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Genocide Lives in Us

Women, Memory, and Silence in Rwanda

Jennie E. Burnet

Publication Year: 2012

In the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, Rwandan women faced the impossible—resurrecting their lives amidst unthinkable devastation. Haunted by memories of lost loved ones and of their own experiences of violence, women rebuilt their lives from “less than nothing.” Neither passive victims nor innate peacemakers, they traversed dangerous emotional and political terrain to emerge as leaders in Rwanda today. This clear and engaging ethnography of survival tackles three interrelated phenomena—memory, silence, and justice—and probes the contradictory roles women played in postgenocide reconciliation.
    Based on more than a decade of intensive fieldwork, Genocide Lives in Us provides a unique grassroots perspective on a postconflict society. Anthropologist Jennie E. Burnet relates with sensitivity the heart-wrenching survival stories of ordinary Rwandan women and uncovers political and historical themes in their personal narratives. She shows that women’s leading role in Rwanda’s renaissance resulted from several factors: the dire postgenocide situation that forced women into new roles; advocacy by the Rwandan women’s movement; and the inclusion of women in the postgenocide government.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Series: Women in Africa and the Diaspora

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

In April 1994 I was finishing my last semester as an undergraduate at Boston University. Preoccupied with a senior thesis, coursework, and a job search in the midst of a recession, barely noticed the horrific events going on in Rwanda. Then in June of the same year the Boston Globe headlines began ...

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pp. xiii-xvi

While I accept full responsibility for the ideas and analysis presented in this book, the intellectual work herein would not have been possible without the contributions of numerous people and institutions over the years. I will attempt here to thank many of them, but I am sure to miss some, and there are still others ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xvii-xix

Note on Kinyarwanda Usage and Spelling

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p. xxi-xxi

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pp. 3-40

In April 2000 I interviewed Donatia, a genocide survivor, about her work with a network of rural women’s groups. As an unmarried Tutsi, she had faced several harrowing months hiding from killing squads during the genocide. She survived thanks to a network of friends who hid her in their ...

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1. Social Classification, State Power, and Violence

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pp. 41-73

During the years leading up to the genocide (1990–94) and those after the genocide (1994–2001), violence, war, and terror formed the backdrop of daily life in Rwanda. Understanding women’s experiences of violence during each of these periods is central to explaining women’s roles in postgenocide ...

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2. Remembering Genocide: Lived Memory and National Mourning

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pp. 74-109

It is difficult to overestimate the physical, social, emotional, and psychological devastation of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Rwandan women found themselves in a horrifying situation: the hills, fields, and churches were full of corpses; husbands, children, brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, and neighbors ...

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3. Amplified Silence: Hegemony, Memory, and Silence’s Multiple Meanings

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pp. 110-127

Understandably, the mass killing in the 1994 genocide lends itself to generalizations in which Tutsi are portrayed as victims and Hutu are portrayed as perpetrators. Indeed, many empirical realities support this ideological framework. Approximately eight hundred thousand Rwandans lost ...

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4. Sorting and Suffering: Social Classification in the Aftermath of Genocide

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pp. 128-146

In Rwanda the shibboleth of genocide forced a clear yet sometimes arbitrary demarcation between Hutu and Tutsi. This violent partition had an enduring impact on the lived experience of social classification in the aftermath of the genocide. The previous chapters described how the Rwandan Patriotic ...

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5. Defining Coexistence and Reconciliation in the New Rwanda

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pp. 147-166

In 2003 I presented a paper on grassroots perspectives on reconciliation at an internationally sponsored conference in Rwanda. The conference focused on microlevel studies of the 1994 genocide. My paper was scheduled for the last panel, so I listened to the other scholars’ contributions. When ...

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6. Paths to Reconciliation

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pp. 167-193

One of the most significant consequences of the 1994 genocide was the rupture of the social fabric. As Donatia described in the introduction, “I was consumed with hate. . . . I didn’t trust anyone, not even those who helped save me.” Nonetheless, little by little Rwandans began to repair the ...

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7. Reconciliation, Justice, and Amplified Silence

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pp. 194-212

Moving forward in the wake of the genocide required Rwandans to face material, emotional, and social realities unknown in living memory. Women in particular were forced to (re)invent a world that accommodated their unique circumstances— widows bereft of male kin and children, girls with ...

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pp. 213-221

Every Rwandan has a story to tell about the war, the genocide, or their aftermath. I heard one such story when I visited a friend’s family in Kigali in July 2011. The brother, Olivier, worked in information technology for a large Rwandan company. He was married and had a young child. The youngest ...


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pp. 223-228


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pp. 229-241

Works Cited

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pp. 243-258


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pp. 259-277

E-ISBN-13: 9780299286439
E-ISBN-10: 0299286436
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299286446
Print-ISBN-10: 0299286444

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 11 b/w figures, 3 tables
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Women in Africa and the Diaspora