Calamity in Rwanda: An atrocious phantasm.

Calamity in Rwanda: An atrocious phantasm

Clutter, clang, bang! A harrowing scream pierces through the frenzy and soon after, a wide face pops into space. As swiftly as it emerged, it disappears. It is replaced by a slender pair of hands and you have a fleeting moment of relief. The face is back again, large white eyes are staring down at you. You burst into tears, the face vanishes once again then another one pops into your vision. This new face is grim and misshapen and your anxiety surges. Large hands hover over you gripping a shining menacing object. The eyes that look down at you, in your cradle are cold and hollow.

For the child, Peekaboo is a captivating and equally confounding experience. Peekaboo is a game often played with an infant; the other player hides or covers their face and reveals it to the bemused infant. This is because babies have an inability to understand object permanence that objects continue to exist even when they are not seen. As we grow up we develop an intuitive understanding of space and time as fixed and we suspend the idea of space as illusory and malleable. 

The sequence of the events that happened from April to July 1994 in the country, Rwanda played out like a morbid hallucination than the reality one’s accustomed to. Over one million Rwandan citizens, adult civilians and children, belonging mostly to the Tutsi ethnic group lost their lives during the Rwandan genocide by the Hutu nationalist government.  The chilling participation of Rwandan civilians in this ethnic cleansing, where people were ambushed by their own neighbours and friends, is perplexing and leaves one with questions about the causal factors that instigated such violent atrocities. In a matter of three months the structure of society was lost, the veil of spatial permanence and the spatio-temporal networks were dismantled. In a short space of time all systems collapsed and the green and undulating landscape of Rwanda had mutated into a red terrain of death and chaos.

The overt assassination of President Habyarimana and the ethnic tension incited by the Belgian colonizers in the early 20th century serve as an introductory pretext to explain this act of brutality. From the rise in violent grass root crimes prior to the genocide, to the growing dissension about privatization and land ownership, the events and phenomenon surrounding and leading up to the genocide suggest that there was a complex network of determinants from institutional to interpersonal friction, a form of causality generated by a broad range of psychosocial, economic and political factors.

Prior to the genocide and colonialism, there was the Nyiginya kingdom comprising of the Twa, the Tutsi and the Hutu. The archaeological artefacts of this kingdom challenge the ethno racial colonial construction that is often regarded as the primary determinant of the war. The precolonial history suggests that Rwanda was a non-ethno racial society with a complex political system. Non-essentialist identities of pre-colonial Rwanda were converted into defined ethnic groups with supposedly distinct divisions during colonialism.

The migration trajectories of the Twa, Tutsi and Hutu, suggest that there was cohabitation and a spatio-temporal connectedness apparent in their socio-political structures and economic processes. The sociocultural divide between the citizens of the Nyiginya kingdom was held together by institutions embedded in spiritualism and ritual practices however, these institutions were hierarchical in nature and there was a growing opposition between the ethnic groups about the incorporeal, mystical systems that determined the organization of space and society. 

 How does one narrate a “complete” story that captures the range of spatio-temporalities that are pluralistic in scale, from the individual to the global impact and in perspective? From the precolonial, to colonial to post colonialism, Rwanda’s story is a story about occupation, demise, deconstruction and reconstruction. From the scholarly vantage point of an outsider how does one decide to frame one’s perspective? The phenomenological framework we use to unpack these sensitive histories are entangled not only with other spatiotemporal frameworks that work at the macro levels of global politics but with the local level of the individual Rwandan battling everyday with their lived trauma. 

Milk, bread, tea. The chattering around you, the cars, the steady drown have all faded away as you wonder further into a semi coherent landscape of thoughts. You are walking up the inclined pavement and The Union Trade Centre building in Kigali comes into view. The buzz snaps you from your thoughts. You are standing beneath the walk through metal detector. The security guard looks irritated and you instinctively hand them your bag. They look through it and hand it back. What was the list again? Bread, tea, milk, jam and something you can’t seem to remember. It is okay, hopefully you will remember inside the supermarket.


  • Harvey, David. “Space as a Keyword.” David Harvey, n.d., 70–93.
  • Kimonyo, Jean-Paul. Rwandas Popular Genocide a Perfect Storm. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2016
  • Norum, Roger, Mary Mostafanezhad, and Tani Sebro. “The Chronopolitics of Exile: Hope, Heterotemporality and NGO Economics along the Thai–Burma Border – Roger Norum, Mary Mostafanezhad, Tani Sebro, 2016.” SAGE Journals. Accessed April 12, 2020.
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  • Giblin, John. “Political and Theoretical Problems for the Archaeological Identification of Precolonial Twa, Tutsi, and Hutu in Rwanda.” Accessed April 12, 2020.

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