Memory, politics and culture in post-genocide Rwanda

Collective memory and personal narratives

Erinnerung, Politik und Kultur in Ruanda nach dem Völkermord: Kollektive und individuelle Praktiken des Erinnerns

The subproject „Collective memory and personal narratives“ is part of the research project „Memory, politics and culture in post-genocide Rwanda“. Scholars of various disciplines have already examined different aspects of the production of collective memory and public culture in the interest of remaking the past in Rwandan nation-building. I want to review this body of literature, analyse my field material that mainly will consist of interviews with various Rwandan actors, compare the processes of memory-making in Rwanda with other case studies (e.g. South Africa and Cambodia) and present the results of my work in a book entitled “Memory, politics and culture in post-genocide Rwanda”.

I will explore how the violent past is re-presented in Rwanda and how those representations impact national belonging, as well as the negotiation and re-shaping of newly emerging identities, beyond the ethnic essentialism of the Hutu-Tutsi dichotomy. I am interested in how public memory and the politics of memory are embedded in the wider socio-political program of “Reconciliation and National Unity”, the purpose of which is to “heal” and “unify” a society whose social coherence was torn apart by violent politics legitimized by discourses of cultural/ethnic difference. . Furthermore, I am concerned with how ordinary people recollect violent and painful experiences and how they re-imagine the past and the present. I want to examine how they deal with different forms of (national) commemorative practice and whether they develop local forms of memorialisation. I aim to study the articulation and the contestation of public memory and personal narratives, the ambiguities and contradictory readings of public representations and competing narratives.

I will focus on material and visual representations of the past, including genocide memorials and museums, on the annual commemoration ceremonies (e.g. Icyunamo – National Mourning Week, National Commemoration Day), on local forms of commemoration, on official documents and personal narratives. Besides scholarly literature and official documents, my material will consist mainly of interviews with relevant actors in the public memory project (state authorities; various non-state actors and interest groups – national as well as international as part of the “memory boom” (Jay Winter); religious, local and cultural communities) as well as interviews with so-called “ordinary” Rwandans as they attend public ceremonies, create local practices of remembering, relate personal (past) experiences and rework local histories.


2006: Gewalt, Trauma, Erinnerung / Violence, trauma, memory. In: Entangled. Annäherungen an zeitgenössische Künstler aus Afrika / Entangled. Approaching contemporary African artists. Hg. von Marjorie Jongbloed für die VolkswagenStiftung. S. 122-155. Hannover: VolkswagenStiftung. [Publikation und Künstleredition].

2005a: Erinnern und Trauern. Über Genozidgedenkstätten in Ruanda. In: Kommunikationsräume – Erinnerungsräume. Beiträge zur transkulturellen Begegnung in Afrika. Hg. von Winfried Speitkamp. S. 301-332. München: Martin Meidenbauer.

2005b: Erinnerung, Politik und Genozid in Ruanda. In: Gesellschaftstheorie und Provokationen der Moderne. Gerhard Hauck zum 65. Geburtstag. Hg. von Reinhart Kößler, Daniel Kumitz, Ulrike Schultz. S. 139-152. Münster: Dampfboot. [Peripherie-Sonderband, 1].

Image: Genocide Memorial in Murambi (Rwanda), April 2004 (©Brandstetter 2004)