"When we captured Kigali, we thought we would face criminals in
the state; instead, we faced a criminal population." So a political
commissar in the Rwanda Patriotic Front reflected after the 1994
massacre of as many as one million Tutsis in Rwanda. Underlying his
statement is the realization that, though ordered by a minority of
state functionaries, the slaughter was performed by hundreds of
thousands of ordinary citizens, including even judges, human rights
activists, and doctors, nurses, priests, friends, and spouses of
the victims. Indeed, it is its very popularity that makes the
Rwandan genocide so unthinkable. This book makes it thinkable.
Rejecting easy explanations of the genocide as a mysterious evil
force that was bizarrely unleashed, one of Africa's best-known
intellectuals situates the tragedy in its proper context. He coaxes
to the surface the historical, geographical, and political forces
that made it possible for so many Hutu to turn so brutally on their
neighbors. He finds answers in the nature of political identities
generated during colonialism, in the failures of the nationalist
revolution to transcend these identities, and in regional
demographic and political currents that reach well beyond Rwanda.
In so doing, Mahmood Mamdani usefully broadens understandings of
citizenship and political identity in postcolonial Africa.
There have been few attempts to explain the Rwandan horror, and
none has succeeded so well as this one. Mamdani's analysis provides
a solid foundation for future studies of the massacre. Even more
important, his answers point a way out of crisis: a direction for
reforming political identity in central Africa and preventing
Princeton University Press
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