Accepted Paper:

"Today, I am no Mutwa anymore"- Local reverberations of national unity discourse in present-day Rwanda  


Christiane Adamczyk (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

This paper tries to highlight aspects of the Rwandan discourse on national unity on one side and group identities on the other side. The smallest population group of Rwanda, the Batwa, can serve as an example for the negotiation of diversity and autochthony vs. unity in a post-conflict society.

Paper long abstract:

Only 14 years after the Genocide, Rwanda presents herself as a fast growing and reconciled country. The Government of National Unity pursues an extensive unification policy aiming at all population strata. One pillar of this policy is a changed interpretation of Rwandan national history: Where once the population structure of the country was described as composed of three distinct ethnic groups (Bahutu, Batutsi and Batwa), connected to successive waves of migration into the country, the new official narrative of Rwandan history considers ethnic identities as results of colonial invention.

Public discourse so far underlines very dominantly the historical unity of all Rwandans to promote a national identity. On local level and in case of the Batwa, however, the picture is less clear. Contrary to the public narrative of unity, the Batwa have been the subject of exclusion by other groups, visible in everyday interactions on markets or schools. Traditionally hunters and gatherers, the Batwa now live from pottery and day labour. They experience themselves not only as marginalised but also as the autochthonous population of the country. Within the strict public framework of unity, claims for autochthony can cause conflict with the authorities. For other Batwa the identity of being autochthonous is no longer important. They consider themselves as Banyarwanda, Rwandans.

The questions this paper tries to discuss are: Which elements of the public discourse on national unity have found their way into local practice? What different meanings are given to the rather flexible notion 'autochthony'?

Panel W035
Indigenous, autochthonous and national identities? Strategic representations, political struggles and epistemological issues (atelier bilingue - anglais et fran├žais)