Publication Details

Mayersen, D. (2014). 'Once upon a time there was a wonderful country': representations of history in Rwanda. Australasian Review of African Studies, 35 (1), 23-38.


In April 1994, genocide erupted in Rwanda with an unprecedented ferocity. Over the course of 100 days, more than 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed. A major contributor to the violence was an intense propaganda campaign that dehumanised and demonised the Tutsi minority prior to and during the genocide. This propaganda presented the Tutsi as foreign and feudal oppressors, who would again oppress the Hutu majority as they had in the past if they were not targeted for extermination. Such dubious representations of history have deep roots in Rwanda, which can be traced to the early colonial period. This article will explore three examples of the way in which history has been represented and misrepresented in Rwanda, spanning from colonial to contemporary periods. It will consider how key stakeholders have sometimes portrayed Rwanda's history in skewed and inaccurate ways, and the profound impact this has had on ethnic divisions within the country. Moreover, it will examine how misrepresentations of Rwanda's history are continuing in the post-genocide period. It is only through interrogating (mis)representations of Rwanda's history that the political agendas that have and continue to shape them can be exposed and challenged.