrocities?” The American Journal of International Law, 95, no. 7, January 2001, 7–31.

52 Human Rights Watch, “Rwanda: Deliver Justice for Victims of Both Sides,” New York: Human Rights Watch, August 12, 2002.

53 Akhavan, “Beyond Impunity,” p. 25.

54 Thierry Cruvellier, Court of Remorse: Inside the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 2006.

55 Timothy Longman and Alison Des Forges, “Attacked by All Sides: Civilians and the War in Eastern Zaire,” New York: Human Rights Watch; Paris: FIDH, March 1997.

56 Timothy Longman, “Eastern Congo Ravaged,” New York: Human Rights Watch, May 2000; Timothy Longman, “The Complex Reasons for Rwanda’s Engagement in Congo,” in John F. Clark, ed., The Continental Stakes in the Congo War, New York: Palgrave, 2002, pp. 129–144.

57 Although a number of scholars – such as Gerard Prunier, Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005, as well as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – have not found that the violence in Darfur constitutes genocide, even though they say it represents serious violations of human rights and must be stopped, at conferences and advocacy meetings on Darfur, anyone who challenges the idea that the violence is genocide is denounced, because of the recognition that only genocide gains sufficient international attention.

58 Human Rights Watch, “Rwanda,” World Report 1999, New York: Human Rights Watch, 1998, reports that the international community gave $30 million for development of Rwanda’s judicial sector by 1999.

59 “First Trial in Rwanda of Suspects of ‘94 Killing,” New York Times, December 28, 1996.

60 Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, “Prosecuting Genocide in Rwanda: A Lawyers Committee report on the ICTR and National Trials,” New York, 1997.

61 Amnesty International, “Rwanda: 23 Public Executions Will Harm Hope of Reconciliation,” London, April 23, 1998.

62 Centre de Documentation et d’Information sur les Procès de Génocide (CDIPG), Quatre Ans de Proccés de Genocide: Quelle Base pour les “Juridictions Gacaca?” Kigali: LIPRODHOR: July 2001, pp. 36–38.

63 Amnesty International, “Rwanda Abolishes the Death Penalty,” London: Amnesty International, August 2, 2007.

64 The right to a speedy trial is guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, available online at www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm. Article 14c states that all people accused of a crime have a right, “To be tried without undue delay.”

65 As early as 1995, when I was based in Butare, my colleague at Human Rights Watch, historian Michelle Wagner, was in conversations with professors at the university there about the possibilities of adapting gacaca.

66 Alice Karekezi, “Juridictions Gacaca: Lutte contre l’Impunité et Promotion de la Réconciliation Nationale,” Cahiers du Centre de Gestion des Conflits, no. 3, May 2001, 9–96.

68 Philemone Ntahombaye, A. Ntabona, Joseph Gahama, and L. Kagabo, L’Institution des Bashingantahe au Burundi: Etudes Pluridisciplinaire, Bujumbura, 1999.

69 Filip Reyntjens, “Le gacaca ou la justice du gazon au Rwanda,” Politique Africaine, no. 40, December 1990, 31–41.

70 Interview in Kigali, May 31, 2002.

71 The October 2000 law creating gacaca was known as the “Organic Law concerning the creation of Gacaca Courts and organization of pursuit of infractions constituting genocide or crimes against humanity, committed between 1 October 1990 and 31 December 1994.” In response to criticisms from human rights organizations and others, a law modifying the original law was adopted in June 2001. Numerous additional revisions were subsequently adopted.

72 Karekezi, “Juridictions Gacaca.”

73 The organization of the courts was revised several times, with district-level gacaca courts replaced by courts of appeal. After the trial phase of gacaca, the number of judges was reduced to seven, with two alternates. See the Organic Laws numbers 28/2006 of June 27, 2006, 10/2007 of March 1, 2007, and 13/2008, May 19, 2008.

74 Marco Domeniconi, “Gacaca Takes off Slowly,” Foundation Hirondelle, October 14, 2002.

75 Timothy Longman, “Justice at the Grassroots? Gacaca Trials in Rwanda,” in Naomi Roht-Arriaza and Javier Mariezcurrena, eds., Beyond Truth Versus Justice: Transitional Justice in the New Millenium, Cambridge University Press, 2006.

76 Allison Corey and Sandra F. Joireman, “Retributive Justice: The Gacaca Courts in Rwanda,” African Affairs, 2004, no. 103, 73–89; Bert Ingelaere, “‘Does the Truth Pass Across the Fire Without Burning?’ Locating the Short Circuit in Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts,” Journal of Modern African Studies, 2009; Peter Uvin and Charles Mironko, “Western and Local Approaches to Justice in Rwanda,” Global Governance, April–Jun 2003, 9, no. 2, 219–231, on gacaca see 226–228.

77 Richard Sezibera, “The Only Way to Bring Justice to Rwanda,” Washington Post, April 7, 2002.

78 Minow, Between Vengeance and Forgiveness, p. 26.

79 According to news reports, a similar argument was made in 1997 by the minister of justice. “Rwanda will never see real peace until the guilty are punished for the genocide of 1994, the country’s Justice Minister Faustin Nteziryayo told the U.N. Human Rights Commission…” “Rwanda Minister: No Peace Until the Guilty are Punished,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, March 12, 1997.

80 Paul Kagame, “Speech to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars,” Washington, DC, April 21, 2004.

82 Paul Kagame, speech given on the occasion of the official launching of the gacaca process, Kigali, June 18, 2002. Printed in Penal Reform International, Klaas de Jonge, “PRI Research Team on Gacaca Report III: April–June 2002,” Kigali: Penal Reform International, July 2002.

83 National Service of Gacaca Jurisdictions, www.inkiko-gacaca.gov.rw/En/EnObjectives.htm.

84 Kagame, speech on the occasion of the official launching of gacaca.

85 Interview in Kigali, August 27, 2002.

86 National Service of Gacaca Jurisdictions, “Gacaca Jurisdictions: Achievements, Problems, and Future Prospects,” www.inkiko-gacaca.gov.rw/En/EnObjectives.htm.

87 The second purpose for gacaca listed by the National Service of Gacaca Jurisdictions is “To speed up the genocide trials.” National Service of Gacaca Jurisdictions, www.inkiko-gacaca.gov.rw/En/EnObjectives.htm.

88 On restorative justice, see Gordon Brazemore, “Restorative Justice and Earned Redemption: Communities, Victims, and Offender Reintegration,” American Behavioral Scientist 41, no. 6, 1998, 768–814; 34, no. 3 1995, 228–249; M. Umbreit, Victim Meets Offender: The Impact of Restorative Justice and Mediation, Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press, 1994; Howard Zehr, “Restorative Justice: The Concept: Movement Sweeping Criminal Justice Field Focuses on Harm and Responsibility,” Corrections Today, December 1997, 68–70.

89 Jeremy Sarkin, “The Necessity and Challenges of Establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Rwanda,” Human Rights Quarterly, 21, no. 3, 1999, 767–823.

90 Reported in Jacques Fierens, “Gacaca Courts: Between Fantasy and Reality,” Journal of International Criminal Justice, 2005, no. 3, 896–919, citation p. 901.

91 Kagame, speech on the occasion of the official launching of gacaca, Radio Rwanda, January 2005.

92 National Service of Gacaca Jurisdictions, www.inkiko-gacaca.gov.rw/En/EnObjectives.htm.

93 On the TRC see Graybill, Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa; Richard A. Wilson, The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: Legitimizing the Post-Apartheid State, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

94 National Service of Gacaca Jurisdictions, www.inkiko-gacaca.gov.rw/En/EnObjectives.htm.

95 Corey and Joireman, “Retributive Justice.”

96 Fletcher and Weinstein, “Violence and Social Repair”; Call, “Is Transitional Justice Really Just?”

97 C.f., Neier, War Crimes; Roht-Arriaza, “State Responsibility to Investigate and Prosecute”; Mendez, “Accountability for Past Abuses.”

98 National Service of Gacaca Jurisdictions, “Gacaca Jurisdictions: Achievements, Problems, and Future Prospects,” p. 4.

99 Human Rights Watch, “Rwanda,” World Report 1997, New York: Human Rights Watch, December 1996. James C. McKinley, “76,000 Still in Jail in Rwanda Awaiting Trial in ‘94 Slayings,” New York Times, June 24, 1996, put the figure of those in jail in June 1996 at 76,000, though he concurs with the rate of new arrests at 4,000 per month. His slightly lower figure seems to include only those in the country’s fourteen prisons and does not include the thousands detained in jails and other smaller facilities.

100 Human Rights Watch reported in its annual report that the number of people detained on genocide charges had increased from 15,000 at the beginning of 1995 to more than 57,000 at the end of the year. Human Rights Watch, “Rwanda,” World Report 1996, New York: Human Rights Watch, December 1995.

101 There were numerous reports in 1995–1996 about the terrible conditions in Rwanda’s prisons. As early as November 1994, Robert M. Press, “In Rwanda’s ‘Slave Ship’ Prisons, Life Is Grim for Suspected Killers,” The Christian Science Monitor, November 18, 1994, reported, “More than 15,000 adults and children accused by the Tutsi-led government of genocide languish in overcrowded cells. EXCEPT for lack of chains, the tightly packed prison cell, with three tiers of wooden bunks, looks like the hold of an 18th-century slave ship.”

102 Roland Siegloff, “Rwanda’s Legal System Facing Paralysis over Backlog of Genocide Trials,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, March 8, 1997, writes that, “The innocent in Kigali’s central jail are locked up along with the condemned … 8,024 have been waiting in the brick building for almost three years since the massacres to face trial on genocide charges. Many could be innocent, as government officials acknowledge.”

103 In a conversation in March 1996 with two friends who were Tutsi genocide survivors, they estimated that as many as 80 percent of those in prison at the time were innocent. Conversations I had with several human rights activists at the time concurred with this estimation.

104 Alison Des Forges and Eric Gillet, “Rwanda: The Crisis Continues,” New York: Human Rights Watch, 7, no. 1, and Paris: FIDH, April 1995. This report was published before I began working for the two organizations.

105 Siegleff, “Rwanda’s Legal System Facing Paralysis,” reports that, “The legal system, itself bled dry by the civil war, has started with the worst cases. The Justice Minister estimates that around 1,500 people guilty of crimes against humanity fall into this category.”

106 “Protests as Rwandan Government Frees Detainees,” Business Day, February 12, 1997.

107 George S. Yacoubian, “Releasing Accused Genocidal Perpetrators in Rwanda: The Displacement of Preventive Justice,” Loyola University Chicago International Law Review, Fall–Winter 2005, 3, no. 21, 21–39.

108 Ingelaere, “‘Does the Truth Pass Across the Fire Without Burning?’”

109 See, for example, President Kagame’s response to a question about RPF abuses raised at his Commonwealth Club speech in 2003.

110 Human Rights Watch, World Report 1999, mentions that a number of soldiers were tried in military courts for common criminality, but “few of the accused were brought to trial or seriously punished for human rights abuses in the course of military operations.”

111 Human Rights Watch, “Rwanda,” World Report 1998, New York: Human Rights Watch, December 1997.

112 Government of Rwanda, “Organic Law no. 13/2008 of 19/05/2008 modifying and complementing Organic Law no. 16/2004 of 19/06/2004, Establishing the Organization, Competence and Functioning of Gacaca Courts Charged with Prosecuting and Trying the Perpetrators of the Crime of Genocide and other Crimes Against Humanity Committed between October 1, 1990 and December 31, 1994 as Modified and Complemented to Date,” Official Gazette of the Republic of Rwanda, 47, no. 11, June 1, 2008. Emphasis added.

113 Official Training Manual for Gacaca Judges, consulted in 2002.

114 Interview in Kigali, June 16, 2002.

115 A 1993 international human rights mission to Rwanda uncovered convincing evidence of government complicity in the 1990–1992 attacks. Africa Watch, FIDH, et al., “Rapport de la Commission Internationale.”

116 Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story, pp. 87–91.

117 Alice Karekezi, “Juridictions Gacaca: Lutte contre l'Impunité et Promotion de la Réconciliation Nationale." Cahiers du Centre de Gestion des Conflits, 3, May 2001: 9-96.

118 Living in Rwanda at the time, I can attest to the impact on the population of the February 1993 attack that drove more than one million people from their homes, which was filled with fear over what the RPF would do if they took power. I remember students whose families were displaced struggling to find news of their loved ones and fearing that they might have been killed by the RPF.

119 Alan J. Kuperman, “Provoking Genocide: A Revised History of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” Journal of Genocide Research, 6, no. 1, 2004.

120 United Nations, “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, approved 1948, www2.ohchr.org/english/law/genocide.htm; Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990, 8–32; and Helen Fein, Genocide: A Sociological Perspective, London and Newbury Park: SAGE, 1993, 8–31.

121 Christian Davenport and Allan Stam, “What Really Happened in Rwanda,” Truthout, October 6, 2009, www.truthout.org/10070911, present a highly controversial academic defense of the double genocide hypothesis, while Philip Verwimp, “Testing the Double-Genocide Thesis for Central and Southern Rwanda,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 47, no. 4, August 2003, 423–442 convincingly disproves the hypothesis. See also Lemarchand, “Genocide in the Great Lakes.”

122 Corey and Joireman, “Retributive Justice,” 89.

123 Nicole Fritz and Alison Smith, “Current Apathy for Coming Anarchy: Building the Special Court for Sierra Leone,” Fordham International Law Journal, 25, December 2001, 391, arguing for the Special Court in Sierra Leone, claimed that, “Criminal trials in the wake of mass atrocity are valuable, not least because they individualize guilt and militate against demonization of whole groups.” See also, Michael P. Scharf, “The Prosecutor v. Dusko Tadic: An Appraisal of the First International War Crimes Trial Since Nuremberg,” Paper presented on the panel, “Conceptualizing Violence: Present and Future Developments in International Law,” Adjudicating Violence: Problems Confronting International Law and Policy on War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, Albany Law Review, 1997, 60, 861, 874.

124 C.f., Gourevitch, We Wish to Inform You, and Mamdani, When Victims Become Killers.

125 Andrew Meldrum, “One Million Rwandans to Face Killing Charges in Village Courts,” The Manchester Guardian, January 15, 2005, reported that the executive secretary of the gacaca courts, Domatila Mukantanganzwa, asserted the claim that one million could be tried in gacaca.

126 Interview in Kigali, August 27, 2002.

127 Scott Straus, “How Many Perpetrators Were There in the Rwandan Genocide: An Estimate,” Journal of Genocide Research, 6, no 1, March 2004 estimate 175,000 to 210,000 participants in the Rwandan genocide.

128 Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story, clearly explains the modalities of the genocide.

129 Integrated Regional Information Networks, “Jury Still Out on Effectiveness of ‘Gacaca’ Courts,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, June 23, 2009; Faith Karimi, “Rwandan Genocide Survivor Finds Solace in Gacacas,” CNN.com, July 27, 2009.

130 In Longman, “Justice at the Grassroots,” I explain why I think gacaca in principle had much potential, while I was worried about the degree to which it may be susceptible to political manipulation.

131 Longman and Des Forges, “Attacked by All Sides”; Longman, “Eastern Congo Ravaged.”

132 Interview in Kigali, August 27, 2002.

133 Reporters without Borders, “Rwanda, the Arrest of Father Guy Theunis: An Investigation of the Charges, the Legal Action, and Possible Reasons,” Brussels: Reporters without Borders, November 2005.

134 I discuss this attack on LIPRODHOR in greater detail in Chapter 5. See Lars Waldorf, “Censorship and Propaganda in Post-Genocide Rwanda,” International Development Research Center, 2006.

135 Domatilla Mutakaganzwa, “Byuma Francois Xavier’s Case,” Kigali: National Service of Gacaca Jurisdictions, June 12, 2007.

136 Speeches on the eighth anniversary of the genocide in 2002 by the head of the survivors’ organization Ibuka and by President Kagame. Paul Kagame, “Discourse of the President of the Republic on the 8th Anniversary in the Memory of the Genocide and the Massacres of 1994,” Nyakibanda, April 7, 2002.

137 International Justice Tribune, “Questions Pile up for Swamped Gacaca,” Radio Netherlands Worldwide, www.rnw.nl, October 23, 2005.

138 Koonz, “Between Memory and Oblivion,” p. 258.

5 From Violent Repression to Political Domination Transitional Justice, Political Reform, and Development

Today’s dictators understand that in a globalized world the more brutal forms of intimidation – mass arrests, firing squads, and violent crackdowns – are best replaced with more subtle forms of coercion. Rather than forcibly arrest members of a human rights group, today’s most effective despots deploy tax collectors or health inspectors to shut down dissident groups. Laws are written broadly, then used like a scalpel to target the groups the government deems a threat. Rather than shutter all media, modern-day despots make exceptions for small outlets – usually newspapers – that allow for a limited public discussion. Today’s dictators pepper their speeches with references to liberty, justice, and the rule of law … Modern dictators understand it is better to appear to win a contested election than to openly steal it.

– William J. Dobson, The Dictator’s Learning Curve
Breakfast with the Secretary General

The headquarters of the Rwandan Patriotic Front were housed in a building that previously served as a large private residence. Situated on the edge of Kimihurura, long one of Kigali’s most fashionable neighborhoods, the office was located conveniently between downtown and Kacyiru, home to many government ministries. We arrived very early on a Friday morning – just 7 a.m. – because the Secretary General of the RPF, Charles Murigande, had granted us an interview and insisted that we not be late. He had a very busy day, his secretary had told us, and he could only accord us forty-five minutes.

We arrived early and parked our car on the dirt and gravel street in front of the RPF offices. An armed soldier opened the front gate, and we were invited inside and up the grand staircase to a hallway that had been furnished with chairs to serve as a waiting room. The house was quiet, with only a few people present, but Murigande was already hard at work in his office. After a few minutes of waiting, we were ushered inside a room that had once served as a bedroom, now furnished with a dark wooden desk and heavy curtains. Murigande rose from behind the desk, greeted us, and offered us seats on the hard wooden upright chairs situated in front of his desk. I explained our purpose: The three of us – I, another American scholar, and a Rwandan political scientist – were conducting an assessment of the political situation in Rwanda for the United States Agency for International Development to help the US Government determine how to support democratic consolidation in Rwanda. “We are hoping that as the leader of the dominant political party in the country, you can provide some insight into the role of parties and how democracy can be strengthened here.” When I paused, without offering us an opportunity to pose our first question, the Secretary General of the RPF launched into a discourse about politics in Rwanda and the role of the RPF:

Since 1994, when the RPF was able to stop the genocide and drive out of power the government that was carrying out the genocide, it did something contrary to human nature. And perhaps that is why people have refused to accept it. It isn’t natural for a party to win power and then invite other parties to share it. The RPF having as a primary goal the unity of the country, the RPF refused to be bound by human nature. Rwanda had a history of non-representative government. We put into place a broad-based government made of six political parties and put into place a transitional parliament of eight parties. It is difficult to understand why people refer to the RPF as the party in power, when you consider that in the government, all decisions are taken by consensus.1

Murigande spoke in deliberate and forceful English. Like many of the leaders of the RPF, Murigande was born in Rwanda but fled the country with his family when anti-Tutsi ethnic violence broke out in 1959. Unlike most of the top RPF brass, however, Murigande did not flee to Uganda. Since his family was from southern Rwanda, from Butare, they fled to neighboring Burundi. Murigande grew up in Bujumbura, the capital, and he began his university education at the National University of Burundi. He continued his studies at the University of Namur in Belgium, where he earned a Masters and PhD in mathematics, then returned to Burundi. While few Tutsi refugees from Burundi have held prominent positions in the RPF, Murigande had the advantage of having excelled at his studies of English in addition to his fluent French. In 1989, he assumed a position at Howard University in Washington, DC, placing him in a key position for representing the position of the RPF when their invasion of Rwanda began the following year. His loyalty to the RPF and his political stridency eventually earned him a position as a trusted confidant of Paul Kagame, who was himself in the United States – receiving military training at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas – at the time the war began in October 1990:

Anyone who states that a society that experienced genocide can be totally healed in just eight years is probably not a sane human being. That is my answer to anyone who claims that this society is not still fragile. How can you think that yesterday people who were being hunted down like deer can today be totally at peace? Or even those who were hunting human beings as though they were deer can be at peace. No they are not at peace. If the tragedy had stopped in 1994, then eight years could be sufficient time for healing, but don’t forget that we have continued to confront those who want to carry out genocide …

Murigande had a reputation for being serious and severe. He was widely known to be an umurokore, a strict born-again Christian, who eschews alcohol, cigarettes, and other vices, including corruption. In 1998–1999, he served for a year as the rector of the National University of Rwanda in Butare, but his rigid approach to discipline clashed sharply with the inevitable youthful tendency for rebellion among university students. When I taught at the NUR in 2001, students still told stories about the swiftness with which Murigande had expelled students who protested against the poor conditions of student housing. Yet Murigande’s seriousness of purpose and strict probity are exactly the qualities that impress outsiders who praise the RPF for its good management and clear purpose. In fact, Kagame moved Murigande into the leadership of the RPF in 1998, when he was seeking to root out growing corruption in the party. Murigande’s unwavering attention to rules also made him an excellent choice for maintaining party discipline under the guise of democratic governance:

One of the basic principles of working in the RPF is discussion, sometimes endless discussion. Usually all decisions are taken by consensus. We debate until consensus is achieved … If you feel strongly about an issue, you can always ask that it be re-debated. That is something that distinguishes the RPF from other parties. But once the party decides on an issue, you can’t go out and oppose it. Once your arguments are defeated, you must go along.

Having lived in both Europe and the United States, Murigande understood well the Western mindset, and like many in the RPF, he pointedly rejected the West as a model for Rwanda. The roots of the RPF can be traced back to the anti-colonial struggles of the late 1950s and 1960s. Like elites in many African countries, young Tutsi in Rwanda in the 1950s developed a strong anti-European and politically radical ideology and began a movement for independence from Belgium.2 But an emerging Hutu “counter-elite,” cultivated by Catholic missionaries and Belgian colonial authorities, raised concerns about the prospect of independence under Tutsi dominance.3 When a 1959 attack on a Hutu sub-chief led to a wave of attacks on Tutsi leaders and counter-attacks on Hutu, Belgian authorities moved quickly to calm the situation by shifting Hutu into political offices. Many Tutsi, particularly those from elite families, fled into exile. The exiled Tutsi blamed the Belgians for the violence against them, and armed bands of Tutsi exiles sought to retake power from the new Hutu government in a series of attacks in the 1960s. Violent reprisals against Tutsi still in Rwanda killed hundreds and drove thousands more to flee the country.4 Although the Hutu-dominated governments of independent Rwanda characterized the uprising in 1959 as a revolution, since the Hutu majority displaced the Tutsi elite, the Tutsi exiles in Burundi, Congo, and Uganda regarded the governments of Kayibanda and Habyarimana as reactionary puppets of Western interests.

Like many of the rebellions that arose in Africa after 1960, Uganda’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) was influenced by revolutionary principles drawn from Marx, Lenin, and Mao. Led by Yoweri Museveni, the rebel group that took to the bush in 1980 and fought its way to power in 1986 characterized its struggle as a “revolution” and implemented a Maoist structure of revolutionary councils that linked people from the most local level to the party leaders at the top.5 Rwandan refugees Paul Kagame and Fred Rwigyema were among the twenty-six individuals who originally joined Museveni’s rebellion, and they modeled the RPF after the NRM. Even as the RPF leadership, like Museveni before them, jettisoned Marxist economic rhetoric and strongly embraced capitalism, the RPF leaders retained not only the Leninist principles of party organization and democratic centralism6 – what Murigande described as allowing debate until a party decision had been made7 – but also the strong anti-imperialist and anti-Western attitudes typical of revolutionary movements.8 The failure of Western states to intervene to stop the genocide – even the complicity of some states such as France – only reinforced an already powerful sense within the RPF leadership of the moral bankruptcy of the West. Murigande and other RPF leaders felt that Western countries had utterly failed to acknowledge their role in the genocide, using the ICTR as a smokescreen to cover their own complicity, and lacked authority to criticize the human rights abuses of the RPF, which, after all, stopped the genocide. Although RPF leaders actively courted Western political support and investment, they felt the West’s attempts to interfere in Rwandan affairs were selfishly motivated forms of neo-colonialism that served only to reinforce those same ideas and individuals that had promoted the genocide:

Thanks to the VOA Kinyarwanda language programs and the BBC Kinyarwanda language programs, we continue to receive poison. I don’t think the country is healed. I don’t know any country that has more debate than in Rwanda … You should go to the solidarity camps. No subject is taboo. People talk about everything.

At the end of forty-five minutes, at precisely ten minutes before 8 a.m., Murigande suddenly stopped, looked at his watch, thanked us, and offered us the door. The time was up, and our interview was concluded. As we left the office, we encountered a large line of people now seated in the waiting area hoping to ask Murigande for help with family problems or assistance in getting a job. Despite Murigande’s protestations, many Rwandans believed that the RPF – not the government – was the real seat of power in Rwanda.

In the introduction to this section of the book, I presented two sharply contrasting perspectives on the RPF. While some observers consider Rwanda’s ruling party a model of political leadership that promotes peace, stability, and development, others regard the RPF as a brutal, authoritarian regime, aggressively imposing its will on an oppressed population. In this chapter, I attempt to reconcile these contrasting perspectives. In this chapter, I do not offer a comprehensive analysis of the political developments and policy changes since 1994 nor catalog the human rights abuses that have informed my skeptical view of the RPF-led regime.9 I instead focus on analyzing how the RPF has exercised power. I first review the history of RPF repression in the years immediately after taking power and contend that violence was more extensive than is usually acknowledged today and set a foundation of intimidation and obedience that shaped how the population has responded to the extensive reform programs implemented after the RPF shifted to less violent means of rule around 2000. I also argue that efforts to promote political reform and economic development are driven by contradictory motivations. On the one hand, reform efforts are inspired by a compelling vision of societal purification and social uplift, closely tied to ideas of transitional justice. On the other hand, RPF leaders and the repatriated Tutsi who are their main supporters regard the general Rwandan population with suspicion and disdain, seeing them as either willing perpetrators or shameful victims of the 1994 genocide. Preventing future violence while transforming Rwanda according to the RPF’s grand vision requires that they hold tightly onto power rather than ceding power to the majority. The ruling elite’s strong belief in their right to rule and suspicion of the general population makes their policies particularly prone to top-down, heavy-handed implementation that requires active compliance regardless of the negative consequences of policy initiatives.

Establishing Control and the Road Not Taken: 1994–1995

Immediately after the RPF took power in Rwanda in 1994, a tangible possibility existed for a broadly popular multi-ethnic effort to establish peace, rebuild Rwanda, and return the country rapidly to democracy.10 As the RPF troops advanced across the country, many of the Hutu who stayed in their communities rather than fleeing with their neighbors to Tanzania, the DRC, or the French-controlled Zone Turquoise, chose to remain because they had opposed the Hutu Power regime that perpetrated the genocide and hoped that the RPF could bring peace and democracy to the country. Many welcomed the RPF victory and cautiously embraced its leadership and effort to reconstruct the country.11 Some early RPF actions gave cause for optimism. The RPF leaders promised to move rapidly toward democratic elections, and on July 19, 1994, the day after taking the last outpost of the genocidal regime, they named a government of national unity.12 Based loosely on the 1993 Arusha Peace Accords, the government included nearly equal numbers of Hutu and Tutsi ministers drawn not only from the RPF but also from the main parties that had opposed the Habyarimana regime – the MDR, Social Democratic Party (Parti Social Démocrat, PSD), and Liberal Party. The RPF installed Hutu RPF official Pasteur Bizimungu as president and moderate Hutu leader Faustin Twagiramungu of the MDR as prime minister. Other well-respected Hutu in the government included human rights activist Alphonse Marie-Nkubito as Justice Minister and the RPF’s Seth Sendashonga as Interior Minister.13 When the government named new prefects in October 1994, the majority was Hutu, and only four of the eleven were from the RPF.14 The RPF leaders decried revenge attacks and advocated national unity. They also tackled the difficult job of rebuilding the country’s devastated infrastructure. International aid poured into Rwanda along with large numbers of international humanitarian workers, and the RPF quickly gained a reputation for competence and probity.15

Yet by the time I returned to Rwanda in late 1995, deep disappointment with the new regime had set in among many Rwandans. Within weeks of taking control, the RPF established a method of rule that combined eloquent rhetoric in support of a unified and peaceful country with an attitude of deep distrust and condescension for the populace. For all the talk of national unity and reconciliation, the population experienced RPF rule as highly oppressive. Rwandans swiftly learned that the best way to avoid becoming a target of violence or arrest was not only to show compliance with RPF directives but also to parrot RPF rhetoric, at least in public. Those who engaged in civil society or political party activity risked being seen by the regime as a threat, particularly if they were not from the repatriated Tutsi community. As one Hutu civil society activist told me in 1996, “Those of us [Hutu] who stayed in the country, we had supported the RPF. But we were mistaken. Now we are all being harassed.”16

The RPF used substantial violence in gaining power and establishing its initial authority. According to HRW, between April and July 1994, “The RPF killed thousands of civilians both during the course of combat … and in the more lengthy process of establishing its control throughout the country.”17 In some places, as the RPF troops advanced, they opened fire on anyone they encountered.18 In many communities, after seizing control, the RPF called a public meeting where they separated out a portion of the population – sometimes all men of fighting age, sometimes only those accused by their fellow citizens of having participated in the genocide – and took them away for summary execution.19 In my research in Butare, Gikongoro, Kibuye, Kibungo, and Byumba from 1995 to 2006, individuals regularly pointed out the location of mass graves of victims of RPF violence, though the bodies from these graves were in some cases subsequently exhumed and reburied in mass graves for victims of the genocide. While these RPF killings were less systematic and not based on identity and thus cannot be equated with the genocide, they nevertheless represent serious war crimes and crimes against humanity.20

By September 1994, the RPF replaced the extensive use of violence with a strategy of dominating the population through widespread arrest and detention coupled with more selective disappearances and killings. As discussed in Chapter 4, the RPF used judicial action to intimidate and control the population, an approach made particularly effective because the lack of formal charges and absence of trials meant that unsubstantiated accusations could indefinitely remove from public life those viewed as threats to the regime, while their detention was easily justified as part of the effort to seek accountability for genocide crimes and to strengthen security in a still fragile post-conflict society. The threat of indefinite detention became a powerful weapon to silence would-be regime critics. By the end of 1994, 15,000 people were imprisoned on genocide charges, while by the end of 1995, the number had risen to 57,000, at a time before the closure of the camps in the DRC that presumably housed the majority of perpetrators.21

At the same time, the RPF continued to use violence in a limited and selective fashion. In early 1995, the RPF forcibly closed camps for IDPs that had been formed in southwest Rwanda when the region was under French control, including the camp at Kibeho where as many as 8,000 died.22 During my work with HRW in Rwanda in 1995–1996, numerous witnesses told me about individuals killed, attacked, or disappeared, including government officials, journalists, and civil society activists as well as average Hutu killed after they returned home from the IDP camps.23 Human rights activist Father Sibomana observed in this period:

It’s always the same scenario: men, women, children, priests, and magistrates are killed, in the daytime or at night, with knives or with firearms. Witnesses accuse armed men wearing military uniforms who, strangely, move about freely without fear of being arrested. How can we fail to conclude that they are soldiers of the Rwandan Patriotic Army?24

When massacres and violent attacks on individuals were made public, the RPF responded wherever possible by denying connection to the violence, attributing it to remnants of the genocidal militias or to mere criminality. Where RPF involvement was obvious, as in the massacres at Kibeho, where international observers witnessed RPF soldiers firing on unarmed civilians, RPF leaders claimed that troops who perpetrated violence were rogue agents seeking revenge for the murder of their fellow Tutsi or driven unavoidably to unfortunate actions because of the horrible legacy of insecurity left by the genocide. The regime sometimes made a public show of investigating and even occasionally prosecuting RPF members accused of abuses, but real accountability was almost entirely lacking.25

National Unity Through Repression: Securing RPF Dominance 1995–1999

The pattern established in the first year of RPF rule of combining moderate rhetoric and ostensibly positive policy initiatives with intolerance of criticism and strict control of social and political life, backed up by a willingness to use coercive force where necessary, continued over the next five years and set the context for the post-2000 political agenda, when overt repression was replaced by popular mobilization and less violent means of control. The RPF’s most widespread use of force after 1995 was across Rwanda’s borders in the Democratic Republic of Congo (called Zaire until 1997). In 1996, the RPF organized a Congolese rebel movement and joined them in invading Eastern DRC. The RPF bombed and forcibly closed the refugee camps, demanding that Rwandan refugees return to Rwanda, then systematically hunted down those who chose instead to flee into the Congolese rainforest.26 Gaining support from local ethnic militias, the Ugandan and Burundian armies, and numerous deserters from the Congolese army, they swiftly advanced across the DRC, ultimately driving long-time dictator Mobutu Sese Seko out of power in May 1997 and installing rebel leader Laurent Kabila as president.27 For many of the Rwandans interviewed in my research, the experience of violence in Congo shaped how they viewed the RPF and its initiatives. As I discuss in the next section of this book, the complete lack of accountability for this violence and its erasure from public memory affect how people experience transitional justice programs focused exclusively on the genocide.28

Ironically, in driving the Hutu militia away from the Rwandan border, the intervention in Congo forced many militia members back into Rwanda, actually adding to insecurity. Following the closure of the camps, insurgent attacks in Rwanda increased, particularly in the northwest. Seeking to contain the insurgency, the RPF attacked Hutu civilians in the northwest, carrying out summary executions of suspected militants and in several cases massacring civilians, particularly in communities where insurgents killed RPF soldiers in attacks. As many as 10,000 civilians were killed between October 1997 and January 1998.29 Combat, threats from the insurgents, and RPF counterattacks drove thousands to flee their homes, with nearly half a million in IDP camps by mid-1998. The RPF began to move people forcibly out of their homes in a regroupment policy that sought to separate the civilian population from the insurgents by creating new concentrated settlements, primarily along roadsides, where they could be closely monitored.30

Growing tension between the Rwandan leadership and the Kabila government led the RPF to support a second rebellion in Congo. Rwandan and Ugandan troops re-entered Congo in August 1998 to support a new rebel group comprised primarily of Banyamulenge defectors from the Congolese army. Although initially highly successful, the intervention of Angola, Zimbabwe, and other African countries on behalf of Kabila produced a stalemate on the battlefield and fracturing of the rebel movement, including a rupture between erstwhile allies Rwanda and Uganda. A humanitarian and human rights disaster ensued, in which all sides engaged in attacks on civilians.31 The second Congo war pushed the Hutu militias deeper into Congo and put them on the defensive. Since late 1999, the RPF has experienced no organized armed resistance, and the RPF has engaged in no large-scale attacks on civilians within Rwanda.

In most of Rwanda, after the initial wave of violence in 1994 and 1995, the RPF shifted to subtler means of control. By appearing moderate and inclusive in their governance, quickly and effectively rebuilding the infrastructure, and promoting rapid economic growth, they hoped to build legitimacy and gain support from as much of the Rwandan population as possible – not only genocide survivors and repatriated Tutsi, but sympathetic Hutu as well. The RPF leadership appealed to the international community for financial assistance, playing on the diplomatic community’s guilt over the failure to stop the genocide and promising that resources would not be squandered on corruption and inefficiency. International inputs focused at first on emergency assistance but shifted to development of the infrastructure and social services, allowing the government to provide direct benefits to the population.32 Education was an early major policy focus, as the RPF sought to expand the number of schools, increase the percentage of children matriculating, and improve the quality of education. The government shifted to a merit-based system of advancement, both eliminating the ethnic quota system that limited opportunities for Tutsi and demonstrating a willingness to provide opportunities to Hutu.33

Contradictions in RPF policy ultimately undermined efforts to promote legitimacy. On ethnicity, for example, the RPF discouraged open discussion of ethnic identities and issued new identity cards that eliminated mention of ethnicity, but at the same time, the calculated appointment of Hutu to top government posts in the effort to appear inclusive demonstrated a continuing consciousness of ethnicity. Despite a façade of inclusivity, in practice RPF leaders feared relinquishing real control to anyone outside their immediate constituency, and real power remained in the hands of Tutsi from the RPF, mostly former refugees from Uganda. In ministries and other offices led by Hutu, the second- or third-ranked position was always held by a Tutsi RPF officer, usually Anglophone, who retained real control.34 Rwandans widely believed that Paul Kagame, the Tutsi RPF leader who served as vice-president and minister of defense, was more powerful than President Bizimungu and actually called the shots.35 In August 1995, five Hutu ministers – including Nkubito, Twagiramungu, and Sendashonga – resigned from the Government of National Unity, complaining about their lack of real power and the continuing violence perpetrated by RPF soldiers.36

The approach to civil society and the press similarly undermined efforts to promote legitimacy, as they contradicted claims about the irrelevance of ethnicity and demonstrated the RPF’s willingness to use force. The RPF allowed civil society groups to proliferate but sought to rein them in, ensuring that people they could trust were in leadership positions – generally repatriated Tutsi, but also sometimes genocide survivors.37 Where necessary, the RPF used coercion to force groups to change their leadership to preferred candidates. For example, churches faced pressures to appoint leaders trusted by the RPF. In the Free Methodist Church, RPF troops reportedly encircled a national church board meeting in 1995 until it selected the RPF’s preferred candidate, while the regime froze the bank accounts of the Episcopal and Pentecostal churches until they agreed to leadership changes.38 Among human rights organizations, two largely Tutsi groups received strong RPF backing, as did the main umbrella group for human rights organizations, after they selected as president a Tutsi genocide survivor with close ties to the regime who discouraged the group and its member organizations from researching RPF abuses.39 By contrast, groups headed by Father Sibomana and former Justice Minister Nkubito faced considerable harassment. After Nkubito died in 1997, the RPF exploited his group’s status as a voluntary organization by flooding its membership roles with RPF supporters who redirected the group away from investigating RPF abuses. The executive secretary, Richard Nsanzabaganwa, himself a Tutsi genocide survivor, fled Rwanda in 1998.40 While ostensibly allowing newspapers to publish freely, in practice, journalists who criticized the RPF or challenged its vision for Rwanda were routinely harassed. As Allan Thompson writes, “Shortly after coming to power, the RPF began to censor independent journals and persecute independent journalists.”41

Selective use of violence also helped the regime keep the population in line. Although relatively rare, assassinations remained a tool to silence political opponents and send a message to other would-be dissidents. Two Hutu RPF members who fled Rwanda and became regime critics, Sendashonga and member of parliament Théoneste Lizinde, were assassinated in Nairobi in 1997 and 1998. Occasional attacks on journalists and civil society activists had a chilling effect on others who might speak out against the government.42 The general Hutu population also faced periodic disappearances and summary executions, helping to keep ordinary citizens in line, though large-scale violence was limited to Congo and northwest Rwanda.43

The threat of arrest and detention ultimately became more common than the actual use of violence to control both Hutu elites and the general population.44 The number of Hutu arrested on genocide charges continued to mount. In 1996, the government adopted new laws governing genocide crimes, and in December they began the first genocide trials. A 1996 policy requiring all Rwandans to return to their communes of origin to receive new identity cards forced genocide suspects living in Kigali and elsewhere to return to their home communities, where many were arrested. Thousands of Hutu who returned from Congo in 1996 were also arrested. By the end of 1998, 126,000 people were in prison on genocide charges.45

While initial RPF efforts to maintain control focused on Hutu, beginning in 1999, Tutsi critics of the government faced increasing threat of reprisal, something that has remained a factor in Rwandan politics, belying the effort to explain Rwandan politics in simple ethnic terms. In November 1999, the RPF arrested around 200 people in Kigali and charged them with supporting a supposed new security threat, “The Army of the King.” Although a Tutsi, the Rwandan King, living in exile since 1961, by custom represented interests of all Rwandans. Some Rwandans hoped for his return, believing that he could provide a rallying point for a multi-ethnic alternative to Kagame and the RPF. The idea of the king’s return gained support not only among Hutu, but among some Tutsi genocide survivors frustrated with the post-genocide government and even among repatriated Tutsi from Burundi and Congo, frustrated at the dominance of Tutsi repatriated from Uganda. As HRW explained at the time, “The multi-ethnic nature of the monarchist group poses a major challenge to authorities who previously could discredit opposition groups for being composed only of Hutu and for including persons implicated in the genocide.”46 The willingness to target Tutsi became an important element in Kagame and the RPF’s move to further consolidate control.

Toward a New Political Order

The imidugudu program was an early RPF attempt to radically reconstruct Rwandan society and drive development. It served as a forerunner to the more extensive programs for social engineering implemented after 2000. In December 1996, the government adopted a National Habitat Policy in which they proposed to move all Rwandans in rural areas out of their traditional scattered homesteads and into villages, known as imidugudu (singular, umudugudu). The immediate impetus for the policy was the conflict over housing arising from the mass return of refugees from Tanzania and Congo, since many of the repatriated Tutsi who had returned to Rwanda beginning in 1994 had occupied homes abandoned by Hutu who had gone into exile and now had returned, seeking to reclaim their property. However, the RPF had been talking about the need for reorganizing rural life since the 1993 Arusha Accords, and housing built by the government, UNHCR, and other international agencies since 1994 for genocide survivors and repatriated refugees was entirely in concentrated settlements. The primary justification stated in the law for moving rural people into concentrated settlements was economic development – to facilitate the provision of public services and allow land redistribution. A January 1997 law banned building new homes outside designated sites, and in February the government began implementing the villagization policy in the eastern prefectures of Umutara, Kibungo, and Kigali-Rural. Authorities ordered residents to abandon their homes and build new houses in designated locations. At the same time, they also redistributed land in many areas to repatriated Tutsi. The imidugudu policy was expanded into in Gisenyi and Ruhengeri as order was restored in 1998 and 1999, with displaced families in many areas required to move into newly constructed villages rather than returning to their homes.47

Not surprisingly, the attempt to force people to leave their homes and move into the new settlements met with considerable resistance. By tradition, Rwandans did not live in villages but in scattered homesteads, and the smallest unit of social organization was the hill (umusozi). The traditional pattern of habitation throughout Rwanda consisted of families living in an enclosed compound surrounded by banana groves and fields, with adult children and other relatives often living in close proximity in their own compounds. The new imidugudu were often quite far from fields, requiring farmers to walk long distances to cultivate and making protecting fields from theft difficult. Despite the claim that a major goal of the program was to improve the quality of rural life, services arrived slowly to most imidugudu. Although foreign donors supported construction in some areas, the new houses were often inferior to those that families were forced to abandon. In many cases individuals had to build new homes without any assistance or resources. Because of resistance, government officials employed threats and sometimes fined individuals who refused to move, though little violence was reported. Many people were also required to destroy their existing homes even before the new homes were constructed.48

Although the program of forced villagization was put on hold in 1999 because of strong resistance from donors, the government made clear that it intended eventually to pursue villagization,49 and the land reform policies adopted a few years later continued to call for villagization of most rural residents. Discussing agrarian and land reform, Saskia van Hoyweghen contended that the repatriated Tutsi, “have not only brought with them different experiences but most of all a vision of what their home country ought to be like and a strong will to re-shape it to fit the mould.”50 While part of an ostensibly well-intentioned program to promote development and improve rural life, popular resistance required the government to force compliance. As many of those who resisted expected, the final result of the program was actually to make conditions worse for most of those affected. As with many later policies in Rwanda, good intentions were tempered by security concerns that ended up dominating much of the imidugudu policy’s implementation. HRW’s research indicates that Tutsi genocide survivors were particularly affected by the policy, many of them resisted, and many faced government coercion forcing them to relocate.51

The year 2000 marked a major shift in the RPF’s governance of Rwanda, as the party assumed overt control of public institutions, Paul Kagame assumed more direct control of the party, and the government launched a much broader and more ambitious program of social and political transformation. A series of weekly meetings held at Village Urugwiro, the presidential residence, from May 1998 through March 1999, brought together Rwanda’s key political leaders to discuss the country’s future.52 The proposals that emerged from the meetings set the agenda for aggressive political reform and popular mobilization in the following decade – the promotion of national unity and fight against “sectarianism,” adoption of new national symbols, transition to a democratic system “suitable for Rwanda,” adoption of gacaca to speed the prosecution of genocide crimes, fighting corruption, land reform, promoting rapid economic development, and, above all, the need for popular participation.53 Transitional justice programs were thus embedded in a broader reform agenda, and the ethos of transitional justice, the idea of reshaping memory and identity through popular mobilization, pervaded other programs not obviously tied to truth-telling and accountability.

The consolidation of political power in the hands of the RPF began around 1998. While previously the RPF strove to be the dominant party in a coalition of independent political parties, in the late 1990s RPF leaders became increasingly intolerant of political independence and sought to establish more complete hegemonic control over Rwanda’s political life. The RPF sought to weaken and co-opt other political parties. While continuing to name ministers from other parties, the RPF stopped consulting party leaders on whom from their parties to appoint.54 Within the National Assembly, the RPF pushed through the creation of a Forum of Political Parties, a supra-parliamentary committee with the power to vet members and refuse to seat or remove those deemed unfit to hold office – allegedly those involved in corruption or promoting ethnic division, but in practice, those who challenged the supremacy of the RPF. The RPF dominated the Forum, giving them a veto over other parties’ members, thus creating a de facto one-party state.55

At the same time that the RPF acted to control other parties more thoroughly, Kagame moved to consolidate both the power of the executive branch and his own personal power. Although his role in the decisions was usually well hidden, Kagame sought to strengthen his hand by forcing the replacement of a number of ministers and other officials in the executive branch, including Alexis Kanyarengwe, a Hutu defector from the Habyarimana regime who served as chairman of the RPF during the 1990–1994 war and was vice prime minister and minister of the interior after 1994. Several individuals were driven out under charges of corruption, sometimes after parliamentary investigations; some Hutu were accused of having hidden their involvement in the genocide.56 Several prominent military officials were sent overseas as ambassadors or for military training, which served to neutralize their political influence as well as allowing Kagame to root out corruption that had been growing since the RPF’s intervention in mineral-rich DRC.57 Kagame also moved to rein in the independence of the judiciary. In 1998 and 1999, the RPF leadership pushed out five of the six supreme court justices. While two were Hutu, three were repatriated Tutsi members of the RPF, but they were not part of Kagame’s trusted inner circle; all were replaced by Kagame loyalists.58

Having laid the groundwork in 1998 and 1999, Kagame dramatically changed Rwanda’s political landscape in early 2000 by replacing the country’s three top officials, personally assuming the presidency, and making clear that his regime would not tolerate dissent or insubordination even from Tutsi genocide survivors. The first national leader to be forced out was the speaker of the National Assembly, Joseph Sebarenzi. Although he was not in Rwanda in 1994, having fled after being arrested in the sweep of Tutsi following the October 1990 RPF invasion, Sebarenzi was closely identified with the survivors’ community. A well-respected man of high integrity from the Liberal Party that drew its primary support from genocide survivors, Sebarenzi attempted to build the independence of the legislative branch and provide oversight on executive action, which brought him into regular disagreement with Kagame. As a Tutsi who had been outside the country in 1994, he could not be slandered with accusations of genocide complicity; instead, he was falsely accused of working with the deposed king to overthrow the government and of misusing public funds. Under pressure from the RPF – ultimately including direct pressure from Kagame – Sebarenzi resigned his position in early January 2000 and secretly fled the country, fearing for his safety.59

Pierre-Célestin Rwigema, a Hutu from the MDR who had succeeded Twagiramungu as prime minister, was forced to resign in February, under accusations of corruption and fled to the United States.60 The RPF ultimately brought genocide charges against him and sought his extradition from the United States, which was rejected.61 Bernard Makuza, another Hutu from the MDR became prime minister, but unlike Rwigema, he was handpicked by Kagame, lacked a constituency within the party, and ultimately left the MDR to join the RPF. Kagame’s next target was President Bizimungu, who had found himself increasingly at odds with Kagame. After Théoneste Lizinde’s and Sendashonga’s departures (and assassinations) and Kanyarengwe’s resignation in 1997, Bizimungu was the last leading Hutu in the RPF leadership. Along with appointing Hutu to important government posts, allowing a few parties to operate with limited freedom, and portraying the image of a balance of powers between the executive, legislature, and judiciary, placing Hutu in prominent roles in the RPF leadership was part of the strategy used until 2000 to disguise the real nature of power in Rwanda. With an official transition to democratic government and planned elections, it became important both for the RPF’s supremacy to be more firmly established and for Kagame to situate himself more clearly as national leader. The removal of Sebarenzi and Rwigema, along with the creation of the Forum of Political Parties, helped to weaken the independence of the other parties. Although few Rwandans believed Bizimungu was ever at the center of RPF power, he had become an obstacle to Kagame’s ambitions. He resigned under pressure in March 2000 and immediately faced charges of tax fraud and other forms of corruption.62

With Bizimungu’s resignation, Kagame assumed the presidency, stepping from behind the curtain that had obscured his power to situate himself publicly as the key player in Rwandan politics. Yet the actual organization of power within the RPF remained concealed. Sebarenzi wrote that, “Kagame controlled people through secrecy. No one ever knew what he really thought about anything until it was too late.”63 Kagame was at the center of a shifting group of powerful RPF officials that grew progressively smaller as he concentrated control increasingly in his own hands and those of a few people that he trusted but did not view as serious contenders for his power. As four powerful members of the RPF’s inner circle who broke with Kagame and fled Rwanda in the late 2000s wrote in 2010:

The RPF has, over time, been transformed into a vehicle to serve the political and economic interests of one person – the party president. President Kagame does not tolerate dissenting views within the RPF … All major decisions affecting the organization are made by the party leader, President Paul Kagame. Organs of the party are merely rubber stamps that serve to legitimize decisions already made by the party leader and his very few close advisers behind the scenes. The party, like the rest of the country, is engulfed by fear, held hostage to President Kagame’s arbitrary and repressive rule.64

Control Through Co-optation and Intimidation: RPF Rule 2000–2015

After taking direct power in 2000, Kagame and the RPF shifted further away from general use of violence and increasingly sought to exercise authority over the population through implicating them in a wide range of mass mobilization programs. The government required the general public to mobilize for gacaca courts, constitutional reform, elections, umuganda community labor, ingando re-education camps, land reform, and other programs. Failure to participate led not only to reprimands and fines but to heightened official scrutiny that made government services harder to access and exposed noncompliant individuals to the possibility of harassment, arrest, and even violence. Those people willing to embrace the RPF and its initiatives overtly and enthusiastically received preferential treatment, political positions, and other incentives. This created a system of punishments and rewards that pushed those outside the RPF’s main constituency to adapt their behavior, strengthening RPF control and undercutting potential opposition. As Anuradha Chakravarty pointed out, “Under conditions of the unrivaled dominance of the RPF, elite political actors learned over time to regulate themselves in anticipation of benefits and protections, and to avoid targeted punishments.”65 The system of incentives and punishments pressured not just the elite but ordinary Rwandans as well.

The programs for popular mobilization were part of a broad agenda of social, political, and economic transformation launched in 2000 that, taken together, marked a sweeping effort to reorganize public life and ultimately change the character of Rwandan society. Many of the RPF’s reform initiatives seemed motivated by a sincere desire to improve the lives of the Rwandan people. Yet the population experienced the numerous new regulations, repeated popular mobilizations, and ongoing institutional and spatial restructuring as heavy-handed and intrusive exercise of state power. As several scholars of post-genocide Rwanda have already noted,66 James Scott’s study of failed state-sponsored social engineering, Seeing Like a State, sheds light on how the RPF program for Rwanda can combine apparently well-intentioned ambitions for social improvement with disturbingly authoritarian tactics. According to Scott, many centralized modern states, directed by a vision of social improvement and technocratic expertise, have implemented plans for social reform that failed because they were imposed in a top-down fashion and did not adequately consult the populations most directly affected.67 A “high modernist” ideology, “involving uncritical belief in the possibilities for the comprehensive planning of human settlement and production” and implemented by a bureaucratic and authoritarian state unconstrained by an independent civil society, has driven programs like ujamaa villagization in Nyerere’s Tanzania or the construction of planned cities like Brasilia.68

Yet in Rwandan, the RPF’s authoritarian implementation of programs was driven not only by technocratic arrogance but also by the beliefs that most of the Rwandan people were “willing executioners”69 of their neighbors and that genocide ideology remained deeply rooted within the population.70 Hence, the RPF’s agenda sought not simply to improve society according to a technocratic ideal but to transform Rwanda comprehensively and completely. The RPF regarded the population as not only ignorant but also flawed and morally deficient. Programs for political reform and economic development, thus, were linked directly to the ideas of transitional justice. Policies for urban renewal and agricultural restructuring sought to create a new prosperous country, rooted in a transformed unified national Rwandan identity. To resist the new Rwanda – for example, to object to being forced out of your home into a new suburban development or to oppose the requirements that you grow specified crops – was to hold onto the old Rwanda, the Rwanda of ignorance and genocide. Criticizing the government or challenging reforms demonstrated a genocidal ideology that had to be eliminated. To fail to buy into the narrative of the RPF as a progressive force for change was to embrace the narratives of the previous regime and to justify your exclusion from public life.

For much of the population, the supposedly benevolent initiatives to promote economic development, political participation, reconciliation, national unity, and accountability were built on a foundation of violent and repressive rule that prevailed between 1994 and 1999. As I will develop in the second half of the book, although the regime’s use of violence diminished after 2000, the experiences of losing family members to RPF violence, being driven violently from an IDP or refugee camp, or being imprisoned for years without the possibility of a trial remained in many people’s memories and shaped how they reacted to efforts to promote accountability, reconciliation, national unity, political participation, and economic development. Attempts to erase RPF oppression from popular memory ran up against people’s lived experiences and encouraged cynicism.

Confronting the Past and Envisioning the Future through Political Reform

The 1998–1999 Village Urugwiro meetings provided the starting point for many of the post-2000 political programs and reforms. The government created the National Human Rights Commission and National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) (both mentioned in the Arusha Accords) in 1999. While the Human Rights Commission has maintained a low public profile, the NURC launched an extensive, highly visible program to promote national unity, influenced by the idea drawn from transitional justice of confronting the past to move forward. Under the leadership of dynamic executive secretaries – Aloysia Inyumba, then from 2002 Fatuma Ndangiza, who as a Muslim woman in an key leadership post embodied the very sort of inclusivity that the NURC and the RPF claimed to promote – the NURC initiated programs in civic education and conflict mediation. Intentionally multi-ethnic in its work, the NURC regularly referenced the genocide but focused more on building current community relations.71

Among the most important NURC initiatives was ingando re-education camps, organized to teach the RPF’s ideas on national unity to returned refugees, released prisoners, entering university students, and others. With roots in secret training camps for Tutsi held during the 1990–1993 civil war,72 the Ministry of Youth Culture and Sports sponsored ingando within Rwanda as early as 1996, primarily for repatriated Tutsi. The idea to expand the program for more of the population came from the Village Urugwiro meetings. In 1999, the NURC began to sponsor ingando for ex-combatants returning from the DRC and Hutu militia members demobilized after the uprising in the northwest. The program was later required for prisoners released from detention, then expanded to include those perceived as future leaders – university students and newly elected government officials.73 The NURC official in charge of the ingando program told me that they had, “three objectives in civic education: to dispense education that will help inform the population, to help the population know their rights, and to help the population arrive at social unity.”74 He stated that the schedule included analysis of Rwanda’s history, with a focus on “the origins and nature of divisions … and the role of the community in the struggle against these divisions.”75 He and other officials insisted that the ingando held open discussion in which people were free to air their perspectives on Rwandan history.

My own interviews with ingando participants confirmed Chi Mgbako’s conclusion that “political indoctrination is a dominant part of the ingando experience.”76 While defenders of ingando claimed that they used a Socratic teaching method, in which students were challenged through questioning to determine their own basic ideas, the method was actually closer to a Maoist struggle session, in which students were pushed to engage in self-criticism and led to a pre-determined set of ideas about history, politics, and society. Participants in the ingando were indoctrinated in the historical narrative described in Chapter 2, with emphasis on cultural unity and what Andrea Purdeková calls “de-ethnicization,” the attempt to deconstruct and discredit ethnic identities.77 Susan Thomson concluded that despite this focus, “The graduates of these ingando camps that I met do not believe in the national unity of the re-imagined past or in the reconciliation of a re-engineered future. Rather, they see the camps and their ideological discourse as efforts to exercise social control over adult Hutu men.”78

In 2007, the NURC adapted ingando into a new program called itorero, referencing the historic training at the royal court of intore, the sons of chiefs destined to lead the Rwandan kingdom. The itorero now trains civil servants and other community leaders into a new class of intore, elites with a commitment to building the country “due to a change of the mindset, behavior and efficiency [sic] in work” who could serve as catalysts for national development.79

In another political reform seeking to reject Rwanda’s past and create a new Rwandan identity, in 2001 the government announced plans to change the country’s national symbols. Officials argued that the national anthem was divisive, because it contained references to the three ethnic groups, and that the flag and the national seal brought back hurtful memories to genocide survivors because the seal included an image of a machete (meant to symbolize Rwanda’s agricultural nature) while the flag included red, which some said represented the blood of the Tutsi. The general population was invited to submit designs for the new symbols, and much was made of the fact that the winning entry for national anthem was composed by a Hutu man in prison on genocide charges. The reform thus allowed the regime to wipe away vestiges of previous regimes while appearing to be responsive to the public will. (See Figure 6.)80

Figure 6 Rwanda’s new national flag

(Photo by author).

Reforms of state structures also combined efforts to confront the past and reshape Rwandan political identities for the future. Beginning in 2000, the RPF made substantial reforms to state institutions that directly affected how people organized themselves and related to the state. The government adopted a program of political decentralization that claimed to give greater autonomy to local communities. As part of decentralization, 154 communes governed by burgomasters were consolidated into 91 districts and 15 municipalities governed by mayors and executive committees.81 The government reordered political geography even more radically in 2006 by consolidating the country’s twelve prefectures (already renamed provinces in 2001, with prefects renamed governors in 2003) into five large provinces with reduced authority, while consolidating districts from 106 into 30. Sectors, the level below districts, were vested with increased responsibilities.82 The reordering of political space sought to reorient political loyalties and shape popular memory by – twice in five years – changing the names and boundaries of the units of government and the names of all government offices that people encountered most regularly and directly in their daily lives.

The RPF implemented the decentralization program of which the redrawn boundaries was the most visible part, “on the assumption that if decision making is undertaken at the local level where the problems are felt, there will be increased effectiveness, efficiency in service delivery, empowerment of citizens, and maximum participation of communities.”83 In practice, decentralization policies did more to streamline central state control than to transfer power to the local level.84 The first administrative reorganization showed promise of transferring greater power to the local level by vesting local governance in elected executive committees. At the district level, the councils included a mayor and several vice-mayors, each with a distinct portfolio. The 2006 reform, however, eliminated much of the power (and salaries) of the executive committees and councils and transferred most responsibilities to paid administrators appointed by the central government. The appointed executive secretaries became the most important leader in each sector, and they were not beholden to the local population.85

Central control over these executive secretaries was strengthened through a required annual performance contract with the president, in which each executive secretary agreed to specific targets for how his or her district will work toward national goals in the coming year. These contracts were called imihigo, referring to an oath that warriors made with the king in pre-colonial Rwanda.86 As Bert Ingelaere stated, the nature of the imihigo “implies that the chain of accountability goes upwards toward higher authorities and not downwards toward the population; the most powerful person is appointed, not elected.”87 While each district now established its own development plan, these were based directly on national goals set by the central government.88 Continuing control over financing for districts and sectors reinforced central power. The result of all this, according to Purdeková, is that the new structure “effectively ‘dispatches’ rather than ‘decentralises’ control. The latter would suggest that the centre loses some of its hold, but what we witness is not devolution of power to conceive and decide, just the devolution of implementation.”89 State restructuring thus combines a rejection of the previous political system (in throwing out the political lines drawn by Habyarimana), a nod to pre-colonial Rwanda (in naming the imihigo system), and a contradictory approach to reshaping the Rwandan future (purported devolution of power to the population that actually increases the power of the central government).

The transition to a supposedly democratic political system was another example of the inherent contradictions in RPF initiatives. Kagame’s ascension to the presidency took place at the beginning of a political process that the government characterized as a democracy transition. Elections for public offices were phased in beginning in 1999 at the level of the smallest administrative units, the cell and sector, expanding to the district level in 2001. The RPF leaders hoped that shifting to elected leaders would increase public connection to the government and improve domestic and international legitimacy. At the same time, they lacked confidence that the population was ready for a fully free electoral process. The actual transition, thus, sought to address legacies of authoritarian governance but actually consolidated authoritarian rule.

In 2001, the government launched a constitutional reform process that involved popular consultation but was tightly controlled by the RPF. Former head of the RPF’s political wing and member of the RPF inner circle, Tito Rutaremara, chaired the Legal and Constitutional Reform Commission. They presented proposed constitutional principles at public meetings around the country ostensibly seeking feedback, but the setting was not conducive to honest exchange. As one civil society leader told me, “The Constitutional Commission has a consultation process, but the population is skeptical. People doubt that their ideas will be taken into account. They say that they are going to consider the opinions of the majority, but how will this be determined?”90 The constitution was put up for a vote in May 2003 and passed with 90 percent support. Although the constitution guaranteed human rights and democracy, many Rwandans questioned the degree of democracy that the RPF would allow. The leader of a national civil society group told me:

Democracy and good governance are good principles, but they need to be put into action. That is always the problem, to put them into action. I don’t personally see much democratic opening. It is true that just after the war, all of life was militarized. That has diminished. But as for democratic opening, I don’t really see it. According to some testimonies, there were cases where the authorities elected were not the ones who won. There were candidates that the RPF absolutely wanted elected, and in most cases, they were elected.91

The transition culminated in 2003 with presidential elections in August and parliamentary elections in September and October. While the RPF claimed that the 2003 elections marked a transition to full democracy, in fact the RPF leadership tightly controlled the elections and the results allowed the party to assume an even more dominant hold on government. In the 2003 elections, only parties in close alliance with the RPF were allowed to operate freely, while parties that sought to remain independent of the RPF were suppressed. The Forum of Political Parties was written into the 2003 constitution, allowing the RPF to veto parties and candidates, yet at the same time the regime continued to aggressively suppress parties it deemed as presenting a potential threat. In May 2001, former President Pasteur Bizimungu announced the formation of a new party, the Party for Democratic Renewal-Ubuyanja (PDR-Ubuyanja). As he asserted at the time, “If you do not share the ideas of those in power, you are threatened and put in jail.”92 As if to prove his point, the government immediately banned the party, and the organizers were arrested, beaten, killed, or disappeared. Bizimungu was himself arrested, tried, and sentenced in 2004 to fifteen years in prison, though Kagame pardoned him in 2007.93

Even more extensive actions were taken to subdue the RPF’s most persistent rival, the MDR. In March 2003, a parliamentary commission issued an official report charging the MDR with encouraging “divisionism” and “genocide ideology,” and in April, the parliament voted unanimously to ban the MDR. The report accused forty-seven individuals by name of supporting divisionism; one disappeared shortly before the party was banned and several others fled the country.94 The MDR presidential candidate, former Prime Minister Twagiramungu, was allowed to appear on the ballot as an independent, but the government forbade him from organizing rallies and confiscated his campaign literature, while the pro-RPF press attacked and threatened him. According to official results, Kagame won the 2003 elections with 95.1 percent of the vote, compared to Twagiramungu’s 3.6 percent, but outside observers widely condemned the elections as fraudulent, both because of the pressure on the population to vote for Kagame and the manipulation of the results.95 In the parliamentary elections, the RPF and its official allies won 73.8 percent of the vote. The rest of the vote went to parties allied with the RPF.96 The Rwandan population experienced the elections not as a transition to democracy but as a series of forced mobilizations that ultimately helped to consolidate RPF rule.

Subsequent elections have been no more free or fair. After the 2003 vote, rumors spread that districts that voted too heavily for the opposition were punished by cuts in funding and projects, while their administrators were sacked. People also claimed that despite a supposedly secret ballot, individuals who voted for Twagiramungu were harassed and intimidated.97 In subsequent elections the population thus feared the consequences of voting against the RPF, and administrators worked to ensure that their communities provided the RPF with maximum votes possible. In 2008 parliamentary elections, official results gave the RPF coalition only 78.8 percent of the vote, but a European Union Election Observation Mission found that actual support for the RPF was 98.4 percent,98 suggesting that the RPF artificially inflated results for other parties to make the elections appear more legitimate.

Blatant intimidation marred the 2010 presidential elections. A group of dissident RPF members, mostly Anglophone Tutsi returnees from Uganda, formed the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) in 2009 but were prevented from holding an official foundational convention. Both the DGPR and another new party, the United Democratic Forces-Inkingi (Forces démocratiques unifiées Inkingi, FDU-Inkingi), were prevented from officially registering and so could not field presidential candidates. Victoire Ingabire, the FDU-Inkingi’s leader, was physically attacked, then later arrested for “genocide ideology” after she spoke publicly at a genocide memorial about the need to commemorate both the Tutsi victims of the genocide and Hutu victims of crimes against humanity. She was released on bail then re-arrested just after the elections and ultimately tried and sentenced to eight years in prison. The Social Party-Imberakuri was allowed to register in 2009, but its president and general secretary were arrested, preventing the party from fielding a presidential candidate. On July 13, 2010, the vice-president of the DGPR was assassinated. Without any serious opposition and in a climate of intimidation, Kagame won re-election with 93.8 percent of the vote.99

The RPF’s use of elections confuses many outside observers, who feel either that the RPF’s high election numbers serve as evidence of its popularity or reveal the regime’s authoritarian nature, leading them to ask why the regime bothers with elections at all.100 In fact, the use of elections has long been a standard feature of authoritarian regimes seeking to mobilize and distract their populations and build international legitimacy.101 What distinguishes the form of elections practiced by the RPF from elections sponsored by past authoritarian regimes is the inclusion of other political parties and candidates that give a greater appearance of competition, even though the final result is pre-determined. Yet this practice – what Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way term “competitive authoritarianism”102 – is common to many post–Cold War authoritarian regimes. As William Dobson points out from a comparison of Russia, Venezuela, Malaysia, and Egypt, allowing highly constrained competition can bolster regimes by appeasing the international community and distracting and enervating potential opponents.103

The organization of elections is important in mobilizing the population and integrating them into the state,104 but the RPF does not trust Rwandans to use democracy wisely. As Tito Rutaremara, then head of the Legal and Constitutional Reform Commission, told me:

If you give freedom to someone who is ignorant and incompetent, he will not know how to use it … Here in Rwanda, democracy doesn’t mean democracy; it means majority. Officials and others hide behind ethnicity and call it democracy. But when you go to the population, they tell you something different: ‘The problems come from the middle class. You people from political parties, you people from Kigali, come to consensus.’ We need a period of building consensus before we come to a more confrontational democracy.105

The 2003 constitution included a two-term limit for the presidency, a principle President Kagame claimed at the time to accept. Yet in advance of 2017 elections, calls for term limits to be eliminated proliferated. Kagame supporters organized a campaign to collect signatures in favor of amending the constitution and delivered thousands of petitions to parliament. Yet as I discuss in Chapter 6, this did not reflect the popular will, as people were coerced into signing the petitions. Though he claimed to be reluctant to stay on, Kagame apparently dismissed two senior members of the RPF leadership from ministerial posts because they opposed his bid for a third term.106 Parliament adopted the proposed constitutional amendment unanimously, and 98 percent of the population voted in favor of the change in a December 2015 referendum.107

One aspect of the RPF’s program of political reform deserves particular praise – the promotion of women’s political participation. Women have served in a number of influential national positions, including as president of the Supreme Court, president of the gacaca courts, leader of the NURC, Mayor of Kigali, and Ombudsman. The post-genocide governments regularly included a number of women in the cabinet. Women were well represented at other level as well. The RPF ensured that the new electoral system adopted in 2003 would guarantee significant representation for women, setting aside 30 percent of seats in the lower house for women while also requiring parties to include women in their party lists. As a result, in the 2003 parliamentary elections, women won 48.8 percent of seats, giving Rwanda the highest percentage of women in any legislature. In the 2008 elections, Rwanda became the first country in the world where women constituted a legislative majority. While the authoritarian nature of the Rwandan state limits the influence of the parliament, including for women representatives, significant legal reforms to benefit women have been adopted, such as increasing women’s inheritance rights.108 The RPF created opportunities for other marginalized groups as well, such as handicapped and youth, who were also guaranteed representation in government institutions.

Limiting Dissent, Manufacturing Support

Just as the RPF gradually extended control over all formal political society by co-opting, threatening, or banning every competing political party, they also systematically subdued civil society and the media. They initially used extralegal means – attacks, illegal detentions, and assassinations – to silence critics, but after 2000 the RPF used the law itself as an effective tool to hobble groups that they believed threaten their hegemony. The RPF drew on the legacy of the genocide and laudable goal of preventing future ethnic violence to adopt a legal framework that allowed them to crack down on critics in the name of accountability and genocide prevention. Charges of genocide complicity continued to be used to disqualify some Hutu politicians and activists, but a series of other laws proved very effective tools for suppressing potential dissent. In 2001, Rwanda’s parliament adopted a Law on Prevention, Suppression, and Punishment of the Crimes of Discrimination and Sectarianism that included language criminalizing the undefined crime of “divisionism.” This law made the growing taboo on discussing ethnic identity formally illegal. This law effectively precludes complaints of discrimination against Hutu and also allows those who would criticize the government to be accused of fomenting division. The government cracked down on Bizimungu’s PDR-Ubuyanja with accusations of divisionism. Other groups and individuals were accused of association with PDR-Ubuyanja and by extension of promoting divisionism. Laurien Ntezimana was a long-time organizer of Catholic reconciliation programs whose organization, Association Modeste et Innocent (AMI) included the word “ubuyanja,” a term meaning rebirth or renewal, in the masthead of their journal, Ubuntu. In January 2002, Ntezimana and two others from his organization were arrested. Though released after a month, their organization was banned and Ubuntu was forced to cease publication.109

Laws banning negation of the genocide and “genocide ideology” have been used to similar effect. Article 13 of the 2003 constitution declared that, “Revisionism, negationism and trivialisation of genocide are punishable by the law.”110 The constitution also sets as the state’s first “fundamental principle,” “fighting the ideology of genocide and all its manifestations; – eradication of ethnic, regional and other divisions and promotion of national unity.”111 Banning the denial that the killing of Tutsi in 1994 was genocide resembles European laws banning Holocaust denial, but as Lars Waldorf explained, in Rwanda genocide denial has been conflated with genocide ideology in a way that “has made it much harder to distinguish true negationism from unwanted political criticism.”112 In 2004, a process similar to the one used to ban the MDR was directed against Rwanda’s last remaining independent human rights organization, the LIPRODHOR, which had faced growing harassment for several years. A parliamentary report claimed that some members of LIPRODHOR had been involved in the 1994 genocide and that others were guilty of promoting genocide ideology. The report linked LIPRODHOR to recent attacks on Tutsi genocide survivors and urged that the organization be banned.113 A list was leaked of LIPRODHOR activists to be arrested, leading a number to flee the country. The parliamentary report also named several international non-governmental organizations, including Care, Norwegian People’s Aid, and Trocaire, as purveyors of genocide ideology.114

A 2006 Senate commission issued a lengthy report on genocide ideology that “conflates genocide ideology with any ethnic discourse, political criticism, revisionism, and negationism.”115 A fourth parliamentary commission issued a report in 2007 focused on genocide ideology in schools, accusing some school administrators, teachers, and students of manifesting genocide ideology, leading a number to flee the country. Parliament adopted a law in 2008 against genocide ideology that included only a vague definition of the term, allowing considerable discretion in enforcement.116 The desire to prevent genocide ideology and stop people from promoting social divisions is understandable, but in practice accusations of divisionism and genocide ideology have been used mostly to silence government critics.

Other strategies allowing the RPF to assert control over civil society and the media included a 2001 civil society law that required non-governmental groups officially to register, allowing considerable control over their organization, financing, and activities. Following the model of the Forum of Political Parties, the regime used self-regulation to enforce its will, with the four leading civil society umbrella groups establishing a Civil Society Platform in 2004 that regulated relations between civil society and the government, while the Media High Council regulated the content of the media. In 2009, a new media law regulated journalists by setting educational and other standards that are selectively enforced.117 The RPF also continued to use co-optation to take control of organizations. In 2013, the government again targeted LIPRODHOR – weak but still functioning – to install a sympathetic board of directors.118 Even the organization of genocide widows, Association of Genocide Widows Agahozo (Association des Veuves du Génocide Agahozo, AVEGA), was led by a repatriated Tutsi rather than a survivor. When necessary to assert control, the RPF remained willing to use coercive force. The government seized and suspended newspapers and shut down radio stations. The BBC’s Kinyarwanda-language broadcasts were twice suspended.119 Anjan Sundaram, who ran a training program for journalists in Kigali for five years, listed sixty journalists killed, attacked, arrested, or otherwise harassed in Rwanda between 1995 and 2014. The government’s efforts to control journalists, he argued, forced them to self-censor and silenced journalists with fear and paranoia.120

RPF efforts to rein in civil society and the media have targeted all ethnic groups. The umbrella survivors organization, Ibuka, became increasingly critical of the government in the late 1990s, decrying the government’s failure to provide financial compensation to genocide survivors. Leaders of the community of genocide survivors saw the 2000 assassination of Assiel Kabera, former prefect of Kibuye Prefecture and advisor to President Bizimungu, as a warning, since one of his brothers was vice-president of Ibuka and the other was executive secretary of the National Fund for Genocide Survivors (FARG). Both fled the country, as did founding Ibuka member Bosco Rutagengwa and Secretary General Anastase Murumba.121 The board of Ibuka then appointed Antoine Mugesera, a member of the RPF Central Committee who was outside Rwanda in 1994, as new executive secretary. The observations of Janvier Kanyamashuli, Director of FARG, effectively revealed the government’s perspective on the affair:

The original [Ibuka] founders are out of the country, they have fled. They were very hot, but they were not close to the members of Ibuka. They wanted a war with the government. Their confrontational approach was not advantageous to the government. Ibuka today works closely with the NURC. They have taken a major role in gacaca. They have opted for a method of consensus and compromise.122

RPF efforts to quash dissent have extended to every corner of society. In 2014, Kizito Mihigo, a genocide survivor and popular gospel singer, fell afoul of the regime when he released a song, “The Significance of Death,” in which he called for honoring the memory not only of victims of the genocide but also of victims of massacres, presumably meaning Hutu. He was arrested and charged with conspiring against the regime then confessed in a public press conference where he was handcuffed and appeared to show signs of torture.123

Rwanda today boasts numerous civil society organizations, but almost none are independent of the state. Rwanda has moved toward a corporatist structure, in which civil society groups help to implement government policy rather than serving as vehicles for interest groups to express their ideas to the state. A journalist close to the regime reflected the attitude of RPF supporters that civil society and the media were more a threat than a resource. “We have been able to contain the elites who might otherwise do bad. We need to continue to limit elite society.”124 Human rights leader Noel Twagiramungu told me that after Bizimungu launched his political party, President Kagame made clear to civil society that they needed to stop relying on international support and instead ally with the government: “At a speech a few weeks later, Kagame said ‘The international community is not ready to help us, just to use us. There is no free lunch … You in civil society, you have to make a choice: working with your government hand in hand or remaining beggars … Neither for the government nor for civil society, there is no free lunch.’”125 The head of a leading civil society group said that his organization:

still works, but we have troubles. Many of the founders have left the country … There is a general impression that civil society has lost its weight. Since 1997, we have seen a weakening of groups due to the infiltration of some of them and the intimidation of others … There are no longer any activists. Some have left the groups, many have fled the country, a few have been brought into government. The press merely plays a role in diffusion of information from the government. They just read what they are given.126

No obvious options exist for those unhappy with the government and its policies to express their discontent. The RPF even showed its willingness to pursue Rwandans who would try to criticize the regime from abroad. A former close Kagame ally turned dissident, Kayumba Nyamwasa, survived two assassination attempts in exile in South Africa, while former intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya was killed in Johannesburg in 2014.127

Not content to limit the ability of Rwandans to dissent, the regime has sought to mobilize the population to display active support. After the 2000 transition to direct RPF rule, the regime began to require popular mobilization for a variety of public programs. People were required to attend numerous public meetings held to discuss the transition, the proposed constitution, and elections, and people were mobilized to vote in a series of elections between 1999 and 2003. The gacaca courts involved extensive and regular popular mobilization beginning in 2001. Once the courts were launched nationally in 2005, communities had to gather weekly for much of a day to deliberate on genocide cases. A program of collective public labor called umuganda, originally implemented by the Habyarimana regime to bring communities together to repair roads, build bridges, terrace fields, and do other community improvement projects, was gradually reinstituted in communities across Rwanda as early as 1998. In 2007, the parliament adopted a law mandating umuganda throughout the country, with all adults required to join their communities in service programs on the last Saturday of each month (though in many communities, particularly in rural areas, umuganda occurs more often).128

Some of these public programs, such as umuganda and gacaca, levied fines against those who failed to attend. Others, such as public meetings or the annual genocide commemorations, do not legally require attendance, but participation is expected. Officials note those who do not participate and identify them as potential troublemakers who need to receive increased scrutiny. Thus, when RPF party leaders or government officials call, most people show up because they fear the consequences of failing to do so.

Vision 2020: An Ambitious Development Agenda

The restrictions on political and civil life described above were premised in part on mistrust of the population and an assumption that security remained fragile, but limitations on free expression and political participation were also justified on the assumption that what most Rwandans ultimately really wanted was peace and prosperity. As one NURC official told me:

I don’t think that the Rwandan population is ready for a democracy of one-man-one-vote. There are prerequisites. The population is not ready for multiparty government. We need to teach them more. They first need to eat. We need to fight poverty. We need to teach people about their rights. We need to train the population to respect diversity. The elections next year will be really hot. What the peasants want is not that but security. The intellectuals want elections. But for peasants, hunger is a greater concern.129

Peace was regarded as a necessary precondition for economic development, and dissent was regarded as disruptive and destabilizing. Kagame held up Singapore as a model for rapid economic development – a small densely populated country without natural resources where strict government control and good governance pushed the population into prosperity that gained the government popular support despite its authoritarian practices.130

RPF leaders had a strong commitment to modernization as an engine for economic growth. The six pillars of Vision 2020131 that have guided much of Rwanda’s policy program since 2000 reflect a technocratic approach to governance that places great faith in economists and other experts.132 The flip side of the faith in expertise and modernization is a distrust and disdain for ordinary Rwandans, particularly rural farmers. The approach Rwandan leaders take to policy development and implementation reflects a belief that most Rwandans are backward and must be pushed to embrace new modes of behavior, social structures, and economic practices they are likely to resist but that will ultimately benefit them. According to An Ansoms:

The social engineering ambitions of the Rwandan government officials reveal a very top-down developmentalist agenda without much room for grassroots participation or for bottom-up feedback. Instead, the elite approaches law and policy as tools for ‘shaping’ society, and often neglects to consider the institutional and environmental conditions in which the new law(s) will operate … The elite believes in a rapid modernization and professionalization of the agricultural sector, and strongly rejects subsistence-based agriculture, although it remains the way of life for the majority of the rural population.133

Christopher Huggins notes, “The ‘good governance’ concept in Rwanda [one of the pillars of Vision 2020] has greater emphasis on efficiency and anti-corruption principles, and less on citizen empowerment, than elsewhere.”134

The imidugudu program was a first major attempt to restructure Rwandan society. Motivated by the ideas that villages make greater economic sense and are more sustainable and that concentrating settlement facilitates service delivery, the villagization program, which remains official policy, represents a major reordering of Rwanda’s rural social structure.135 Since 2000, the government has implemented a variety of additional rural economic programs, many of them also highly disruptive to traditional social structures and practices. As a group of scholars of rural development in Rwanda has written:

[T]he government’s vision for a professional, market-driven and efficient agricultural sector appears incompatible with traditional Rwandan habitat and cultivation patterns as well as landownership arrangements … and risk-averse agricultural practices, common among Rwandan peasants. Therefore, Rwandan authorities believe that a profound reorganization of rural space is required.136

Land reform has been a major government initiative. As families have grown and fields have been divided and subdivided over the generations, an increasing number of Rwandan households farm land that is simply too limited to produce the food necessary for subsistence. Since families cannot allow fields to lie fallow but must keep them in constant cultivation, the soil has become increasingly infertile.137 Land distribution and use are thus very serious problems, and to address them, the government has adopted several land reform programs. The government began to develop a new land policy in 2000, which culminated in the 2005 Organic Land Law and 2013 Land Law that required all land to be officially registered and all land sales to be regulated by the state. The idea of providing poor farmers with formal titles to their land and then regulating land sales within a market system, popularized by Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, has become a key idea promoted by international development agencies and embraced by the RPF regime to fight poverty and promote rural development.138

While the land reform laws make economic sense on their surface, in practice like other well-meaning government policies, they take little account of local realities and have been implemented in a heavy-handed fashion. Rwanda’s policy encourages land consolidation, even though “small family farms make up over 90 percent of all production units.”139 Rwandan farmers have traditionally maintained a number of dispersed fields as a risk aversion strategy, since fields on drier high hillsides produce in years with heavy rains, while fields in valleys produce in dry years. Pushing for consolidation thus exposes farmers to greater risk. In an attempt to prevent land from being subdivided into unsustainably small plots, the law forbids families from passing on holdings smaller than one hectare. Yet “three quarters of all households have landholdings below one hectare.”140 A number of factors in the land policy favor wealthy farmers. The land registration process required farmers to pay small fees that many poorer farmers did not feel that they could pay; meanwhile, wealthier farmers paid the fees and received land titles.141 According to Huggins, while Rwanda has prevented large-scale land acquisition by foreign investors and has less illegal land grabbing than many African countries, because policies favor land consolidation, land dispossession and consolidation have continued to occur.142

Until fairly recently, marshlands in much of Rwanda were considered public land and not cultivated. Many marshes began to be cleared in the 1970s, with small farmers setting up new fields that could augment food sources available to families but were unreliable because of flooding. One government strategy to encourage land consolidation and commercialization has been to establish greater control of these marshlands. The land law does not allow private claims to the fields in marshlands and requires that they only be cultivated by cooperatives. As research by Ansoms and Jude Murison indicates, however, in practice organizations presented as cooperatives have been controlled by powerful individuals who regulate what is cultivated and charge high fees for access to the fields. These fees prevent many poor farmers from farming these lands that were previously an important resource for them.143

A major element of the government’s strategy to commercialize agriculture has been to promote mono-cropping. Rwandan farmers have traditionally planted a diversity of crops in their fields, often interspersing crops like corn, manioc, beans, coffee and bananas in the same plot. The approach promoted by recent agriculture policies in Rwanda pushes farmers to plant a single crop in a field, planted in straight rows and supplied with fertilizer to increase production. Local government officials promote the crop that the central government has determined to be best for their region. While the strategies of mono-cropping and regional specialization expose farmers to greater risk, the government pressures farmers to adopt them by making seeds and fertilizer available only for the specified crop and providing extension support only for this crop.144

Approaches to urban development, particularly focused on Kigali, have been similarly driven by a technocratic approach, with outside experts lacking local cultural knowledge brought in to develop grandiose plans whose effect will be highly disruptive to many people. Before 1994, Kigali was a small, sleepy town of 236,000, more of an administrative center than a real metropolitan area. Rwanda had a distinctly rural identity, with 94 percent of the population living in the countryside, among the lowest rates of urbanization in the world.145 But over the past two decades, the population of Kigali skyrocketed, as a large portion of the repatriated Tutsi settled in the city, genocide survivors left the hillsides where their families were slaughtered to seek a new beginning in the capital or one of the country’s smaller cities, and tens of thousands of Hutu also migrated to Kigali, seeking opportunity in the city because of growing land scarcity or fleeing the increasingly oppressive exercise of control at the local level.

While in many cities around the world, rapid urbanization has compromised the quality of life, as crime, pollution, and squalid slums proliferate, Kigali has become more attractive as it has grown. Kigali’s streets were newly paved and lined with sidewalks of elegant interlocking brick. Gardens with fountains and statues at the center were placed in the middle of major intersections. New shopping and entertainment areas emerged, with cinemas, supermarkets, and nightclubs. Attractive new residential districts included housing that ranged from large apartment complexes to imposing single-family homes. Shiny new glass towers gave Kigali an impressive skyline. The recent changes in Kigali are only the beginning of a more radical reorganization of the city envisioned in the Kigali Conceptual Master Plan (KCMP), adopted by parliament in 2008 as part of the government’s Vision 2020.

The development of Kigali epitomizes the social transformations that the RPF has propelled in Rwanda since 2000, involving a grand and compelling vision for the future, partnerships between the government and its allies in business and society, crucial support from the international community, coupled with a dark underside of coercive implementation and the sacrificed interests of powerless and marginalized individuals in the name of the interests of the society. According to the Rwanda Development Board, the KCMP was “initiated as a vision by President Kagame”146 then developed by a high-powered American team that included OZ Architecture, the engineering firms AECOM and Tetra Tech, and the non-governmental organization Engineers without Borders. The 160-page KCMP has won awards from the American Planning Association and the American Academy of Landscape Architects.147

The KCMP involves a radical reconceptualization of Kigali as a carefully planned city along the lines of Brasilia, Dubai, or Abu Dhabi and includes drawings of gleaming glass towers and pristine shopping districts along tree-lined boulevards.148 The comprehensiveness of the plan is breathtaking, a fantastic example of Scott’s high modernist vision. The plan recognizes the challenges posed by the fact that many of the areas slated for development are already occupied, yet suggests a process of community involvement in “redevelopment and upgrading in the existing urban area,”149 including “informal settlements,” the crowded districts where migrants from rural areas have built small homes, usually without authorization:

The transformation of informal urban settlements to achieve the goals and objectives … depends on a clear understanding of existing conditions, development opportunities and constraints, and incorporating the vision and capabilities of the residents. This plan proposes a prototype for the transformation of informal settlements based on three planning principles: the inclusion of local knowledge, the strategic allocation and retrofitting of infrastructure, and the consolidation of basic services into community venues.150

Such a benign process may be possible in democratic societies, but in a country like Rwanda where public discourse is highly constrained, the implementation of a grand vision of this sort will almost unavoidably involve considerable coercion. The rehabilitation of Kigali began several years before the KCMP was drafted. Beginning as early as 2001, the Kigali city government oversaw the laying of sidewalks and planting of gardens. The work often employed prisoners, who could be seen participating in works crews in their bright pink prison uniforms. The use of prisoners expanded substantially after the gacaca process was reformed in 2005 so that most confessed genocidaires would not conduct community service within their local neighborhood as originally envisioned but would instead serve a period of community service in labor camps, a large number of which were built encircling Kigali.151 While the plan to reduce prison sentences through public service requirements had merit, the use of prison labor to rebuild Kigali certainly lay beyond the naïve vision of the KCMP.

The implementation of policies seeking “the transformation of informal urban settlements” was particularly troubling. In the name of urban renewal, the government of Kigali bulldozed homes in poor neighborhoods such as Kimisagara, Kimicanga, and Gacuriro. The authorities justified the demolitions because of the unsafe conditions of the homes due to poor quality construction, lack of water, sewage, and electricity, overcrowding, and dangers of flood and landslide. While the government has generally provided limited compensation to residents and homeowners, the construction of new housing for people has lagged, creating demand that has drastically driven up the price of both land and housing. Much of the new affordable housing is being built in areas far removed from the city center, such as the largely rural Gasabo district.152 As Vincent Manirakiza and An Ansoms stated:

The stringent conditions for urban settlements in line with the city master plan are unrealistic for a large majority of the urban poor. In practice, the implementation of such urbanization policies therefore leads to geographic dualisation, characterized by a rising gap between the living quality in planned urban quarters and living conditions in spontaneous or peri-urban areas.153

The destruction of part of Kiyovu reinforced the idea that Kigali’s redevelopment is disproportionately benefitting the elite. A neighborhood in central Kigali, Kiyovu is divided in two by a main road. The upper area boasts nice single-family homes, including the new presidential estate, while the lower area, known as “Poor Kiyovu,” had crowded housing, including many informal buildings. Lower Kiyovu was largely demolished in 2008, while the upper area was left untouched. Residents complained that they received too little compensation to cover the expense of new housing, were moved to areas far from the city center, and had no choice in their new housing.154 According to one press report:

After claims from residents that bulldozers were arriving without warning to demolish homes and that the compensation given was not enough, the mayor responded in July 2008 by calling on “Rwandans who love their country to embrace positive change” … The authorities expropriated poor Kiyovu’s inhabitants in order to place them in better housing, but also so they could build fashionable new apartments on the former shantytown. The families were moved to houses which aren’t central and are expensive.155

The KCMP may have been motivated by laudable concerns over challenges created by rapid urbanization, such as water supplies, sanitation and sewage, and the dangers of building on steep hillsides, and the plan’s recommendations are reasonable enough, attempting to account for Rwanda’s modest means.156 In practice, however, the KCMP – like other parts of Vision 2020 – provided justification for the government to implement policies that officials regarded as serving the public good but that might not have gained popular support through democratic processes. Technocratic governance was undertaken with the ostensible best interests of the population in mind, and the good intentions and grand vision of policymakers and civil servants impress many observers.157 Yet even with the best of intentions, high modernist policies like these, implemented in a context in which residents were not free to share their “vision and capabilities,” nor even free publicly to complain without facing potential dire consequences, contributed to the sense of oppressive rule that has come to dominate Rwandan politics.

Even relatively simple efforts to improve the orderliness and sanitation of the city were implemented in a heavy-handed fashion that reinforced an impression that reforms were not for the good of the general public but to serve the interests of the country’s new elite. In 2006, for example, Kigali’s city government identified a need to better regulate the numerous kiosks that had popped up around the city, often selling sodas and sundry items like soap and batteries. The Kigali City Council implemented a regulation allowing only approved, standardized, and licensed kiosks. The city then summarily demolished existing kiosks, without compensation. Kigali residents told me at the time that the licenses were prohibitively expensive for most previous kiosk owners – around US$500 – and that, at any rate, they were only being issued to people with connections to the government.158 Enterprising individuals eventually ignored regulations and constructed new kiosks. When the city acted again in 2008 to demolish the kiosks and take possession of the goods they contained, the newspaper reported that the action was taken, “as required by the new Kigali Master Plan.”159

Apparently taking Singapore as a model, the regime has instituted a large number of laws in both urban and rural areas that, like the demolition of kiosks, are ostensibly in the interests of public order, public health, and environmental protection. Since 2000, the government has banned public urination and spitting, required people to wear shoes in public, banned the use of plastic bags, required motorcyclists to wear helmets and forbid women from sitting side saddle on a motorbike, forbid people from baking bricks and roof tiles in traditional ovens, banned the use of reed straws for drinking sorghum and banana beers, required circumcision of all male babies, banned traditional thatched roofs and traditional charcoal production, required every home to have a compost bin, required people to dry dishes on a table rather than on the grass, and banned churches from meeting outside formal church buildings.160

Each of these regulations could be justified as sound policy choices, yet they have significant social and economic impacts. For example, using communal straws can spread germs, so banning their use made public health sense. Yet sharing reed straws in a calabash or bottle passed from person to person was a core social practice in Rwanda, a way of demonstrating trust and friendship. Forbidding people from sharing straws eliminated a meaningful cultural practice, and though the ban made good technocratic sense, it did not make cultural sense.161 The central government decreed these quality of life laws with no public consultation, and their enforcement was often draconian. For example, banning the use of plastic bags made good environmental sense, but the law that went into effect in 2005 did not simply ban stores from giving out plastic bags, as ordinances in some cities around the world have done, but made possession of plastic bags illegal in Rwanda. Even though Rwandans used plastic bags for a variety of purposes and rarely discarded them, plastic bags disappeared from Rwanda overnight.162

Many of the quality of life laws have significant economic implications. Most are enforced with fines. Ingelaere provides a long list of twenty-nine “measures improving general well being” for which people can be fined. Many of the laws require individuals to spend money, so the poor are left with a choice of, for example, buying shoes or paying a fine. Ansoms stated that in her research, “Several people reported that when arriving at the market without shoes, their food money was taken from them forcibly by the local authorities to buy them shoes.”163 Other measures have added to the cost of living. The ban on baking bricks and roof tiles in the traditional way has driven up the cost of building and maintaining a home. The added costs and fines happen alongside a variety of new fees, such as registering land and paying the annual fee for Rwanda’s new national health insurance program.164 Together, these policies have affected the poor disproportionately while creating opportunities for those with more means. Traditional brickmaking, for example, has historically been a method for people to earn off-farm income and for some to establish themselves as small-scale entrepreneurs.165 But the costs associated with the “modern” brickmaking equipment have pushed out small-scale brickmakers in favor of wealthier businesspeople who can afford approved brick-making ovens.166 Marc Sommers has demonstrated that the rising costs of building a home has created a housing crisis that prevents poor young men from being able to marry and settle down, keeping them from attaining social adulthood and driving youth to flee from the countryside to the city.167

Governance, Development, and Inequality

Although the Rwandan government asserts that the policies implemented under Vision 2020 are working, using their own statistics to tout a decline in the overall poverty rate, the severe poverty rate, and the rate of inequality since 2006,168 fieldwork by a variety of scholars challenges the claims of policy success.169 The research by these scholars indicates that not only have policies involved coercive enforcement and significant social disruption, but also their economic impact on the majority of the population has been less favorable than reported. Ansoms and Donatella Rostagno, for example, wrote with some irony that, “The recently reported spectacular decrease in poverty is surprising. Not least because many of Rwanda’s poverty and inequality issues are inherent in the growth model applied … In practice, the concentration of strong economic growth in the hands of a small elite results in a highly skewed developmental path with limited trickle-down potential.”170

Yet even if the benefits of the government’s development policies are in fact trickling down to the common people, even if education and healthcare are more widely available and poverty rates are declining, the implementation and enforcement of these policies severely undermines their ability to add to the regime’s legitimacy. Policy decisions are made by the central government with little to no popular consultation then enforced in a draconian fashion. Those making and enforcing the policies come from a different social background from the vast majority of Rwandans, who live in rural areas and have deep roots in farming, and they approach the population with a highly condescending attitude that common Rwandans find insulting.171 People obey the regulations out of fear, but they also feel resentful and angry.

Average Rwandans today still struggle just to survive, much less to get ahead. Having conducted extensive interviews in 2006–2007 with Rwandan young people about their life circumstances and hopes, Sommers asserted that, “the collective story they described was persistently discouraging … [M]any youth in Kigali face circumstances … that have made them fatalistic in the extreme.”172 Unfortunately, as a result of the government’s authoritarian practices, common people like those that Sommers interviewed regard the state as a problem to be avoided rather than as an ally in the struggle to improve their lives.

The popular impression that development is not being done for the good of the general population but for the good of the elite is a major political problem in Rwanda today. As Ted Gurr has argued, poverty alone does not cause people to rebel. Instead, people rebel because of frustrated expectations.173 As I explore in greater depth in the next chapters, many average Rwandans feel that the constant mobilization they face serves to enrich a limited group of those who are already rich and powerful. They chafe at the condescending attitudes and lack of cultural understanding of those with authority over them, and they resent the coercion used to force them to follow government mandates. Particularly problematic, given Rwanda’s history, is a belief that those in charge and those benefiting from post-genocide government policies are from a specific social group – repatriated Tutsi, particularly Anglophone returnees from Uganda. As Ansoms writes, “The current Rwandan elite is mostly Tutsi, urban-based and often born outside Rwanda, while the Rwandan peasantry is mostly Hutu, rural-based and born in the country.”174 Significantly, the relevant social divisions cannot be understood exclusively in ethnic terms. Ethnicity is a factor, but so are the division between those who were inside Rwanda in 1994 and those who were outside and the class divisions between the urban elite and the rural poor.

The social, economic, and political context that I have described here – both the more obvious authoritarian practices of the years immediately after the genocide and the less violent but equally oppressive authoritarian practices used since 2000 – set the context within which transitional justice initiatives in Rwanda must be understood. Rewriting history, memorializing and commemorating the past, and organizing trials for perpetrators of genocide have all occurred in an environment in which the government severely limits free speech, the ruling elite mistrusts and underestimates the population, and the common people believe that the government is being used to advance the interests of its supporters rather than the general interest. The various official initiatives for memory and transitional justice described in this book are part of a larger program of radical social engineering in which the population is constantly mobilized in a sort of permanent revolution intended to create “new Rwandan citizens.”175 As my research with average Rwandans shows, despite widespread popular belief in justice and accountability and support for the idea of reconciliation, the context of authoritarian rule and social and economic inequality have undermined the tools of transitional justice that have been employed in Rwanda. In fact, from the perspective of most Rwandans, rather than promoting justice, accountability, and reconciliation, transitional justice in Rwanda has been a tool of domination used by a small group to secure their power and increase their wealth.

1 All quotes in this section from interview with Charles Murigande in Kigali, September 2002.

2 Lemarchand, Rwanda and Burundi.

3 Ian Linden with Jane Linden, Church and Revolution in Rwanda, New York: Africana Publishing Company, 1977.

4 Lemarchand, Rwanda and Burundi; Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis, pp. 61–74, 90–92.

5 Dan M. Mudoola, “Institution Building: The Case of the NRM and the Military in Uganda, 1986–9,” in Holger Bernt Hansen and Michael Twaddle, eds., Changing Uganda, Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1991, pp. 230–246; J. Oloku-Onyanga, “The National Resistance Movement, ‘Grassroots Democracy,’ and Dictatorship in Uganda,” in Robin Cohen and Harry Goulbourne, eds., Democracy and Socialism in Africa, Boulder: Westview Press, 1991.

6 V. I. Lenin, “Report on the Unity Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.,” 1906, available at www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1906/rucong/viii.htm, writes “Freedom of discussion, unity of action. That is what we must strive to achieve.” See also Michael Waller, Democratic Centralism: An Historical Commentary, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981.

7 Gerald Gahima, Transitional Justice in Rwanda: Accountability for Atrocity, Routledge, 2013, confirms this approach to decision-making in the RPF, with extensive debate until a decision is made then expected conformity.

8 In The Rwanda Crisis, Prunier writes that Rwigyema and Kagame shared with Museveni “the same left-leaning nationalist views, distrust of the West, hatred of dictatorship and belief in the redemptive powers of ‘popular warfare’” (p. 68).

9 For just such a detailed overview, see Filip Reyntjens, Political Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

10 While emphasizing the public’s caution more than I do, Sibomana made a similar point about the opportunity that the RPF squandered: “When the RPF took control of Kigali in July 1994, everything was still possible. … The vast majority of the population mistrusted the RPF, because of the propaganda of Hutu extremists or because of the crimes it had committed. But it could prove itself: by taking power, it could stop being a minority armed rebellion movement and commit itself to promoting a new Rwandan state.” Sibomana, Hope for Rwanda, p. 138.

11 This point was emphasized to me repeatedly during the year that I lived in Rwanda prior to the October 1996 closure of the refugee camps in the DRC, particularly in the south, where opposition to Habyarimana had been strong, but also among many Hutu with whom I interacted in Kigali.

12 Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis, pp. 268–273, 295–305.

13 The government named by Bizimungu in July 1994 included nine ministers from the RPF and nine from other parties. Ten were Tutsi and eight Hutu. In September and October, three more ministers were named, all Hutu. André Guichaoua, Les crises politiques au Burundi et au Rwanda (1993–1994), Lille: Université des Sciences et Technologies de Lille, 1995, pp. 759–761.

14 Ibid., pp. 772–773.

15 According to the World Bank, net official development assistance to Rwanda rose from $353.91 million in 1993 to $711.75 million in 1994 and $694.7 million in 1995. Foreign investment tapered off for a few years while Rwanda was involved in military interventions in the DRC, but climbed sharply again beginning in 2004 to reach a peak of $1.264 billion in 2011. World Bank, “Net Official Development Assistance Received (Current US$),” www.data.worldbank.org/indicator/DT.ODA.ODAT.CD.

16 Interview in Kigali, May 14, 1996.

17 Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story, p. 702.

18 One Tutsi man in Butare told me his family was killed in Kibungo by the RPF, who assumed anyone they found alive was a combatant. Interview in Butare, February 1995. Burnet, Genocide Lives in Us, reports similar cases.

19 Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story, pp. 705–722. See also, Amnesty International, “Rwanda: Reports of Killings and Abductions,” pp. 1–9.

20 A Hutu civil society activist who was threatened by Hutu Power during the genocide and sought refuge behind RPF lines told me that at the camp for IDPs in Byumba where he spent several months, the RPF regularly took away individuals, particularly those suspected of having connections to the Habyarimana government; most were never heard from again. Interview in Kigali, April 1996. Judi Rever, “Rwanda’s Memory Hole,” Foreign Policy Journal, April 14, 2015, documents a massacre in Byumba Stadium in April 1994 and RPF efforts to suppress memory of the killings.

21 Human Rights Watch, World Report 1996.

22 Medecines Sans Frontiers, “Report on Events in Kibeho Camp, April 1995,” Paris: MSF, May 25, 1995; Amnesty International, “Rwanda: Independent forensic inquiry and urgent protection needed for internally displaced persons following the massacre of several thousands,” AFR 47/09/95, London: Amnesty International, April 24, 1995. Other large-scale massacres took place in 1995 in Kanama in Gisenyi Prefecture and in the Nyungwe Forest, Amnesty International, “Rwanda, Two Years After the Genocide: An Open Letter to President Pasteur Bizimungu,” AFR 47/42/96, London: Amnesty International, April 4, 1996.

23 In 1995 alone, assassinations of government officials included the Butare prefect in March, the deputy prefect of Gisenyi in July, and a judge and the deputy prefect of Gitarama in Butare in August. Human Rights Watch, World Report 1996.

24 Sibomana, Hope for Rwanda, p. 140. Amnesty International, “Two Years After the Genocide,” reported in April 1996, “a pattern of killings and ‘disappearances’ of unarmed civilians by members of the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) has developed over the last year … [I]ndividuals – unarmed civilians, including women, young children and the elderly – have been mysteriously murdered by members of the RPA or ‘disappeared’ without trace, in various parts of the country … Although there is no evidence that the government directly ordered each of these killings, there has been little official action to break the pattern.” (p. 5).

25 The commander of troops at Kibeho, Fred Ibingira, was found guilty of non-assistance to persons in danger but acquitted of murder. Although sentenced to eighteen months in prison, he was immediately released and subsequently promoted to brigadier general. Filip Reyntjens and Steff Vandeginste, “Rwanda: An Atypical Transition,” in Elin Skaar, Siri Gloppen, and Astri Suhrke, eds., Roads to Reconciliation, Lanham MD: Lexington Books, 2005. Similarly, four officers tried in a military court for a massacre of more than 100 civilians in Kanama, Gisenyi, in August 1995 were ultimately sentenced only for non-assistance to persons in danger. Sibomana, Hope for Rwanda, p. 142.

26 The Rwandan camps did include armed elements who were legitimate targets and were preventing refugees from returning to Rwanda, but as I wrote for Human Rights Watch at the time, the AFDL and RPF forces “went beyond simply opening a path for those who wanted to return; they also fired on camps where there were no more soldiers present to force people in the camps to return to Rwanda.” Longman and Des Forges, “Attacked by All Sides.”

27 There is a rich and growing literature on the two wars in Congo. C.f., Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, Congo: From Leopold to Kabila, London: Zed Books, 2002; Séverine Autesserre, The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010; Thomas Turner, The Congo Wars: Conflict, Myth, and Reality, London: Zed Books, 2007; Stearns, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters; Lemarchand, The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa; Reyntjens, The Great African War.

28 The best account of the violence against Hutu refugees in Congo is Marie Béatrice Umutesi, Surviving the Slaughter: The Ordeal of a Rwandan Refugee in Zaire, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000. See also Amnesty International, “Rwanda: Human Rights Overlooked in Mass Repatriation,” AFR 47/02/97, London: Amnesty International, January 1997; Human Rights Watch, “Zaire: Transition, War and Human Rights,” New York: Human Rights Watch/Africa, April 1997; United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, “Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1993–2003: Report of the Mapping Exercise documenting the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed within the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo between March 1993 and June 2003,” Geneva: UNHCHR, August 2010.

29 Filip Reyntjens, “Rwanda, Ten Years On: From Genocide to Dictatorship,” African Affairs 103, 2004, p. 195; Amnesty International, “Rwanda: Ending the Silence,” AFR 47/32/97, London: Amnesty International, September 25, 1997; Amnesty International, “Rwanda: Civilians trapped in armed conflict. ‘The dead can no longer be counted,’” AFR 47/044/1997, London: Amnesty International, December 19, 1997.

30 Human Rights Watch, World Report 1999; Human Rights Watch, “Rwanda: Uprooting the Rural Poor,” New York: Human Rights Watch, May 1, 2001.

31 Research that I conducted in Goma and Bukavu in March 2000 confirmed that the RPF was directly involved in major human rights violations during the second war. Longman, “Eastern Congo Ravaged.” See also, John F. Clark, ed., The African Stakes of the Congo War, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002; Reyntjens, The Great African War; Autesserre, The Trouble with the Congo.

32 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Geographical Distribution of Financial Flows to Aid Recipients: Disbursements, Commitments, Country Indicators, Paris: OECD, 2001, 2006, 2011; World Bank, “Net Official Development Assistance Received.”

33 King, From Classrooms to Conflict in Rwanda; Freedman et al., “Confronting the Past in Rwandan Schools.” The policies to expand education were motivated both by the presumed economic benefits of a more educated population and a belief that ignorance was a major reason the population participated in the genocide.

34 Gahima, Transitional Justice in Rwanda, confirms this as the RPF’s method of control.

35 Joseph Sebarenzi, with Laura Ann Mullane, God Sleeps in Rwanda: A Journey of Transformation, New York: Atria Books, 2009, National Assembly Speaker from 1997 to 2000, wrote, “[I]t was no secret that Kagame held the reins of government and that Bizimungu had little power … Because Bizimungu was a Hutu and member of the RPF, his presidency gave the government a diverse face and made the international community think it was inclusive, not a Tutsi-dominated government. In reality, Bizimungu’s presidency was window-dressing, not a commitment to reconciliation” (p. 139).

36 Reyntjens, “Rwanda, Ten Years On.”

37 For example, the Iwacu Center was a development group that was important in fostering civil society opposition to Habyarimana. After the war pro-RPF official Antoine Mugesera took over and ensured the group provided no resistance to the new regime. A group of returnees from Congo relaunched Pro-Femmes Twesehamwe, an umbrella organization for women’s groups that successfully pushed for important advancements on women’s rights without fundamentally challenging the RPF.

38 Interviews in Kigali, April 1996 and October 2002.

39 Interview in Kigali June 2001.

40 Personal communication with Alison Des Forges, December 1998.

41 Allan Thompson, The Media and the Rwandan Genocide, London: Pluto Press, 2007, p. 407. Cases of journalists beaten or killed, like Edouard Mutsinzi, the editor of Le Messager-Intumwa and Manasse Mugabo, director of the Kinyarwanda service for the United Nations radio station, who disappeared in August 1995, had a chilling effect. Sibomana, Hope for Rwanda, p. 143; Amnesty International, “Rwanda: Jean RUBADUKA, magistrate and human rights activist Abbé André SIBOMANA, acting bishop and human rights activist and other human rights activists,” AFR 47/23/95, London: Amnesty International, November 30, 1995.

42 In April 1997, after the journal Umuravumba published descriptions of RPF massacres, it was seized by the government and its editor was assassinated. A deputy chief justice, Vincent Nsanzabaganwa, was killed at his home in Kigali in 1997. Thompson, The Media and the Rwandan Genocide, p. 408. A former judge in Cyangugu working with the NGO Avocats sans Frontiers on defense for genocide cases was strangled in January 1998, and a few days later, a Croatian priest, Vjeko Curic, a close associate of Abbé Sibomana, was shot dead in the middle of the day in downtown Kigali. Amnesty International, “The Hidden Violence.”

43 During the insurgency in the northwest, a number of people originating in Gisenyi and Ruhengeri disappeared in Kigali and elsewhere, apparently taken by soldiers who believed that they were connected with the insurgency. In Umutara at least a hundred people, nearly all Hutu returned from refugee camps in Tanzania, disappeared in December 1997 and January 1998, apparently linked to conflicts over land. At least thirty bodies were later found. Also in 1998, several dozen people were killed in parts of Gitarama. Amnesty International, “The Hidden Violence,” pp. 5–9; Human Rights Watch, World Report 1999.

44 Waldorf, “Mass Justice for Mass Atrocity.”

45 Human Rights Watch, World Report 1999.

46 Human Rights Watch, “Rwanda: The Search for Security and Human Rights Abuses,” New York: Human Rights Watch, April 1, 2000.

47 Human Rights Watch, “Uprooting the Rural Poor”; Saskia Van Hoyweghen, “The Urgency of Land and Agrarian Reform in Rwanda,” African Affairs, 98, 392, July 1999, 353–372; Herman Musahara and Chris Huggins, “Land Reform, Land Scarcity, and Post-Conflict Reconstruction: A Case Study of Rwanda,” in Chris Huggins and Jenny Clover, eds., From the Ground Up: Land Rights, Conflict, and Peace in Sub-Saharan Africa, Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies, June 2005; Ansoms, “Re-engineering Rural Society”; Catharine Newbury, “High Modernism at the Ground Level: The Imidugudu Policy at the Ground Level,” in Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights After Mass Violence, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011, pp. 223–239.

48 Human Rights Watch, “Uprooting the Rural Poor”; Musahara and Huggins, “Land Reform, Land Scarcity, and Post-Conflict Reconstruction.”

49 The Ministry of Land said in July 1999 that, “Imidugudu will [be] the only recommended and promoted form of settlement in rural areas. The ultimate objective of the government is to enable the entire rural population to live in grouped settlements.” Quoted in Human Rights Watch, “Uprooting the Rural Poor.”

50 Van Hoyweghen, “The Urgency of Land and Agrarian Reform,” p. 365.

51 Human Rights Watch, “Uprooting the Rural Poor.”

52 The Village Urugwiro process was somewhat like the national conferences held in much of francophone Africa earlier in the decade, but under more direct control of the regime. John F. Clark and David E. Gardinier, eds., Political Reform in Francophone Africa, Boulder: Westview Press, 1996.

53 Republic of Rwanda, “Report on the Reflection Meetings Held in the Office of the President of the Republic from May 1998 to March 1999,” Kigali: Office of the President of the Republic, August 1999.

54 As Joseph Sebarenzi, Speaker of the National Assembly during this period, pointed out, “This shifted appointees’ allegiance from their political parties to the RPF. After all, if the RPF put them in office, keeping the RPF happy would be their priority.” Sebarenzi, God Sleeps in Rwanda, p. 141.

55 Sebarenzi, God Sleeps in Rwanda, writes that, “The forum is unconstitutional and unjust. It also works against the very principle of separation of powers …” (p. 149). It was written into the 2003 constitution as a permanent and official feature of the Rwandan system.

56 Sebarenzi, who was involved in the investigation and removal of several ministers, wrote, “I later learned that Kagame supported our investigation of these ministers because he wanted many of them out of office himself. His support was tactical, not principled” (p. 155). Among those removed were Hutu from other parties, like Minister in the Presidency Anastase Gasana (MDR) and Minister of Communications Charles Ntakirutinka (PSD), but also some within the RPF whom Kagame saw as threats.

57 One highly placed individual in the Kagame regime explained to me a few years later his observation that at this time Kagame’s inner circle – those people with real decision-making power – shrank as he moved to eliminate his rivals, while at the same time the RPF’s outer circle – those people with important positions that gave them a degree of influence over national policy – was expanded with the creation of the national commissions and other institutions to include more women, new members of the RPF, and Hutu, giving an impression of inclusivity. Personal communication, Kigali, September 2002. While other observers challenge the idea that any expansion took place, since repatriated Tutsi, particularly from Uganda, continued to occupy most positions, the observation on the consolidation around Kagame is clearly well founded.

58 Sebarenzi, God Sleeps in Rwanda, pp. 142–146, 151–152.

59 Reyntjens, “Rwanda, Ten Years On,” p. 181; Sebarenzi, God Sleeps in Rwanda, pp. 166–182.

60 Reyntjens, “Rwanda, Ten Years On,” p. 181.

61 Rwigema returned to Rwanda in October 2011, amid reports that he had been provided cash and promises that his genocide case was to be dropped. He joined the RPF and was named a representative in the East African Parliament. “Pierre Celestin Rwigema, the Rwandan exiled prime minister returns as revealed before,” Umuvugizi, October 24, 2011. Sebarenzi, God Sleeps in Rwanda, p. 159.

62 Reyntjens, “Rwanda, Ten Years On,” p. 181. As Sebarenzi explained, “When Kagame decided that he didn’t like someone, they weren’t just removed from power, they were ruined. Smear campaigns would begin from which the victims hardly ever recovered. ‘Everyone ignores a dead dog in the road until it begins to smell – then they want it removed,’ Kagame was supposedly fond of saying.” Sebarenzi, God Sleeps in Rwanda, p. 159.

63 Sebarenzi, God Sleeps in Rwanda, p. 169.

64 Kayumba Nyamwasa, Patrick Karegeya, Theogene Rudasingwa, and Gerald Gahima, “Rwanda Briefing,” unpublished document, August 2010.

65 Chakravarty, Investing in Authoritarian Rule, p. 74.

66 On “high modernism” in Rwanda, see Scott Straus and Lars Waldorf, “Introduction: Seeing Like a Post-Conflict State,” in Scott Straus and Lars Waldorf, eds., Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights After Mass Violence, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011, pp. 3–21; Newbury, “High Modernism at the Ground Level; Purdeková, Making Ubumwe; and Huggins, “Seeing Like a Neoliberal State?”

67 James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.

68 Ibid., pp. 4–5.

69 This from the title of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s controversial text asserting that Germans were much more actively supportive of the Holocaust than most scholarship indicates. Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, New York: Vintage Books, 1997.

70 Recall Secretary General Murigande’s assertion that the tragedy did not stop in 1994 but that, “we have continued to confront those who want to carry out genocide.” Interview with Charles Murigande in Kigali, September 2002.

71 Paul Nantulya, Karin Alexander, Didace Kanyugu, et al., “Evaluation and Impact Assessment of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC),” Kigali: Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, November 2005.

72 Chi Mgbako, “Ingando Solidarity Camps: Reconciliation and Political Indoctrination in Post-Genocide Rwanda,” Harvard Human Rights Journal, 201, 2005, 201–224, citation p. 208. Several survivors that I knew from before 1994 confirmed after the war that they had attended these camps and then returned to Rwanda.

73 Purdeková, Making Ubumwe, offers the most complete consideration of the ingando.

74 Interview with Edouard Nkurayija, Director of Civic Education at the NURC in Kigali, May 30, 2001.

76 Mgbako, “Ingando Solidarity Camps,” p. 211.

77 Andrea Purdeková, “Repatriation and Reconciliation in Divided Society: The Case of Rwanda’s ‘Ingando,’” Refugee Studies Center Working Paper 43, Oxford University, January 2008. For the most extensive discussion of ingando, see Purdeková, Making Ubumwe, especially pp. 174–202.

78 Having been detained and forced to attend an ingando, Susan Thomson, “Reeducation for Reconciliation: Participant Observation on Ingando,” in Scott Straus and Lars Waldorf, Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011, pp. 331–339, provides a particularly interesting perspective. Citation p. 338.

79 National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, “Itorero Ry’gihugu,” Kigali: NURC, January 12, 2010. Also Penal Reform International, “From Camp to Hill: The Reintegration of Released Prisoners,” Research Report on the Gacaca VI, Paris: May 2004, 111; and Government of Rwanda, “National Itorero Commission (Strategy),” Kigali, November 2011.

80 “Rwanda Adopts New Flag, Anthem in Effort to Heal,” Los Angeles Times, January 1, 2002.

81 Pierre Munyura, “Rwanda Decentralization Assessment,” Kigali: Strategies 2000 SARL, for USAID, July 2002, pp. 13–22; Jean-Paul Kimonyo, Noël Twagiramungu, and Christophe Kayumba, “Supporting the Post-Genocide Transition in Rwanda: The Role of the International Community,” Democratic Transitions in Post-Conflict Societies Project, Working Paper 32, The Hague: The Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael, 2004.

82 “Rwanda: Government Said Planning to Redraw Provincial Boundaries,” The East African, September 6, 2005; Oscar Kimanuka, “Rwanda: Giving Power to the People,” The East African, January 10, 2006; “What Happens after Re-Demarcation?” The New Times, September 12, 2005.

83 Munyura, “Rwanda Decentralization Assessment,” p. 1.

84 Comparative research demonstrates that decentralization has often involved the lack of a real shift of power to the local level. More substantial decentralization has generally been carried out by leaders who believe that it furthers their strategic interests. C.f., Richard Stren, “Decentralization: False Start or New Dawn?” United Nations Human Settlement Program, Habitat Debate, 8, no. 1, March 2002, 1–2; Kent Eaton, “Risky Business: Decentralization from Above in Chile and Uruguay,” Comparative Politics, 37, no. 1, October 2004, 1–22; Kent Eaton, “Decentralization’s Undemocratic Roots: Authoritarianism and Subnational Reform in Latin America,” Latin American Politics and Society, 48, no. 1, 2006, 1–26; Kent Eaton, Kai Kaiser, and Paul Smoke, The Political Economy of Decentralization Reforms: Implications for Aid Effectiveness, Washington: World Bank, 2010; James Manor, The Political Economy of Democratic Decentralization, Washington: World Bank, 1999.

85 Bert Ingelaere, “Living the Transition: A Bottom Up Perspective on Rwanda’s Political Transition,” Discussion Paper 2007.06, Institute of Development Policy and Management, University of Antwerp, November 2007 provides an excellent overview of the reformed local administrative structure.

86 David Booth and Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, “Developmental Patrimonialism? The Case of Rwanda,” African Affairs, 111, no. 444, May 2012, 379–403; Ansoms, “Re-engineering Rural Society,” p. 306; Ingelaere, “Peasants, Power, and Ethnicity,” pp. 228–289.

87 Ingelaere, “Peasants, Power, and Ethnicity,” pp. 288–289.

88 Ansoms, “Re-engineering Rural Society,” p. 306.

89 Andrea Purdeková, “‘Even If I am Not Here, There are So Many Eyes’: Surveillance and State Reach in Rwanda,” Journal of Modern African Studies, 49, no. 3, 2011, 475–497, citation p. 486. Malin Hasselskog and Isabell Schierenbeck, “National Policy in Local Practice: the Case of Rwanda,” Third World Quarterly, 36, no. 5, 2015, 950–966 similarly found that in decentralization “neither local participation nor downward accountability was enhanced,” p. 962.

90 Interview in Kigali, August 29, 2002.

91 Interview in Kigali, August 27, 2002.

92 Quoted in Reyntjens, “Rwanda, Ten Years On,” p. 193.

94 Human Rights Watch, “Preparing for Elections: Tightening Control in the Name of Unity,” New York: Human Rights Watch, May 8, 2003; Amnesty International, “Rwanda: Escalating Repression Against Political Opposition, AFR 47/004/2003, April 22, 2003; Republic of Rwanda, Rapport de la Commission Parlementaire, 2003.

95 The observer team from the Norwegian Center for Human Rights noted that, “even though the presidential elections were conducted in a technically good manner, the degree of pressure to vote for the incumbent candidate cannot be underestimated.” Ingrid Samset and Orrvar Dalby, “Rwanda: Presidential and Parliamentary Elections 2003,” Oslo: Norwegian Center for Human Rights, 2003, www.cmi.no/publications/file/1770-rwanda-presidential-and-parliamentary-elections.pdf. Chakravarty quotes a respondent as saying, “We were ordered to elect Kagame because he was the only candidate…we could not refuse to elect a King who came back” (p. 248). Anuradha Chakravarty, “Navigating the Middle Ground: The Political Values of Ordinary Hutu in Post-Genocide Rwanda,” African Affairs, 113, no. 451, 2014, 232–253.

96 European Union Election Observation Mission, Rwanda: Élection presidentielle 25 Aôut 2003; Élections legislatives 29 et 30 Septembre, 2 Octobre 2003 (final report), Brussels: European Union, 2003.

97 Begley, “‘Resolved to Fight the Ideology of Genocide.’”

98 European Union Election Observation Mission, “Final Report: Legislative Elections to the Chamber of Deputies,” 15–18 September 2008, Brussels: European Union, September 2008, www.euromrwanda.org/EN/Final_Report.html.

99 Amnesty International, “Pre-Election Attacks on Rwandan Politicians and Journalists Condemned,” London: Amnesty International, August 4, 2010, www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/pre-election-attacks-rwandan-politicians-and-journalists-condemned-2010-08-05; Eric Brown, “Rwandan Genocide: Is Rwanda Gearing up for Another Genocide,” New York: Human Rights First, February 23, 2010; “‘Disturbing Events’ Marred Rwandan Leader’s Re-Election, US Says,” New York Times, August 15, 2010; Sudarsan Raghavan, “Rwanda’s Success Story Fails to Silence Concerns about Rights: Slayings and Censorship Mar Campaign Season, Top Opponents Barred,” Washington Post, August 9, 2010.

100 In an interview for a syndicated public radio program surrounding the 2010 presidential elections, after I had described the ongoing political repression in Rwanda, the interviewer asked, “Well why is Kagame so popular?” When I asked her basis for believing that he was popular, she said, “He’s expected to win the elections by a wide margin,” as though that proved his popularity.

101 Rejecting the idea that autocracies use elections to promote domestic legitimacy, Jillian Schwedler and Laryssa Chomiak, “And the Winner Is … Authoritarian Elections in the Arab World,” Middle East Report, Spring 2006, argues that, “The explanation for why authoritarian regimes hold elections is more likely to be found among these five reasons: to carry out a real commitment to democratization; to distract citizens from other crises; to respond to foreign pressure; to display state power; and simply because they have held them in the past,” 13. See also, Fred M. Hayward, ed., Elections in Independent Africa, Boulder: Westview Press, 1987.

102 Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way, Competitive Authoritarianism, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

103 William Dobson, The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy, New York: Random House, 2012. See also, Jason Brownlee, Authoritarianism in an Age of Democratization, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007; Dan Slater, Ordering Power: Contentious Politics and Authoritarian Leviathans in Southeast Asia, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

104 Murray Edelman, The Symbolic Uses of Politics, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1964.

105 Tito Rutaremara, Head of Legal and Constitutional Reform Commission, Interview in Kigali, August 29, 2002.

106 Edmund Kagire, “Kagame drops last two RPF ‘historicals,’” The East African, June 1, 2013.

107 “Rwandan Senate Votes to Allow Third Term for Kagame,” Aljazeera, November 17, 2015; Tracy McVeigh, “Rwanda Votes to Give President Kagame Right to Rule until 2034,” The Guardian, December 19, 2015.

108 Longman, “Rwanda: Achieving Equality or Serving an Authoritarian State?”; Jennie E. Burnet, “Gender Balance and the Meanings of Women in Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda,” African Affairs, 107, no. 428, May 2008, 361–386. Jennie E. Burnet, “Women Have Found Respect: Gender Quotas, Symbolic Representation, and Female Empowerment in Rwanda,” Politics and Gender, 7, no. 3, September 2011, 303–334, finds that the increasing political representation of women in Rwanda has produced tangible benefits, including a greater willingness for women to speak out in public, greater access to education, more women involved in business, and more equity in marital relations. Yet she also notes that women’s involvement in politics has done little to improve the perceptions of a political system that many see as corrupt and undemocratic.

109 Interview with Laurien Ntezimana, Butare, September 3, 2002. See also Human Rights Watch, “Preparing for Elections.”

110 Government of Rwanda, “Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda,” June 4, 2003.

111 Ibid., Article 9.

112 Lars Waldorf, “Instrumentalizing Genocide: The RPF’s Campaign against ‘Genocide Ideology,’” in Scott Straus and Lars Waldorf, eds., Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011, pp. 48–66.

113 Parliament of Rwanda, “La où l’Idéologie Génocidaire se fair Observer au Rwanda,” Kigali, June 2004, available at www.grandslacs.net/doc/3301.pdf.

114 Amnesty International, “Rwanda: Deeper into the Abyss – Waging War on Civil Society,” AFR 47/013/2004, London: Amnesty International, July 6, 2004; Amnesty International, “Safer to Stay Silent: The Chilling Effects of Rwanda’s Laws on ‘Genocide Ideology’ and ‘Sectarianism,’” AFR 47/005/2010, London: Amnesty International, August 2010, p. 32.

115 Waldorf, “Instrumentalizing Genocide,” p. 54.

116 Ibid.

117 Amnesty International, “Safer to Stay Silent.”

118 Amnesty International, “Rwanda: Official Interference in Affairs of Human Rights NGO Places Independent Human Rights Work in Peril,” London: Amnesty International, August 16, 2013.

119 Timothy Longman, “The Uses and Abuses of the Media: Rwanda Before and After the Genocide,” in Clara Ramirez-Barat, ed., Transitional Justice, Culture, and Society: Beyond Outreach, New York: Social Science Research Council, 2014.

120 Anjan Sundaram, Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship, New York: Doubleday, 2016.

121 Interview with Noel Twagiramungu, Executive Director of LDGL, Kigali, August 28, 2002; International Crisis Group, “Rwanda at the End of Transition: A Necessary Political Liberalization,” Brussels: ICG, November 13, 2002; Human Rights Watch, “The Search for Security.” Kabera himself was outside Rwanda in 1994, but his two brothers were considered survivors. Kayijabo was also head of the human rights collective CLADHO.

122 Interview with Janvier Kanyamashuli, Director of the National Fund for Genocide Survivors, Kigali, August 31, 2002.

123 Jonathan W. Rosen, “Dissident ‘Choirboy’: Rwandan Gospel Star on Trial,” Al Jazeera English, December 11, 2014; Emmanuel Hakizimana and Gallican Gasana, “Le Président Kagame Vient de Révéler sa Plus Grande Peur,” L’Aut’ Journal, April 17, 2014.

124 Interview in Kigali, September 5, 2002.

125 Noel Twagiramungu, Executive Director of LDGL, August 28, 2002.

126 Interview in Kigali, August 27, 2002.

127 David Smith, “Rwanda’s Former Spy Chief ‘Murdered’ in South Africa,” The Guardian, January 2, 2014.

128 On a variety of these community mobilization programs, see Huggins, “Seeing Like a Neoliberal State?”

129 Interview in Kigali, August 31, 2002.

130 Christina Caryl, “Africa’s Singapore Dream: Why Rwanda’s Leader Styles Himself as the Heir to Lee Kuan Yew,” Foreign Policy, April 2, 2015.

131 The six pillars are, “Good governance and a capable state”; a shift to a knowledge-based economy; promotion of free-market private enterprise; development of the infrastructure; commercialization of agriculture; and regional and international integration. Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, “Rwanda Vision 2020,” pp. 11–19. For useful discussions of Vision 2020, see An Ansoms and Donatella Rostagno, “Rwanda’s Vision 2020 Halfway Through: What the Eye Does Not See,” Review of African Political Economy, 39, no. 133, September 2012, 427–450 and Sterling Recker, “Vision 2020: An Analysis of Policy Implementation and Agrarian Change in Rural Rwanda,” PhD Dissertation, University of Missouri-St. Louis, July 2014.

132 On technocratic governance, see Beverly H. Burris, Technocracy at Work, Albany: SUNY Press, 1993 and William Easterly, Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor. New York: Basic Books, 2015.

133 Ansoms, “Re-Engineering Rural Society,” pp. 308–309.

134 Christopher Huggins, “‘Control Grabbing’ and Small Scale Agricultural Intensification: Emerging Patterns of State-facilitated ‘Agricultural Investment’ in Rwanda.” The Journal of Peasant Studies, May 14, 2014, 368.

135 Saskia Van Hoyweghen, “The Rwandan Villagisation Programme: Resettlement for Reconstruction?” in Didier Goyvaerts, ed., Conflict and Ethnicity in Central Africa, Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, 2000, pp. 209–224. These ideas are surprisingly similar to the justifications for the ujamaa villagization policy in Tanzania in the 1970s, a policy almost universally recognized as a major failure in both social and economic terms. See Goran Hyden, Beyond Ujamaa in Tanzania: Underdevelopment and an Uncaptured Peasantry, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

136 An Ansoms, Giuseppe Cioffo, Chris Huggins, and Jude Murison, “The Reorganization of Rural Space in Rwanda: Habitat Concentration, Land Consolidation and Collective Marshland Cultivation,” in An Ansoms and Thea Hilhorst, eds., Losing Your Land: Dispossession in the Great Lakes, Suffolk: James Currey, 2014, pp. 163–185.

137 Catherine André and Jean-Philippe Platteau, “Land Relations Under Unbearable Stress: Rwanda Caught in the Malthusian Trap,” Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 34, no. 1, 1998, 1–47.

138 Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, New York: Basic Books, 2000.

139 Ansoms, “Re-engineering Rural Society,” p. 299.

140 Ansoms et al., “The Reorganization of Rural Space in Rwanda,” p. 169.

141 An Ansoms and Jude Murison, “De ‘Saoudi’ au ‘Darfur’: L’Histoire d’un Marais au Rwanda,” in Filip Reyntjens, Stef Vandeginste, and M Verpoorten, eds., L’Afrique des Grands Lacs: Annuaire 2011–2012, Paris: L’Harmattan, 2012.

142 Christopher Huggins, “Land Grabbing and Land Tenure Security in Post-Genocide Rwanda,” in An Ansoms and Thea Hilhorst, eds., Losing Your Land: Dispossession in the Great Lakes, Suffolk: James Currey, 2014, pp. 141–162.

143 Ansoms and Murison, “De ‘Saoudi’ au ‘Darfur’”; Ansoms et al., “The Reorganization of Rural Space in Rwanda.”

144 Ansoms, “The Re-organization of Rural Space in Rwanda,” pp. 435–436. Catherine Newbury, “Rwanda: Recent Debates over Governance and Rural Development,” in Goran Hyden and Michael Bratton, Governance and Politics in Africa, Boulder: Lynne Reinner, 1992, pp. 193–219 noted similar policies were implemented under Habyarimana.

145 World Bank, “Rwanda Urban Infrastructure and City Management Project,” www.documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/895731468106440461/Rwanda-Urban-Infrastructure-and-City-Management-Project; Pierre Sirven, La Sous-urbanization et les Villes du Rwanda et du Burundi, Published by the author, 1984.

146 Rwanda Development Board, “Kigali Conceptual Master Plan,” brochure, www.kcps.gov.rw/index.php/?id=21#Master%20plan, p. 1.

147 The Master Plan Team (OZ architecture, EDAW, Tetra Tech, ERA, and Engineers without Borders), “Kigali Conceptual Master Plan,” prepared for the Rwanda Ministry of Infrastructure, November 2007.

148 The Master Plan Team, “Kigali Conceptual Master Plan.”

149 The Master Plan, Kigali Conceptual Master Plan, Chapter 4, Section 4.4, p. 84.

150 The Master Plan, Kigali Conceptual Master Plan, Chapter 4, Section 4.4.1, p. 86.

151 Penal Reform International, “Monitoring and Research Report on the Gacaca Community Service, Areas of Reflection,” London: PRI, March 2007. According to the website of the Rwanda Correctional Service, “TIG [the acronym for community service in Rwanda] is aimed at punishing, strengthening Unity and Reconciliation of Rwandans and impacting on national development. Some of the activities under TIG include speeding up the construction of classrooms under the nine and twelve (9 & 12) Years Basic Education programme, environment protection through terracing, building and repair of roads, land consolidation, construction of houses for vulnerable genocide survivors, paving stones, planting cassava, coffee/tea among others.” www.rcs.gov.rw/camps

152 James Munyaneza, “City Authorities Need to Review Strategy on ‘Illegal’ Houses,” The New Times, January 10, 2011; Alex Mugisha and Frances Rwema, “In Rwanda, Rapid Urbanization Chases the Poor Out of Town,” Inyenyeri News, March 6, 2012; Alexandra Topping, “Kigali’s Future, or Costly Fantasy? Plan to Reshape Rwandan City Divides Opinion,” The Guardian, April 4, 2014.

153 Vincent Manirakazi and An Ansoms, “‘Modernizing Kigali’: The Struggle for Space, in the Rwandan Urban Context,” in An Ansoms and Thea Hilhorst, eds., Losing Your Land: Dispossession in the Great Lakes, Suffolk: James Currey, 2014, p. 187.

154 Jenny Ford, “Rethinking Relocation in Rwanda,” The Chronicles, May 30, 2012; “Kiyovu Residents Decry Demolitions,” The Rwanda Focus, July 29, 2008.

155 François D. and Maurice M., “The Ones that Got Left Behind in Kigali’s Demolished Shantytown,” Les Observateurs, March 12, 2010.

156 The urban population in 2012 was estimated at 19.4 percent (compared to 6 percent in 1994), with a 7.9 percent annual growth rate. UNICEF, “Rwanda: Statistics,” www.unicef.org/infobycountry/rwanda_statistics.html.

157 An economist who visited Rwanda briefly in 2014 (at the express invitation of President Kagame) told me that “They’re really trying to help the people!” Notes from meeting, Boston, June 30, 2014.

158 Interviews in Kigali, June 2006.

159 Godfrey Ntagungira, “Rwanda: KCC Evicts Kiyovu Kiosk Owners,” The New Times, June 21, 2008. Also Godfrey Ntagungira, “Demolished Kiosk Owners Drag KCC to Court,” The New Times, July 14, 2008.

160 Ingelaere, “Living the Transition,” p. 37; Ansoms, “Re-engineering Rural Life,” pp. 303–304.

161 As Olivier Nyirubugara, Complexities and Dangers of Remembering and Forgetting in Rwanda, Sidestone Press, 2013, explains, “Until the last decade, one straw was used to pass from one mouth to the other, and that was a sign of friendship and brotherliness. Wiping or cleaning the straw before introducing it to one’s mouth was the most unacceptable insult. Due to the threat such a practice posed to public health, the entire cultural, and friendship-building philosophy behind the straw was sacrificed for the good of the people, who have to invent new cultural ways of exteriorizing friendship” (p. 160).

162 Flying into Kigali, airlines now advise passengers to remove duty free items from plastic bags before disembarking. Personal observation, Kigali, May 2016.

163 Ansoms, “Re-Engineering Rural Life,” p. 304.

164 Ansoms and Rostagno, “Rwanda’s Vision 2020 Halfway Through,” write that farmers are confronted with a multitude of financial obligations (mutuelle de santé, costs to register landholdings, cost for young households to build houses in the agglomeration) and fines (fines for not keeping cows in stables, fines for not reaching targets from local authorities, fines for not having decent roofing, etc.), pp. 441–442.

165 Villia Jefermovas, Brickyards to Graveyards in Rwanda: From Production to Genocide in Rwanda, Albany: SUNY Press, 2002.

166 An Ansoms, “Views from Below on the Pro-Poor Growth Challenge: The Case of Rural Rwanda.” African Studies Review, September 2010, citation p. 102.

167 Sommers, Stuck.

168 Ansoms and Rostagno, “Rwanda’s Vision 2020 Halfway Through,” p. 428.

169 See Ansoms, “Striving for Growth, Bypassing the Poor”; Ansoms, “Re-engineering Rural Society”; Ansoms et al., “The Reorganization of Rural Space in Rwanda”; Ansoms and Rostagno, “Rwanda’s Vision 2020 Halfway Through”; Ansoms and Murison, “De ‘Saoudi’ au ‘Darfur’”; Huggins, “Seeing Like a Neoliberal State?”; Huggins, “‘Control Grabbing’ and Small Scale Agricultural Intensification”; Ingelaere, “Peasants, Power, and Ethnicity”; Sommers, Stuck.

170 Ansoms and Rostagno, “Rwanda’s Vision 2020 Halfway Through,” p. 441.

171 Ansoms, “Re-engineering Rural Society.”

172 Sommers, Stuck.

173 Ted Robert Gurr, Why Men Rebel, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971.

174 Ansoms, “Re-engineering Rural Society,” p. 308.

175 This terminology from Huggins, “Seeing Like a Neo-Liberal State?”