Preference Policies

The nature of preference policies in Rwanda differ significantly from those in South Africa, the United States, and Brazil. These three countries have recognized racial discrimination, and instituted policies that benefit a specific, disadvantaged race group. Rwanda, however, has done the opposite: it does not officially condone race groups, but has instituted policies that implicitly favor Tutsis.

Post-Conflict Power Sharing

Rwanda has long been characterized by racial rule. The Hutus faced systematic exclusion from the political process during the periods of Tutsi monarchy and proxy colonial rule through Tutsi elites. (Nsabimana, 2005: 5). The situation was reversed with the violent revolution of Hutus against Tutsi and colonial rule, resulting in Hutu rule and persecution of Tutsis in Rwanda (Ibid., 7). Discrimination against Tutsis set the stage for RPF (a Tutsi party) to stage another revolution against the Hutu regime, restoring political stability only after genocide and racial violence.

Modern Rwandan politics seeks to be sensitive to this history. On the one hand, the current administration is headed by a Tutsi President who continues to garner a huge majority of the vote (although the validity of this is contested) 1. By virtue of RPF’s victory, Tutsi members are likely to hold important offices (A cursory glance at the party affiliations of members of parliament shows that many of them represent the RPF) 2. On the other hand, since a majority of the population is Hutu, the nation could easily put Hutus in every major political office through democratic elections. The Rwandan government seeks to avoid either outcome.

To strike a balance, the government implemented a constitution with stipulations for power-sharing. (Nsabimana, 8). However, since explicit mentions of race groups are banned, the constitution calls for specific compositions of parties. The constitution states that the President and Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies (the Rwandan version of the United States’ House of Representatives) shall be from different parties. (Ibid., 8). In addition, it states that cabinet members reflect the party composition of the Chamber of Deputies, but that the majority party in the parliament shall not exceed 50% of the members of the cabinet (Ibid., 9). The Rwandan government ostensibly seeks to prevent any one race group from monopolizing national politics.

However, in reality, there remain deep-seeded inequalities in political participation between the two race groups. The RPF-dominated government has been accused of favoring Tutsis, as many Hutu government officials have been forcibly removed from office or prevented from running for office. (Sarkin, 2001: 151). The government in Rwanda continues to seem to favor Tutsis, despite its outward dedication to a post-racial society.

Gacaca Courts

The proceedings of gacaca courts in Rwanda

Rwanda instituted the gacaca courts as a means of providing closure to the traumatic events that happened in the genocide. Because of the magnitude of the genocide, the Rwandan legal system is ill-equipped to deal with the sheer number of perpetrators and cases. Therefore, the government involved local communities in enacting retributive justice against perpetrators. Gacaca courts are informal, local courts, which are led by village elders, and which have traditionally been used to resolve communal conflicts. (Daly, 2002: 356). The courts are participatory, and attendees can provide testimonies and accounts that would help decide the fate of criminals. Punishments range from community service to life prisonment, but the courts cannot give the death penalty (Corey, 2004: 84).

The courts can be considered an implicit form of preference policy for Tutsis. Hutus were not the only perpetrators of violence during the genocide; the RPF was also responsible for a number of war crimes. However, these war crimes (and other instances of Tutsi discrimination against Hutus) are excluded from the gacaca process: only the crimes committed between 1990 and 1994 are included. (Sarkin, 161.)Therefore, the courts have contributed to the racialization of the national memory of genocide by criminalizing and stigmatizating Hutus (Ibid., 86). Hutus have so far been unable to call for reforms in the gacaca process to include RPF war crimes for fear of seeming sympathetic to genocide perpetrators. (Ibid., 87).


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