I n T he 20 Y ears S ince the genocide in Rwanda, the small, land-locked, coffee-and-tea exporting, ex-Belgian country has attracted considerable more scholarly, policy, and human interest than one might have expected given the size and geostrategic importance of the country. One reason for this interest is the genocide itself. In the space of 100 days, an interim government orchestrated the massacre of at least half a million civilians, mostly Tutsi. The violence was swift, public, participatory, and exterminatory – and international actors showed no resolve to stop it. The case amounts to one of the most horrific world historical events of the 20 th Century, and its recognition by scholars and the international media is appropriate. Another reason is that many questions raised by the country's experience are inherently fascinating. Why did genocide happen? Why did international actors stand down in the face of genocide? Who perpetrated the violence and how were they mobilized? How do you rebuild a country after the devastation of war and genocide? Is reconciliation possible? What role should transitional justice play? What form of accountability works for a country of this type and given the scale of atrocities? What is the right balance of liberal democracy and human rights, on the one hand, and development and security, on the other? What is the history of ethnicity in the country? Is there a way of breaking dangerous conceptualizations of identity? What role should donors play? And the questions keep coming! Yet another reason that Rwanda garners so much attention – and controversy, as I shall discuss – is the nature of its post-genocide politics. The new government is ambitious, innovative, and activist. The head of state, Paul Kagame, is visionary, articulate, and capable. The forces that he commanded overthrew the genocidal state in Rwanda, were primarily responsible for overthrowing Mobutu Sese Seko in the first Congo war, and were on their way to a second military victory in the second Congo war had it not been for Angola's intervention. Rwandan troops now perform exceptionally well in some of the hardest United Nations peacekeeping missions, as Danielle Beswick shows in this Virtual Issue. Post-genocide Rwanda has achieved remarkable economic growth, averaging some 8 percent per annum during the past decade, as Julie van Damme, An Ansoms, and Philippe V. Baret discuss. The government has administered a number of major reforms, including ones endorsed by major international organizations, such as the World Bank. Public corruption is minimal. The place is orderly. The transitional justice approach that the government has pioneered, notably the gacaca community courts, is one of the boldest experiments in human rights accountability in the world today. And there are other innovations. Many aid practitioners, policymakers, and business elites praise Rwanda for these qualities. Some academics do too. Rwanda's post-genocide achievements are impressive, given the devastation of the past. The achievements are also impressive in comparative perspective, as David Booth and Fred Golooba-Mutebi suggest. Where else in the region, or on the continent for that matter, does one find equivalent levels of political order, technical capability, vision, up-by-your-bootstraps rhetoric, limited public corruption, sustained growth, and internal security? But there is a dark side. The regime is authoritarian (Lars Waldorf and I refer to the style of governance as ‘transformative authoritarianism’, given the scope of change envisioned). 1 The government works very hard to control public discourse and civil society, even if there are idiosyncratic moments of contestation, as Paul Gready and Jennie Burnet's contributions to this issue demonstrate. The government has instrumentalized the history of the genocide. Gacaca is highly innovative, but it reeks of victor's justice given that the crimes associated with the current government may not be discussed. As Anu Chakravarty argues, the process has also served to disenfranchise many Hutus. Despite a formal commitment to making ethnic identification a thing of the past, ethnic attachments and resentment remain beneath the surface, as Bert Ingalaere and Chakravarty show. Even though formal economic growth is strong, the experience of peasant farmers in rural areas remains difficult, and many reforms proposed from the central state do not sit well with rural actors, as discussed by Ansoms, and also by van Damme, Ansoms and Baret. Moreover, the space to challenge these issues, to raise questions, and to criticize official policy remains highly circumscribed, and the state treats direct dissent or defection harshly, as illustrated by Filip Reyntjens. Moreover, Rwanda has had a hand in the devastation of neighbouring Congo. On the whole, academics have been more sensitive than most observers to some of these negative dynamics. Academic researchers typically spend long periods of time in the field, and they are often are more attentive than others to the long durée in Rwanda, as opposed to seeing Rwanda strictly through a post-genocide lens. Several academics focus their research in rural areas, and many have developed a network of contacts or earned the trust of Rwandans that allows them to hear alternative perspectives to those that dominate public and popular discourse. As a result, the majority of academic studies on post-genocide Rwanda raise troubling questions about the country's trajectory, as the articles drawn together in this issue attest. Despite all the progress, forward-thinking, and innovations in post-genocide Rwanda, is the country on a path toward social cohesion, peace, and prosperity? That is a hard, probably impossible, question to answer, though it is a fundamental one. All of the articles collected in this Virtual Issue help to answer the question to some extent, but the evidence points in multiple directions and no one has a crystal ball to tell them what the future will hold. Looking ahead, a priority is how to engage in a constructive debate about post-genocide Rwanda. As those who follow the country know, attitudes among Rwandans are highly polarized. Basic facts about who is responsible for what, who started what, and, even sometimes, what actually happened, are often contested. Those divided histories should give us all pause, as they suggest that a great deal of healing remains. Unfortunately, academic discussions are also now increasingly polarized. Yet as academics we have a responsibility to model constructive debate, to pursue open inquiry, to avoid dogma, and to reject personalized attacks. That responsibility is especially great with respect to a place where passions run high and where violence has been extreme. One way to mark the 20 th anniversary of the genocide is to commit ourselves to an open and rigorous, yet respectful, discussion of Rwanda – its past, present, and future. 1. Lars Waldorf and Scott Straus (eds), Remaking Rwanda: State building and human rights after mass violence (University of Wisconsin Press, Wisconsin, WI, 2011). © The Author 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Royal African Society. All rights reserved
African Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 19, 2014
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