In the early 1990s, Rwanda was devastated by civil war and genocide. From April to July 1994, an interim government lead by ethnic Hutu extremists implemented the systematic murder of almost three-quarters of Rwanda’s ethnic Tutsi minority as well as ethnic Hutu who did not support the plan for genocide. The genocide of at least 500,000 ethnic Tutsi took place in the context of a civil war that began in October 1990, when the then-rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) entered Rwanda from its base in Uganda. The genocide ended in mid-July with the RPF’s total victory. It too committed widespread and systematic murder of ethnic Hutu civilians before and during the 1994 genocide. Owing to its gravity, the Rwandan genocide generated intense international interest, which, in turn, shapes how foreign authors have understood its causes and consequences. Initial comment immediately following the genocide often identified “ethnic hatred” or “tribalism” as its root cause. Among nonspecialist and popular writing on the genocide, the idea of tribalism as a root cause remains pervasive today. Scholars, journalists, and human rights agencies have sought to debunk the notion that ethnic hatred is what drove the 1994 genocide—addressing the “tribalism” argument is a central theme in academic and popular literatures. The literature on Rwanda’s post-genocide reconstruction and reconciliation policies is more polarized, divided generally between those who praise the government for its economic growth and human development policies and those who criticize its human rights record. Much of the literature on the Rwandan genocide is published in English, which marks a break from the predominantly French-language scholarly literature on Rwanda before 1994. The lack of pre-genocide literature in English means that many well-intentioned and capable authors have sometimes failed to address the historically relevant details so essential to understanding Rwandan society. Lack of historical depth also means that some authors rely on politicized interpretations of ethnicity and statehood that, in turn, legitimate the current RPF government’s interpretation of how the genocide happened, and what needs to be done to rebuild the country. This matters because of Rwanda’s highly politicized research environment, which has, in turn, created a polarized post-genocide literature that praises or pillories the ruling RPF. Acknowledging this politicized terrain matters because it shapes what is written on Rwanda, and who is able or willing to do so. See also the separate Oxford Bibliographies article Rwanda.

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