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Whispering Truth to Power

Everyday Resistance to Reconciliation in Postgenocide Rwanda

Susan Thomson

Publication Year: 2013

For 100 days in 1994, genocide engulfed Rwanda. Since then, many in the international community have praised the country's postgenocide government for its efforts to foster national unity and reconciliation by downplaying ethnic differences and promoting "one Rwanda for all Rwandans." Examining how ordinary rural Rwandans experience and view these policies, Whispering Truth to Power challenges the conventional wisdom on postgenocide Rwanda.
            Susan Thomson finds that many of Rwanda's poorest citizens distrust the local officials charged with implementing the state program and believe that it ignores the deepest problems of the countryside: lack of land, jobs, and a voice in policies that affect lives and livelihoods. Based on interviews with dozens of Rwandan peasants and government officials, this book reveals how the nation's disenfranchised poor have been engaging in everyday resistance, cautiously and carefully—"whispering" their truth to the powers that be. This quiet opposition, Thomson argues, suggests that some of the nation's most celebrated postgenocide policies have failed to garner the grassroots support needed to sustain peace.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface and Acknowledgments: The Story Behind the Findings

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pp. ix-xxii

Writing a book was not even on my mind when I began my professional life. When I imagined my career back as I was completing my master’s degree, in 1992, I was distracted by Africa. I was not ready to settle down in Nova Scotia, where I had been born and raised, and certainly was not keen on the desk jobs my friends were choosing. ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xxiii-xxvi

Note on Kinyarwanda Language Usage and Spelling

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pp. xxvii-xxviii

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Introduction: State Power as Lived Experience

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pp. 3-27

One Sunday afternoon in late September 2006, a genocide survivor I will call Jeanne came to my residence in Huye town in southern Rwanda.1 Among Rwandans, elites and ordinary folk alike, Sunday is a day reserved for prayer and for visiting family and friends. Jeanne had never visited me before. ...

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1. Bringing in Peasant Rwandans through Life History Interviewing

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pp. 28-46

In studying peasant Rwandans as active subjects, my research is designed to allow for inquiry into their past, present, and future. The task is not to predict but rather to illustrate the knowledge that peasant Rwandans possess as a result of their lived experiences and to situate those individual realities within a broader historical, cultural, and institutional context. ...

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2. The Historical Role of the State in Everyday Life

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pp. 47-75

Tharcisse is a very poor “former Hutu” with limited options to exercise his agency, yet his narrative shows political acumen. He was accused of acts of genocide in his home community in 2001. He spent almost two years in prison and was released for lack of evidence in 2003. ...

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3. A Continuum of Violence, 1990-2000

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pp. 76-106

Each of these individual narratives reveals more than simply different lived experiences during the 1994 genocide. They also show the nature of local ties in determining who lived, who died, and how. Individual personal actions and lived realities are “embedded in local histories, specific circumstances, and immediate biography” (Nordstrom 2004, 183). ...

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4. Practices of National Unity and Reconciliation

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pp. 107-126

These two quotations reveal the gap between the elite version of postgenocide Rwanda and that of the many ordinary peasant Rwandans who participated in my research on the role of the state in promoting national unity and reconciliation. For the government, a “capable state” will “shape a positive future for all Rwandans” ...

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5. Everyday Resistance to National Unity and Reconciliation

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pp. 127-159

Jolie and I used to meet almost every Tuesday afternoon. We would bump into one another at the kiosk near my residence. She sometimes stopped to buy cooking oil or matches there on her way home from the market. Sometimes I would walk home with her so we could spend some private time together, sharing stories about our children in particular and family lineages more broadly. ...

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6. Everyday Resistance to the Gacaca Process

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pp. 160-182

This chapter examines one specific mechanism of the policy of national unity and reconciliation, the gacaca (ga-cha-cha) courts. The courts are an open-air local-level retributive mechanism that the government instituted to prosecute individuals for crimes of genocide. ...

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Conclusion: Explaining Systems of Power through Acts of Everyday Resistance

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pp. 183-196

This book is a political ethnography of relations between state and society in postgenocide Rwanda. It challenges much of the conventional postgenocide literature, most of which focuses on the behavior and practices of urban elites, provides a top-down perspective on the sociopolitical climate in contemporary Rwanda, ...

Appendix: Profiles of Rwandan Life History Participants

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pp. 197-204


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pp. 205-206


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pp. 207-214


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pp. 215-236


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pp. 237-258

E-ISBN-13: 9780299296735
E-ISBN-10: 0299296733
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299296742
Print-ISBN-10: 0299296741

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 10 b/w illus., 2 maps, 1 table
Publication Year: 2013