Rwanda's Construction of Memorial Sites and a National Narrative: Collective Memory and Continued Violence in the Aftermath of a Genocide

Saturday, January 5, 2019
Stevens C Prefunction (Hilton Chicago)
Alison Tipton, Saint Mary's College
The purpose of my research has been to explore the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide through the lens of the national narrative that the Rwandan government has constructed. My research considers Rwanda’s construction of memorial sites and government rhetoric in particular to demonstrate how the Rwandan government has constructed a version of the genocide to further their political goals. The most pertinent piece of information about some of these sites is that the government has actively promoted the display of the bodies of victims of the genocide. I have explored how this has influenced the collective memory of the nation as well as post-genocide reconciliation efforts.

The questions that I have sought to answer in my research are as follows: 1) Who created these sites? 2) How do these sites either reinforce or reject the national narrative that the Rwandan government has created regarding the genocide? 3) How does the imagery of these sites affect nearby residents? I was able to answer these questions through my methodology of analyzing the imagery of two particular memorial sites at Ntarama and Murambi in conjunction with the policies and rhetoric the Rwandan government has enforced in the post-genocide era. I consulted research that scholars such as Timothy P. Longman, Susanne Buckley-Zistel, and Nigel Eltringham conducted, utilized Susan Sontag’s work Regarding the Pain of Others as a lens and framework for thinking about visual culture and images, and explored survivor testimonies about their experiences during both the genocide and post-genocide eras. My thesis succinctly sums up my findings: the memorial sites at Ntarama and Murambi have further perpetuated the dehumanization of the victims of the genocide, allowed the Rwandan government to create a monopoly on memory in order to construct a particular narrative about the genocide, and thus have impeded post-genocide reconciliation efforts in Rwanda. The creators of the sites have left the bodies to be devoured not only by time and decay, but by the human gaze.

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