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Between Past and Future

An Assessment of the Transition from Conflict to Peace in Post-genocide Rwanda

The Rwandan genocide of 1994 was a prime example for the negative impact of manipulation and propaganda discourses which incited a large section of the Hutu population to kill approximately 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu. The project asked if and how today, more than a decade after the genocide, the antagonistic relationships between the parties to the conflict have changed and whether sustainable peace is possible in the future. The overall object of analysis was thus the process of conflict transformation in Rwanda. Against this backdrop, it analysed the impact of various peacebuilding discourses, leading to two objectives: 

Objective 1: Development of a framework for the analysis of conflict transformation

Even though peacebuilding has been central to peace and conflict studies for some time, the question of how the transformation from war to peace can be assessed is rarely ever asked, let alone discussed. The theoretical objective of the project was therefore to develop a framework for the evaluation of conflict transformation processes in post-conflict societies. To this end, the project took a lead from contemporary studies on the construction of enemies in discourse. It analysed if and how enmity can be ‘un-constructed’, i.e. reduced discursively. 

Objective 2: Assessment of the impact of peacebuilding discourses on conflict transformation in Rwanda

In Rwanda in 1994, the impact of enmity discourses and hate speech made it possible for people to murder their own community members and sometimes even relatives. Against this backdrop, it can be assumed that discourses on inclusion, coexistence and reconciliation lead to the opposite effect of transforming the divided society so that sustainable peace becomes a possibility. The project examined to what extent this is the case in postgenocide Rwanda. It analysed various peacebuilding efforts by internal and external agents in order to reveal what discourses about dealing with the past they promote, how these discourses impact on the relationship between Hutu and Tutsi and whether they lead to a long-term transformation of the conflict.

To this end Between Past and Future analysed the unification discourse of the Rwandan government, discourses about national commemorations and remembering, local discourses about the past, the national transitional justice discourse based on the village tribunals Gacaca as well as the role of the international community in shaping these processes. It concluded that rather than leading to conflict transformation many of the discourses produce and reproduce the antagonistic relationship, standing in the way of future peace and security. The following shall discuss each of these aspects in turn.

Project period: 2003-2006
Funding: Deutsche Stiftung Friedensforschung
Principal investigator: Prof. Dr. Susanne Buckley-Zistel


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