24. Rebuilding Rwanda and the Quest for Progress and Good Citizens

E-mail of panel organiser: sturner@dps.aau.dk

The post-genocide Rwandan state has been hailed by many for its efforts to overcome past ethnic divisions and its quest to create a progressive, efficient and visionary future for the country. Similarly, it has been criticised by many for its authoritarian tendencies, the limited freedom of speech etc. In this panel we will not evaluate whether or not these measures are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but rather explore how the state functions and the means by which it seeks to create new citizens that fit into the visions of Rwanda as the new ‘Asian Tiger’, and how these citizens in turn respond to these attempts. From various angles, the panel will explore the elitist social engineering taking place in the countryside, the ways in which the returning diaspora believe that they have been ‘given’ a virgin territory upon which to model a new nation, the ways in which the state educates the masses in solidarity camps, and the aesthetics of development that create a religious fervour among its adherents.


1. Voting in the “right” way: Elections, gender politics, and young women's lives in Rwanda's born-again churches

Author: Andrea Grant (Oxford University, UK)


Taking the 2013 parliamentary elections as its starting point, this paper explores the gender politics of Rwanda’s new born-again (abarokore) churches. Although the elections saw women win an unprecedented 64% of seats and the promotion of women has been a key tenet of the ruling RPF party, male born-again pastors accused believers of not having voted in the “right” way and of thus upsetting the “natural” balance of men and women in society. Despite the intimate relationship between the abarokore churches and the state – the new abarokore churches, I argue, provide spiritual legitimacy to the RPF at the same time that the RPF acknowledges them as powerful new players on the country’s post-genocide spiritual landscape – when it came to the “proper” role of women in society, a rift emerged between the government’s forward-looking and avowedly secular “vision” of the future and the churches’ own Biblical understanding of time and gender relationships. Profoundly different understandings of Rwandan culture and tradition were at stake. While the RPF claimed that its promotion of women has its roots in strong female leadership in Rwanda’s pre-colonial past, the churches viewed it as an imposition from the West that was unbiblical and unnatural. Drawing on 16 months of fieldwork in Rwanda, I examine how young abarokore women understood this conflict in their everyday lives and relationships. Some young women felt that the church gave them new confidence and stability, allowing them to develop the capacity to love and become good citizens; others found the church’s insistence that women should submit unquestioningly to male authority highly problematic and at odds with the country’s progressive gender policies. To these women, the church’s black-and-white approach to morality and female sexuality did not adequately account for the social, moral, and political complexity of the present, which, I suggest, has become increasingly defined by “quiet insecurity”.

2. “Kwihutisha Amajyambere: Progress Talk, Anatomies of Aspiration and Political Subjectivity in RPF-led Rwanda”

Author: Andrea Purdeková (University of Oxford, UK)


After the genocide, the RPF-led government has not only embarked on an exigent plan of social and economic transformation of the country, it has also carefully elaborated and began cultivating an ideal ‘citizen role’ fit for the task. The evolving and increasingly more complex civic education program is a potent show of the importance of instilling a particular relation to the state in the population. Through the analysis of ‘progress talk’— as reflected in civic education documents, broader policies and speeches, lessons and performances in six different ingando camps and other recently instituted reconciliation and development activities— the paper inquires, not primarily about the type of future that Rwanda strives for, but rather the Rwandan that is meant to deliver it, thus opening broader questions of state-society relations, political subjectivity, as well as more intangible but important issues of the politics of hope and ‘temporal displacements.’ Importantly, since progress talk combines future visions with a re-narrated past, it is through both the government’s selected and crafted connections to the past (evident in a surge and over-production of ‘traditional’ activities) and its ‘expansions’ to a particular future, that we best glance the ‘images of citizen’ that are put to work in contemporary Rwanda. The paper studies the implications of this for the type of political membership being forged, and it critically assesses the extent to which ‘temporal (re- or dis-)orientation’ plays a part in politics. 

3. Becoming a 'good' farmer: the conflict between traditional knowledge and implemented 'modern' techniques in a Rwandan village

Author: Anna Berglund (Lund University, Sweden)


The Rwandan government aims to reduce poverty and enhance development by, among other things, increase agricultural production and imposing ‘modern’ farming techniques in rural areas. Subsistence peasants are compelled to adopt this agricultural ‘modernization’, by implementing state-directed policies of mono-cropping on consolidated land. Peasants furthermore have to follow the authorities’ choice of crop, fertilizer, time of planting and harvest. In this project for agricultural modernization, Rwandan policymakers are relatively indifferent to the peasants’ ‘local knowledge’ and their wishes and needs. Based on 12 months ethnographic fieldwork in a Rwandan village, this paper discusses how peasants practically deal with the implementation of the modernization policies, and how they try to avoid or minimize its impact on their daily routines. It further analyzes how messages about agricultural modernization are interpreted and mobilized by peasants according to their particular contexts and social locations, and how they position themselves in relation to the state and the changes taking place in their village and everyday life. My paper argues that the peasants, rather than being ‘traditional’ or ‘resistant to change’, also have a vision of development that challenges the official message. By drawing attention to peasants’ wishes, needs, ideas and methods of resistance, this paper aims to contribute to the theoretical and empirical understanding of the consequences of top-down social engineering, but also underscores the need to include local visions of development into agricultural modernization projects.

4. The Rwandan countryside as a contested arena of change: state’s ambitions versus rural realities

Author: Ine Cottyn (Utrecht University, teh Netherlands)


The Rwandan government is engaged in a highly ambitious project to reengineer society through new developmentalism and a quest for modernization, with at its heart the transformation of the countryside. Despite remarkable growth rates at the national level, such top-down agenda leaves little room for bottom-up mechanisms and rarely results in equitable trickle down effects that take on board the poorest categories. In Rwanda we can see that massive challenges remain with nearly half the population still living in poverty. Previous research indicates a mismatch between ambitions of the ruling elite and the everyday realities of the rural population, as the latter are regarded as mere subjects to the top-down agenda imposed on them rather than agents within this field of change. Based on primary data collected during five months of mixed method fieldwork, this paper analyses the social and economic transformation of the Rwandan countryside. It will show how it is becoming a contested and politicized arena of change by giving an understanding of the poverty dynamics and patterns of inequality at play as a consequence of rural households‘ (in)ability to absorb and adjust to these processes of change. First the paper will analyze the implementation of the different policies aimed at transforming the countryside, such as agrarian policies including regional specialization and land consolidation in combination with the process of villagisation and bringing urbanization into the countryside through the planning of rural development centres. Second, new opportunities and new pressures that emerge as a consequence of these policies will be elaborated and how these are perceived by rural households. Looking at the current dynamics of change and their implications for the lives and livelihoods of rural Rwandans, we argue that the high ambitions do not match the reality that is the erosion of local social order and patterns of inequality being reproduced and enforced.

5. Training for Model Citizenship: Civic Education in Rwanda

Author: Molly Sundberg (Uppsala University, Sweden)


During the past two decades, the Rwandan government has gone to great lengths in rebuilding and developing the country following the genocide in 1994. These efforts are meant to leave no Rwandan behind; national development is said to hinge on each and every individual’s contribution. To this effect, a nation-wide civic education programme has been launched, called Itorero. It aims to change the ‘mindset’ of the entire citizenry, making people more results-oriented in their everyday lives. Having participated in a number of these programme trainings and learning to know several of its past and prospective participants, I confirm that the programme does indeed seem to change people’s mindsets. However, this effect rarely comes about from a single training. Itorero differs greatly depending on whom it targets, and although participation is formally mandatory, human inventiveness enables some sceptics to avoid or postpone enrollment. Meanwhile, when placing the programme in the larger context of governance in Rwanda, Itorero unfolds as but one, if yet important, example of a more general mode of governance in Rwanda - which does reach most people. Moreover, although this mode does impact on people’s mindsets, the effect rarely seems to correspond to that officially stipulated. Rather than making people more results-oriented, Itorero primarily influences how people relate to the state and to themselves as citizens. As such, the Itorero programme offers valuable insight into the exercise of state power in Rwanda, as well as into the more general role and potential of civic education in state governance.

6. Smallholder farmers’ experiences of the land use consolidation programme: the Case of Musanze district, Northern Province of Rwanda

Authors: Emmanuel Muyombano and Margareta Espling (University of Gothenburg, Sweden)


The post-genocide Rwandan government has pronounced ambitious development goals in its Vision 2020. Agricultural development is central, as some 80% of the population depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. However, Rwandan agriculture has long been characterized by high population pressure, land fragmentation, simple cultivation techniques with few inputs, leading to over-cultivation and consequent soil degradation and erosion affecting already low productivity levels negatively.
    Rwandan strategies for economic development and poverty reduction envision a social transformation of the society, requiring a shift from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture. Key in this agricultural transformation is the Crop Intensification Programme, aiming at increasing agricultural productivity of high-potential food crops. The main component of this programme is land use consolidation; the joint cultivation of large areas – of several smallholder plots, over which they retain individual land rights – is expected to deliver important economies of scale. The programme includes provisioning of improved seeds of the six selected crops, subsidized fertilizers, processing and marketing, and extension services.
    Serious critique of the programmes has been raised, such as authoritarian implementation, negative effects on food security from mono-cropping few selected crops, and rural socio-economic differentiation.
    The aim of this paper is to discuss opportunities and challenges of the agricultural policy of land use consolidation, based on fieldwork in Musanze district, Northern Province. This paper is based on 34 collective and individual interviews with smallholder farmers (women and men) and local key informants in five sectors.
    The findings indicate both opportunities and challenges. Farming cooperatives and their services have played a fundamental role in improving agricultural productivity and food security through joint production. The findings also show that smallholder farmers, whose plots are within the selected land use consolidation sites, may not cultivate non-selected crops (i.e. subsistence food crops), which has negative impact on food security and nutrition.

7. Governing relations – relations governing? The intimate production of male citizens at Iwawa Island

Author. Rose Løvgren (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)


Since 2010, the Rwandan government has run a rehabilitation center for young men on Iwawa Island in Lake Kivu. The center’s stated purpose is drug rehabilitation, yet many of its detainees are not addicts, but sent there by family members due to domestic disputes or randomly arrested in police operations clearing the streets for prostitutes and loitering male youth. When involved government officials explain its purpose they highlight the young men’s failures to maintain proper and stable relations – be it to their families, the nation state or to women. Rehabilitation at Iwawa attempts to repair and reshape these relations through psychological therapy, sexual education and mandatory circumcision. The center thus plays a pivotal role in governance of the domestic and intimate relations of men and provides a prism for examining how these issues are related to the production of citizenship. As Rwandan state power seeks to reach and gain control of these relations, Iwawa’s detainees in turn interpret, appropriate and live out the center’s instructions in ways, which in most cases produces quite different relations than the ones intended by the central government. Moreover, as relatives of these young men utilize Iwawa, for example as a way of getting rid of them during inheritance conflicts, we may say that the relations of young men, which Rwandan state power seeks to govern, in turn partake in shaping the way governance is executed. Drawing on philosophical and ethnographic perspectives on performative and ritualized production of gender and citizenship, I inquire into the many ambiguities arising in the intimate relations between Iwawa’s detainees and Rwandan state power.

8. The Aesthetics of Development and the Beauty of Tradition in Rwanda’s Fantasies of the Future

Author. Simon Turner ((Aalborg University, Denmark)


This paper explores how the Rwandan state creates aesthetics of an ideal nation. It argues that the ideal-image is created and maintained not only through discourse and legal regulations but also as concrete images. One of these images is the Kigali Master Plan; a futuristic/fantastic image of a city that bears no resemblance to the present city or the landscape in which it is supposed to be placed. These images conjure up a future that even those citizens whose houses will be demolished by the Master Plan, believe is ‘beautiful’.  Aesthetics are also central in the revival of traditional institutions and culture that the Rwandan state is promoting. Pre-colonial royal institutions that emphasised grace, eloquence and self-control through dance and poetry, are being encouraged in an attempt to give back Rwandans their dignity and self-esteem. This paper explores how the Rwandan state performs its sovereignty through the image of the Kigali master plan and other images of the future, and how it forms its citizens through ‘traditional’ ideas of ‘beauty’.

9. Building the national identity in post-genocide Rwanda and its impact on creation of new citizens

Author: Urszula Róg (Jagiellonian University, Poland)


The aim of this paper is considering about building national identity in Rwanda after genocide. Genocide, which took place in Rwanda in 1994 the resulted in the systematic massacre of more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in less than 100 days and destroyed completely the social structure and social ties.
The new nation without ethnic divisions is an answer of the Rwandan government to the challenges of reconciliation after genocide. Before 1994 Rwandan society was divided along ethnic lines. After genocide, according Rwandan Constitution from 2003, officially ethnicity doesn't plays the role in public discourse.
Analyzing the Rwandan politics, I will try to present how in post-genocide Rwanda government build a new national identity. Today Rwandan society is composed of the  survivors and the killers. Besides, many refugees returned to Rwanda from neighboring countries and they also want to have a place in society.  It's shows that is not easy build national identity, especially when is based on tragic history. This process provide many challenges and risks but is necessary to rebuilds  the country and creates a new citizens under the slogan: '' we are all Rwandas''.

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