Ethnic Conflict and Genocide in Rwanda

  • Wendy LambourneEmail author
Reference work entry


Identity and ethnicity have played a significant and contested role in the history of Rwanda, the genocide of 1994 and its aftermath. This chapter traces the origins of ethnicity as the most salient identity marker for Rwandans since colonization and independence. Starting with an overview of precolonial relations between the three identity groups provides a backdrop for understanding how ethnic identity was constructed by the colonial powers, reinforced by the postindependence governments and became a driver for violent conflict and ultimately genocide. Continuing this tradition of mythmaking and manipulation of identity for social and political purposes, the government of Rwanda post-genocide has sought to replace ethnic identity with a superordinate Rwandan national identity in order to maintain stability and promote unity and reconciliation. The chapter concludes by examining the contemporary challenges and implications of this approach to identity transformation for peace in Rwanda. Central to the analysis is the recognition of how ethnicity has been constructed, reconstructed, and deconstructed for strategic and pragmatic purposes before, during, and after the genocide, rather than being seen as a primordial and definitive marker and determinant of social and political relations and violence in Rwanda. Nevertheless, ethnic identity, although recognized as a political and historical construct, is also seen as a potential powder keg because of its powerful mythological characteristics and capacity to engender deep affective responses based on collective memories of oppression and violence.


Rwanda Genocide Ethnicity Identity Gacaca 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Peace and Conflict StudiesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Sérgio Luiz Cruz Aguilar
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculdade de Filosofia e CiênciasSao Paulo State UniversityMaríliaBrazil

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