Beyond Conflict and Spoilt Identities: How Rwandan Leaders Justify a Single Recategorization Model for Post-Conflict Reconciliation


  • Sigrun Marie Moss


Since 1994, the Rwandan government has attempted to remove the division of the population into the ‘ethnic’ identities Hutu, Tutsi and Twa and instead make the shared Rwandan identity salient. This paper explores how leaders justify the single recategorization model, based on nine in-depth semi-structured interviews with Rwandan national leaders (politicians and bureaucrats tasked with leading unity implementation) conducted in Rwanda over three months in 2011/2012. Thematic analysis revealed this was done through a meta-narrative focusing on the shared Rwandan identity. Three frames were found in use to “sell” this narrative where ethnic identities are presented as a) an alien construction; b) which was used to the disadvantage of the people; and c) non-essential social constructs. The material demonstrates the identity entrepreneurship behind the single recategorization approach: the definition of the category boundaries, the category content, and the strategies for controlling and overcoming alternative narratives. Rwandan identity is presented as essential and legitimate, and as offering a potential way for people to escape spoilt subordinate identities. The interviewed leaders insist Rwandans are all one, and that the single recategorization is the right path for Rwanda, but this approach has been criticised for increasing rather than decreasing intergroup conflict due to social identity threat. The Rwandan case offers a rare opportunity to explore leaders’ own narratives and framing of these ‘ethnic’ identities to justify the single recategorization approach.