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  • Memory And Justice In Post-Genocide Rwanda by Timothy Longman
  • Andra le Roux-Kemp
Longman, Timothy. 2017. MEMORY AND JUSTICE IN POST-GENOCIDE RWANDA. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 374 pp.

The genocide carried out in Rwanda between April and July 1994 may have been brief compared with other such atrocities, but with an estimated 80 percent of the minority population having been killed, it was one of the most severe. In Memory and Justice in Post-Genocide Rwanda, Timothy Longman, director of the African Studies Center at Boston University, [End Page 107] recounts and analyzes this event. Relying on personal experiences and field research gathered over more than a decade, he offers an unparalleled account of the killings and the processes that subsequently purported to achieve justice and shape the survivors’ collective memory and social identity.

The book is divided into three parts. Part one, consisting of five chapters, provides a detailed account of the buildup to the genocide, the rise to power of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, and the transitional, political, and social efforts of the current political regime. Longman shows that history played a key role, as the rhetoric fueling the massacre drew on a historical, colonial narrative that saw Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa as clear and distinct ethnic and even racial groups. While it is today generally agreed that these categories did not reflect distinct ethnic demarcations in the modern sense, the missionaries and colonial administrators of that time, influenced by social Darwinianism, “saw the Tutsi as a superior Hamitic group, distant relatives of Caucasians[,] who were more intelligent than their fellow countrymen” (pp. 37–39, 46–50). Based on this ethnic differentiation, policies were put in place by the colonial administrators to fix group identities, eliminate their flexibility, and provide for historical imaginaries that ultimately fueled a narrative of distinct ethnic identities (pp. 39–40). After the Second World War, however, the colonial myth of Tutsi superiority gave way to the democratic principle of majority rule, which received yet another distorted interpretation in Rwanda, meaning rule by the Hutu ethnic majority (p. 40).

Ethnic tensions and violence, particularly between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples, were consequently rife since the late colonial period in 1959, and culminated in brutal attacks on the Tutsi in 1963 and 1973. Ultimately, with the assassination of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarmimana in a plane crash on 6 April 1994 and amid reemerging ethnic tensions in the early 1990s, extremist Hutu ethnonationalists armed and mobilized local Hutu to slaughter Tutsi and burn their homes. Thousands of Tutsi fled in search of refuge; for Hutu civilians, ethnic solidarity proved the easiest route to survival (p. 55): “In three months, more than 500,000 Tutsi and several thousand moderate Hutu were murdered, thousands of Tutsi women were raped, countless houses and other Tutsi-owned buildings were destroyed, and communities were devastated” (pp. 10–11). International response was slow, and ultimately the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a rebel movement that had been attacking the country from October 1990 until an August 1993 peace accord, succeeded in stopping the genocide. Millions of mostly Hutu refugees fled into neighboring Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (then known as Zaire), while the RPF established itself as the ruling government of Rwanda (p. 11).

In subsequent years, the RPF embarked upon “an extraordinary far-reaching program of social engineering, surely one of the most extensive by any modern state” (p. 12). It is this program, with its primary goal to reshape the ways in which Rwandans understand their historical experience and move forward on the path to reconciliation and national unity, that Longman takes to task. He questions whether the primary goal of Rwanda’s ruling [End Page 108] party is to avoid future ethnic violence, and suggests that it is tailored to preserving exclusive political power.

Criticism of the ruling party—whether forthcoming from the international community or the Rwandan peoples themselves—is often equated to genocide denial. With regard to the local-level gacaca courts, which draw on principles underpinning restorative justice and truth commissions, Longman notes that the apparent noble purposes of rendering justice, promoting rule of law, acknowledging victims’ suffering, encouraging dialogue...


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