Having received a few requests recently for books on Rwanda & the genocide, I thought I’d list those that I’ve found most valuable in understanding the peri-genocidal state. (I’ve since updated this post several times since publication, most recently in June 2015.)
- Antecedents to Modern Rwanda: The Nyiginya Kingdom, by Jan Vansina. A must-read for understanding the political, economic, and social organization of pre-colonial Rwanda, and the harmful way that colonialism interacted with the extant social identities of “Hutu” and “Tutsi.” Alison Des Forges’ Defeat is the Only Bad News: Rwanda Under Musinga, 1986 – 1931 and Catherine Newbury’s The Cohesion of Oppression: Clientship and Ethnicity in Rwanda, 1960 – 1960 cover the same period, although I haven’t read either yet.
- The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide, by Gerard Prunier. The most comprehensive history of the genocide that I’ve yet read. Prunier is a formidable researcher, and he covers the period from independence up to the late 1990s in considerable detail and from a cogent analytical perspective. His later research caused him to question this book’s favorable portrayals of Paul Kagame during several internal RPF struggles which took place during the 1990 – 1994 civil war, but I don’t think that detracts from the insight of the vast majority of analysis here. Mahmood Mamdani’s When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda provides a similar look at the historical roots of the genocide.
- The Order of Genocide: Race, Power, and War in Rwanda, by Scott Straus. Straus does incredible work investigating the microdynamics of the genocide, with specific attention to the way in which the national-level order to commit genocide was transmitted through various levels of political machinery, and actualized in killing at the local level. This book should put to rest once and for all the misconception that the genocide was an unpremeditated outburst of “ancient tribal hatreds.” Lee Ann Fuji’s Killing Neighbors: Webs of Violence in Rwanda, which I haven’t read yet, looks like another excellent work on the genocide’s microdynamics.
- Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak, Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak, and The Antelope’s Strategy: Living in Rwanda After the Genocide, by Jean Hatzfeld. Hatzfeld is a French journalist who conducted extensive interviews with genocide perpetrators and victims in the mid-1990s (for Machete and Life), and then again in the early 2000s (Antelope). Machete and Life offer an incomparable view into the human side of the local-level political violence that Straus documented in Order, whilst Antelope is a sobering reminder that the wounds of the genocide are still very much open for most Rwandans. Essential reading.
- Remaking Rwanda: State-Building and Human Rights After Mass Violence, edited by Scott Straus & Lars Waldorf. Published in 2011, this essay collection offers a fascinating look into social policy and domestic politics 15 years after the genocide. Susan Thomson’s Whispering Truth to Power: Everyday Resistance to Reconciliation in Postgenocide Rwanda and Jeannie Burnet’s Genocide Lives in Us: Women, Memory, and Silence in Rwanda cover the same period with a focus on the lived experience of ordinary people. They’re very good works of anthropology, worth a read even if you’re already familiar with the broad outlines of Rwandan society today. Marc Sommers seems to cover similar territory in Stuck: Rwandan Youth and the Struggle for Adulthood, but I haven’t read this yet.
What else would you recommend? (Update: see the comments for some additional recommendations!)