Liberation movements and stalled democratic transitions: reproducing power in Rwanda and South Africa through productive liminality, with Alex Beresford and Laura Mann. Democratization.
The lack of convergence towards liberal democracy in some African countries reflects neither a permanent state of political aberration, nor necessarily a prolonged transitional phase through which countries pass once the “right” conditions are met. Examining the cases of two ruling parties, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and the African National Congress in South Africa, we develop the concept of productive liminality to explain countries suspended (potentially indefinitely) in a status “betwixt and between” mass violence, authoritarianism, and democracy. On the one hand, their societies are in a liminal status wherein a transition to democracy and socio-economic “revolution” remains forestalled; on the other hand, this liminality is instrumentalized to justify the party’s extraordinary mandate characterized by: (a) an idea of an incomplete project of liberation that the party alone is mandated to fulfil through an authoritarian social contract, and (b) the claim that this unfulfilled revolution is continuously under threat by a coterie of malevolent forces, which the party alone is mandated to identify and appropriately sanction.
Barriers to Women’s Progress After Atrocity: Evidence from Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Gender & Society: 31(6): 830-853.
Researchers have recently documented the unexpected opportunities war can present for women. While acknowledging the devastating effects of mass violence, this burgeoning field highlights war’s potential to catalyze grassroots mobilization and build more gender sensitive institutions and legal frameworks. Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina serve as important examples of this phenomenon, yet a closer examination of both cases reveals the limits on women’s capacity to take part in and benefit from these postwar shifts. This article makes two key contributions. First, it demonstrates how the postwar political settlement created hierarchies of victimhood that facilitated new social divisions and fractured women’s collective organizing. Second, it argues that while war creates certain opportunities for women, a revitalization of patriarchy in the aftermath can undermine these gains. Drawing on more than 250 interviews with women in both countries, this article ultimately questions the extent to which postwar mobilization can be maintained or harnessed for genuine gender emancipation.
Gender Politics After War: Mobilizing Opportunity in Post-conflict Africa. Thematic Review, with Milli Lake, Arizona State University. Politics & Gender: 13(2): 336-349.
Thematic review of: Gender, Violence and Politics in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jane Freedman (2015); Mobilizing Transnational Gender Politics in Post-Genocide Rwanda, Rirhandu Mageza-Barthel (2015); and Women and Power in Post-Conflict Africa, Aili Mari Tripp (2015).
From Violence to Mobilization: War, Women, and Threat in Rwanda. Mobilization: An International Quarterly: 20(2): 135-156.
Theories of social movement emergence posit “threat” as an important concept in explanations of mobilization. This article uses the case of the 1994 Rwandan genocide to investigate whether threats that stem from mass violence can also have a mobilizing effect. Drawing from interviews with 152 women in Rwanda, this paper reveals how threatening conditions created by the genocide initiated a grassroots mobilization process among women. This mobilization featured women founding and joining community organizations, engaging in new forms of claims-making towards state institutions, and eventually running for political office. Two mechanisms facilitated this process: the social appropriation of feminine cultural values for the re-conceptualization of women as legitimate political actors, and the processes by which foreign actors brokered connections between individual women, organizations, and government. This paper concludes by suggesting that this mobilization served as a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for the meteoric rise of women in Rwanda’s politics.
When 'Bright Futures' Fade: Paradoxes of Women's Empowerment in Rwanda. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society: 41 (1): 1-27.
Since the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has emerged as a global model for the promotion of women in society. Today, Rwanda has progressive gender-sensitive laws, more girls than boys in primary school, and the world’s highest percentage of women in parliament. But has this national-level progress manifested in an actual improvement in the lives of ordinary Rwandan women? If not, what has prevented these rights-based empowerment efforts from taking hold? Drawing from interviews with 152 women at all levels of Rwandan society, this article illustrates the contradictory and complicated nature of women’s empowerment efforts. It identifies three paradoxes that capture how efforts to promote women can be undermined by deeply rooted social processes. First, women are granted new rights but cannot access them unless they are married, which further reinforces their dependence on men. Second, policies aim to empower women through education, but have unintended consequences that create new forms of oppression. Third, in order to advance the image of a “modern Rwanda” the government restricts women’s labor, further entrenching their poverty. Each of these paradoxes suggests that efforts to remedy women’s subordination may actually end up reinforcing it.
Understanding the Political Motivations that Shape Rwanda’s Emergent Developmental State, with Laura Mann, University of Leiden. New Political Economy: 21(1): 119-144.
Twenty years after its horrific genocide, Rwanda has become a model for economic development. At the same time, its government has been criticized for its authoritarian tactics and use of violence. Missing from the often-polarized debate are the connections between these two perspectives. Synthesizing existing literature on Rwanda in light of a combined year of fieldwork, we argue that the GoR is using the developmental infrastructure to deepen state power and expand political control. We first identify the historical pressures that have motivated the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) to re-imagine the political landscape. Sectarian unrest, political rivalry, wider regional insecurity, and aid withdrawal have all pressured the RPF to identify growth as strategic. However, the country’s political transformation extends beyond a prioritisation of growth and encompasses the reordering of the social and physical layout of the territory, the articulation of new ideologies and mindsets, and the provision of social services and surveillance infrastructure. Growth and social control go hand in hand. As such, the paper’s main contribution is to bring together the two sides of the Rwandan debate and place the country in a broader sociological literature about the parallel development of capitalist relations and transformations in state power.