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The Status of Rwandan Historical Education

Rwandan leaders placed a moratorium on history education in the wake of the 1994 genocide, concerned about the role history classes in particular had played in disseminating an ideology of divisionism and hatred. But in 2015, the Rwandan Education Board introduced a novel Competence-Based Curriculum, along with a new set of textbooks and an original peace and values educational framework. These materials, and the rethinking of Rwandan instructional practices that accompanied them, tell more than a story of Rwanda’s history: the historical narratives they advance, as well as those they overlook, illuminate a set of beliefs about and visions for Rwanda’s future.

This paper explores the status of Rwandan historical education, reading the system for the lessons it holds about the government’s visions for modernity, identity, and belonging in post-genocide Rwanda. By reviewing key materials including textbooks and teacher resources, observing history lessons in schools across Rwanda, interviewing key stakeholders in the Rwandan educational infrastructure, and collecting testimonies from Rwandan secondary students, I construct and analyze the narrative of Rwandan history that most students there are exposed to from a young age.

This overhauled curriculum is animated by three distinct but interrelated strains: first, an emphasis on the current government’s virtue as a saviour and source of development; second, the desire to build a civic nationalism predicated on citizenship and not ethnicity; and third, a decolonial vision for modernity and identity. The first strain maps most closely onto traditional work on the politics of memory in Rwanda: by emphasizing its own moral origin story and the advancements it has supported, while simultaneously ignoring its own crimes in Rwanda and the DRC, the Kagame government uses the education system in order to justify its own grasp on power. But the other two are newer perspectives. The second strain reflects the desire to build a future for Rwanda defined by civic participation and love of country instead of ethnic allegiance. The third strain is perhaps the most interesting and underexplored: by deemphasizing the ethnic categories that were imposed by colonizers and that have proved so disastrous for Rwanda, Kagame’s government is in the process of decolonizing identity, advancing a model for not just Rwandan but African modernity and rejecting the historical ethnic categories of divide-and-rule colonialism.