Accounting for horror: post-genocide debates in Rwanda

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Pluto Press, 2004 - History - 232 pages
The 1994 Rwandan genocide was a monumental atrocity in which at least 500,000 Tutsi and tens of thousands of Hutu were murdered in less than four months. Since 1994, members of the Rwandan political class who recognise those events as genocide have struggled to account for it and bring coherence to what is often perceived as irrational, primordial savagery.

Most people agree on the factors that contributed to the genocide -- colonialism, ethnicity, the struggle to control the state. However, many still disagree over the way these factors evolved, and the relationship between them. This continuing disagreemnt raises questions about how we come to understand historical events -- understandings that underpin the possibility of sustainable peace.

Drawing on extensive research among Rwandese in Rwanda and Europe, and on his work with a conflict resolution NGO in post-genocide Rwanda, Nigel Eltringham argues that conventional modes of historical representation are inadequate in a case like Rwanda. Single, absolutist narratives and representations of genocide actually reinforce the modes of thinking that fuelled the genocide in the first place. Eltringham maintains that if we are to understand the genocide, we must explore the relationship between multiple explanations of what happened and interrogate how -- and why -- different groups within Rwandan society talk about the genocide in different ways.

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Political Studies Review: ‘a fine study: shrewdly conceived, carefully judged, wide-ranging and richly detailed … essential reading’
Journal of Conflict Studies: ‘… this is a very important book
… a superb addition to Rwandan ethnography and historiography’
Journal of Genocide Research: ‘[A] crisply-written, well-researched monograph … It should be mandatory reading for readers interested in Rwanda and genocide studies in general’
Ethnic and Racial Studies: ‘Outstanding. … [A] timely and thoughtful study of the meaning of the Rwandan genocide.’
Studies in Conflict and Terrorism: ‘[An] interesting and insightful discussion of the issues of justice, guilt, and blame in present-day Rwandan society.’


The precursor debate
The comparative debate
Debating collective guilt

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About the author (2004)

Nigel Eltringham is a Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology of SOAS, London. He worked for three years with a conflict resolution NGO in Rwanda before conducting doctoral research in Rwanda and among the Rwandan Diaspora in Europe. He has extensively published on post-genocide Rwanda.

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