Democracy, identity and the politics of exclusion in post-genocide Rwanda: the case of the Batwa

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Abstract:

Since the 1994 genocide, the Rwandan government has sought to navigate a difficult path between the multi-party democracy favoured by donors and a more tightly managed political environment that it argues is necessary for security. Using the fragile post-genocide political context and a history of political manipulation of ethnic identity as justification, the government has stigmatized and criminalized all references to ethnicity. This paper argues that this strategy has required careful management and manipulation of local narratives of identity and citizenship. It suggests that this has led, for one group in particular - the indigenous Batwa - to a politics of exclusion which limits their ability to participate effectively in post-genocide politics and advocate for their rights. Drawing on interviews with Rwandan civil society activists, government representatives and key bilateral and multilateral donors, the paper explores the often-overlooked impacts of these strategies on the Batwa, Rwanda's smallest ethnic group. Rwanda has been praised for its achievements in creating stability, relative security and a degree of competitive politics in a divided society that is needed to prevent the recurrence of large scale violence. And though the government explains its attempts to manage identity narratives as part of a wider effort to create an inclusive national identity, promoting 'Rwandan-ness', it is suggested that the effects of this policy for the Batwa have been negative and exclusionary. Whatever the potential virtues of such a strategy, the paper argues that there is little room for effective representation and accordingly for a political voice for the indigenous Batwa in such a tightly managed system.

Keywords: Batwa; Rwanda; exclusion; genocide; identity; ideology

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13510347.2011.553367

Affiliations: International Development Department, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK

Publication date: April 1, 2011

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