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What Do The Dead Say? The Architecture of Salvific Discourses in Post-Genocide Rwanda


Few scholars analyze the problem of national meaning-making after mass atrocities. Whether the leaders in power after atrocity were perpetrators or not, they must simultaneously make sense of a tragic past while ruling through state institutions likely implicated in those mass atrocities. This sense-making dilemma leads to “salvific discourses”: narratives founded through memorialization of the victims of mass atrocities which produce an ongoing mythic conflict between saviors and villains that only enduring authoritarianism can contain. Analyzing “post-genocide” Rwanda, we exhume how Rwandan genocide memorials shape the remembrance of the dead and of the genocide within Rwanda. Genocide memorials, as a form of public anamnestic reasoning, create the myth of the genocidal Hutu nation by establishing the “facts” of the genocide as well as specific histories and interpretive frames for those “facts.” The facts and frames combine into “salvific discourses” justifying the practices of authoritarian rule of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)- regime: mass Hutu incarceration in the context of discredited domestic and international pressures for mass electoral participation. In other words, these memorials generate a discourse that simultaneously criminalizes all Hutu males and indicts Catholic Churches as complicit, while paradoxically positing foreign Tutsi governance as post-ethnic, salvific, and cleansing.

Publication Information

Full Citation:

Blair, S. Luke and John A. Stevenson. 2015. “What Do The Dead Say? The Architecture of Salvific Discourses in Post-Genocide Rwanda”,  Journal of Power, Politics & Governance (June), Vol.3: 1, pp. 27-45

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