September-October 2011 Issue • Volume 39 • Issue 7

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ASA Forum for Public Discussion and Debate

Another Look at Rwanda:

In the May/June 2011 issue of Footnotes, Jeanne Ballantine reflected on her experiences in Rwanda, asking “Is Rwanda a success story?” She described a sociologist’s view on time spent in the country. I would like to offer a different picture, also based on my time in Rwanda and my research on race, politics, and genocide in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

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In Rwanda, ethnicity remains deeply politicized and ethnic conflict is very much in living memory. Survivors and perpetrators of the 1994 genocide comprise the majority of the population, and they are struggling to come to terms with the past. Ballantine writes that “Rwandans have been ordered by the government to not discuss that nightmare lest they be deemed traitors to the country.” However, the Rwandan government, under the leadership of Paul Kagame and the RPF, controls most state institutions and use laws against “divisionism” and “genocide ideology” to maintain control over politics, education, and the burgeoning economic sector of Rwanda. Those who criticize or question the government’s policies are arrested, killed, or disappeared.

Ballantine compliments Rwanda’s transition from French to English—a move that President Kagame asserts will further aid Rwanda’s economic ambitions.  She does not explain that English is the dominant language of the elite RPF and Tutsi Ugandans in Rwanda, helping secure their access to the benefits of Rwanda’s economic development. This leaves French-speaking Hutus as well as Tutsis who survived the genocide behind. It is a form of symbolic violence that further disenfranchises those not connected to the regime.

Moreover, Dr. Ballantine suggests that Rwanda is progressing politically and asks whether President Kagame, as a benevolent dictator, is necessary for the country to move ahead. Yet evidence indicates that Kagame’s stronghold is beginning to crumble. Last summer, in the lead-up to Rwanda’s first presidential election since the law against divisionism was passed, the government charged opposition candidate, Victoire Ingabire, with genocide ideology, imprisoning her and banning her candidacy. Green Party candidate Andre Kagwa Rwisereka was decapitated in South Rwanda, his body dumped on the side of the road. In South Africa, there was an attempted assassination of Lt General Nyamwasa who, along with several other senior military officials, fled Rwanda after disagreements with President Kagame. The newspaper editor who requested an investigation in to the General’s death was gunned down in front of his home in Kigali. Nyamwasa’s colleague, General Patrick Karegeya, has been calling for a violent overthrow of Kagame’s regime ever since.

Finally, according to a recent United Nations Human Rights report, Rwanda’s government has been engaged in a sort of “retaliatory genocide” in East Congo, raping women and children and massacring Hutu civilians en masse (www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/RDCProjetMapping.aspx). In one section of the U.N. document, 460 Banyarwanda Hutu are reported bludgeoned to death with hammer blows after being bound together by Kagame’s troops. Is this progress?

Recent articles and books1 point to renewed conflict and ongoing struggles between Rwanda’s RPF elite and those who continue to suffer from various forms of domination: economic, political, symbolic, and physical. It is a stretch to say that “Rwanda is on the brink of positive, significant change.” Instead, I encourage sociologists interested in the Great Lakes region of Africa to investigate this subject further.

Aliza Luft, University of Wisconsin-Madison

  1. See Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence, edited by Scott Straus and Lars Waldorf (2011), for an excellent review.

Sociology in Secondary Schools

Some of us, including myself, have long been concerned about the state of sociology in American secondary schools. More than a half-century ago Paul Lazersfeld, as president of the ASA (1960), surveyed the situation and took steps that resulted, ultimately, in ASA receiving a generous grant from the National Science Foundation to develop sociologically oriented curriculum materials for use in high school social studies courses. From 1966 to 1969, I was employed by the project funded by that grant. Under the leadership of Robert Angell, Sociological Resources for the Social Studies (SRSS), as it was called, developed a number of two-week episodes and a one-term textbook. It is my recollection that the materials were generally well received, but that the grant expired just when the materials were becoming available and there was never enough effort expended to promote their use. This, coupled with the fact that virtually no provision has never been made to train and hire high school teachers who are qualified to teach our subject matter, resulted in resumed inattention to the matter.

Toward the end of the 20th century there seems to have been a revived attempt to this situation and, among other things, I served from 1989 to 1993 on ASA’s Committee on Sociology in Elementary and Secondary Schools. However, in 1994 I became caught up in other important issues and lost track of this issue. I am encouraged by the report by Hayley Lotspeich in the May/June Footnotes, and I hope that this time there continues to be steady progress toward what I see as an important goal – namely, providing high school students with adequate insight into society and its organization.

F Lincoln Grahlfs,
Flg17@columbia.edu

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