Archive: January, 2017

New Publication: Negotiating Genocide in Rwanda: The Politics of History

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017


I’m pleased to announce that my book, Negotiating Genocide in Rwanda: The Politics of History, has just been published with Palgrave Macmillan’s Studies in Oral History series. As a major revisionist monograph of relevance for oral historians, Africanists, genocide scholars, and human rights practitioners, it refocuses the historiography of modern Rwanda, which is dominated by Euro-American studies of the genocide, on popular understandings of Rwanda’s past, drawing upon life history and thematic interviews with Rwandan officials, survivors, bystanders, former combatants, and convicted perpetrators. Throughout, it engages with critical questions about a relatively recent shift in the practice of oral history: namely, the application of oral historical methods to the study of mass atrocities.

Negotiating Genocide in Rwanda begins with an overview of the Rwandan government’s official history surrounding the 1994 genocide, which claims that over one million of the nation’s ethnic Tutsi minority population were murdered by ethnic Hutu extremists motivated by virulent anti-Tutsi hatred. This official history oversimplifies the genocide—dividing the population into innocent Tutsi victims and guilty Hutu perpetrators—to legitimize the predominantly Tutsi regime that currently controls Rwanda’s government. It is disseminated to the public through genocide memorials and other transitional justice mechanisms, and a strict law against promoting ‘genocide ideology’ prohibits public contradiction.

However, the main purpose of the book is to examine how Rwandans from different sides of the conflict relate to this official history. I argue that memorial staff, rural genocide survivors, convicted perpetrators, and other cohorts within Rwandan society rarely find their experiences of the genocide, and Rwandan history more broadly, reflected in the current official history. Furthermore, in probing their complex life histories, I reveal a powerful reservoir of not only ethnic tensions—as is commonly argued—but also regional, political, and social tensions around different events in Rwandan history. Of particular importance, I find that these tensions undermine many Rwandans’ willingness to engage in initiatives aimed at facilitating post-genocide social repair and transitional justice, and suggest further political instability is possible. Negotiating Genocide in Rwanda thus calls into question many of the assumed benefits of transitional justice in post-conflict contexts, particularly those that are dominated by authoritarian regimes.



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