‘Fraternity in diversity’ or ‘feudal fanatics’? Representations of ethnicity in Rwandan presidential rhetoric
Between independence in 1962 and the genocide in 1994, only two presidents ruled Rwanda. In addition to the enormous economic and developmental challenges that faced Presidents Grégoire Kayibanda (1962–73) and Juvénal Habyarimana (1973–94), each had to manage the ethnic divisions that plagued the country. In this paper Mayersen explores how each president discussed the issue of ethnicity in presidential speeches, interviews and key policy documents. Ostensibly, Presidents Kayibanda and Habyarimana both promoted national unity and advocated allegiance to a unified Rwandan identity rather than a focus on ethnicity. President Kayibanda called for ‘tolerance and understanding between the ethnicities’, while Habyarimana entreated Rwandans to ‘love your countrymen without distinction of ethnic or regional origin’. Yet in the allusive and indirect communication style typical of Rwandan discourse, underneath the presidential promotion of unity was a more complex message. Mayersen argues that the way each president addressed the issue served to maintain a high level of consciousness regarding ethnicity, and contributed to ongoing ethnic disharmony.