Killing Neighbors

Killing Neighbors: Webs of Violence in Rwanda

Lee Ann Fujii
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Killing Neighbors
    Book Description:

    In the horrific events of the mid-1990s in Rwanda, tens of thousands of Hutu killed their Tutsi friends, neighbors, even family members. That ghastly violence has overshadowed a fact almost as noteworthy: that hundreds of thousands of Hutu killed no one. In a transformative revisiting of the motives behind and specific contexts surrounding the Rwandan genocide, Lee Ann Fujii focuses on individual actions rather than sweeping categories.

    Fujii argues that ethnic hatred and fear do not satisfactorily explain the mobilization of Rwandans one against another. Fujii's extensive interviews in Rwandan prisons and two rural communities form the basis for her claim that mass participation in the genocide was not the result of ethnic antagonisms. Rather, the social context of action was critical. Strong group dynamics and established local ties shaped patterns of recruitment for and participation in the genocide.

    This web of social interactions bound people to power holders and killing groups. People joined and continued to participate in the genocide over time, Fujii shows, because killing in large groups conferred identity on those who acted destructively. The perpetrators of the genocide produced new groups centered on destroying prior bonds by killing kith and kin.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5861-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  6. Introduction: Genocide among Neighbors
    (pp. 1-22)

    Édouard did not look the part. None of the rural men and women who participated in the Rwandan genocide did. Their lives revolved around work, chores, children, and church, not mass murder. Édouard was typical in this regard. He was born in a rural community rung by the Virunga Mountains, the range made famous by Dian Fossey’s gorillas. He grew up to become a farmer, married, had four children. Among his neighbors was a Tutsi family. He and his neighbor were not close, but each “still played the role of neighbor,” helping one another and sharing good times. After the...

  7. 1 Conducting Fieldwork in the Aftermath of War and Genocide
    (pp. 23-44)

    The community of “Ngali” lies in the southern portion of Rwanda. Its landscape is low rising hills, dotted with thin clumps of trees and fields of coffee, bananas, corn, and other crops. Key vantage points offer panoramic views of the network of back roads and modest homes that fill out the picture. Admiring this landscape in 2004, I found it hard to fathom that only ten years earlier, these same hills were the site of genocide, carried out by local bands of killers who sought to kill every Tutsi in the community and any Hutu trying to help Tutsi. At...

  8. 2 Violence and Identity in Historical Perspective
    (pp. 45-75)

    There is a common assumption that underscores much of the literature on ethnic and mass violence—that ethnicity is the master cleavage that structures political and social relations. The ethnic hatred and ethnic fear models work directly from this tenet. Both assume the primacy of ethnic division and conflict in causing violence. Applied to the Rwanda case, both would expect the cause of the genocide to reside in the conflict between Hutu and Tutsi. This logic would lead the analyst to look for some fundamental, perhaps insurmountable, ethnic divide that precipitated and eventuated in genocide. For why else would one...

  9. 3 Local Narratives and Explanations
    (pp. 76-102)

    If the conflict that led to the genocide at the national level was political, what factors led to violence at the local level? A tendency in the literature on political violence is to privilege the center over the periphery (Kalyvas 2006, chap. 2).¹ An urban bias does more than simply ignore the periphery. It assumes that what goes on inside the capital is the same as what goes on outside, that politics in the periphery will mirror or mimic politics in the center. As numerous ethnographies and microlevel studies have shown, however, politics and violence rarely flow from the center...

  10. 4 The Enigma of Ethnicity
    (pp. 103-127)

    In the previous chapter, ethnicity figured prominently in people’s narration of events during the civil war and genocide. Yet, in their explanations, people highlight environmental factors and personal motives. This raises a puzzle: Where did ethnicity figure in the genocide? How exactly did it operate?

    The literature on ethnic and mass violence locates the mobilizing power of ethnicity in the polarized categories that elites are able to construct and diffuse. Under conditions of threat or insecurity, elites will use ethnicity as a political tool to achieve more cynical ends. To polarize groups and radicalize group identities, they will create social...

  11. 5 The Power of Local Ties
    (pp. 128-153)

    If performances depend on the actors, how did leaders recruit for genocide? Straus (2006, 120) conjectures that recruitment was random but notes the importance of face-to-face encounters for coercive recruitment into the killing groups. Phillip Verwimp (2005) finds that perpetrator households were generally represented by no more than one male member, such as the father or a son, as if the genocide was like umuganda, whereby each household was responsible for sending one person to perform communal labor. What these studies do not tell us is why and how some residents joined in the violence, while others did not.


  12. 6 The Logic of Groups
    (pp. 154-179)

    So far we have seen how violence became a way for local leaders to express and consolidate their power through performances of the genocidal script. I have argued that it was social ties, not ethnic attachments, that patterned these performances in both communities. Yet, structural factors such as social ties do not tell us much about the process by which people produced and reproduced the violence over time. How did people come to commit mass murder the first time? And why did they continue their participation over time? The answers to these questions, I argue, lie in group dynamics. Group...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 180-190)

    When I began this project, I had little understanding of what anthropologists meant by the term local and the importance they placed on “local knowledge” in shaping both large- and small-scale processes. From my macrolevel vantage point, I had little grasp of how “the local” could figure into a project as all encompassing as genocide. I assumed instead that whenever leaders had the means, motive, and opportunity to pursue a strategy of genocide, they would proceed by turning flexible identities into rigid and polarized categories. This process of polarization would precede the violence and generate the necessary force to drive...

  14. Dramatis personae
    (pp. 191-192)
  15. Glossary of Kinyarwanda Terms
    (pp. 193-194)
  16. References
    (pp. 195-202)
  17. Index
    (pp. 203-212)