Daily Archives: July 14, 2021

Like the U.S., Rwanda is in a pitched battle over its history

Controlling the historical narrative in Rwanda is key to the regime’s power

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By Tom ZoellnerTom Zoellner is professor of English at Chapman University and the author of “Island on Fire: The Revolt That Ended Slavery in the British Empire.”July 12, 2021 at 6:00 a.m. EDT2

Tucker Carlson recently went on an attention-grabbing screed about how America’s history of racism gets taught. He garnered headlines by calling Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs Staff, “stupid” and “a pig” for defending a class on the subject taught at the U.S. Military Academy. Carlson then made a comparison of America to another country that managed to be both absurd — and surprisingly apt:

“The question is, and this is the question we should be meditating on, day in and day out, is how do we get out of this vortex, the cycle, before it’s too late? How do we save this country before we become Rwanda?”

The absurd part is what Carlson was trying to say: that the teaching of critical race theory in schools and universities would lead to oppressed people of color picking up machetes to slaughter White people, an ethnic cleansing that would resemble the 1994 genocide in the small East African nation of Rwanda, in which 800,000 people were slaughtered at the urging of a government made up of the majority Hutu ethnicity.

Rwanda holds an important lesson for America’s culture wars today, but not in the way Carlson thinks. Rather, in Rwanda, political leaders have rewritten the country’s history to gain political power, just as the right wing is now attempting to do in the United States. In fact, the greatest asset of the dictatorship in today’s Rwanda is its mastery of the past. “Within Rwanda today, hegemonic power relies for much of its justification on a certain reading of history,” the Smith College scholar David Newbury has concluded.

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