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Women in Rwanda  

Sarah E. Watkins, Erin Jessee, and Emma Brunton

While understudied compared to men, women in Rwanda have played critical roles in economic, social, religious, and political activities. From the earliest Stone Age settlements, women likely acted as spiritual mediums, laborers, caretakers, and links between kinship groups. These roles evolved with the rise of the Nyiginya kingdom and neighboring polities, as women became more visibly involved with agricultural, spiritual, and political leadership. Women’s access to power arguably declined, however, with Rwanda’s colonization by the Germans (1895–1916) and Belgians (1916–1895), and the accompanying spread of Christianity. With the nation’s independence in 1962, women continued to be marginalized. However, in the twenty-first century, women have claimed new roles in an increasingly globalized society, as entrepreneurs, teachers, health care professionals, and intellectuals. Historically, women’s roles in Rwandan society have differed based on many factors, including region, proximity to central state authority, socioeconomic status, age, and in modern times, ethnicity. This final designation has earned the most scholarly attention, because of the 1994 genocide, in which Hutu Power extremists and their supporters murdered Tutsi civilians, as well as political moderates of different ethnicities. The extremists also specifically targeted Tutsi women with sexual violence. Since then, Rwanda has become the world leader in promoting gender equality in politics: its post-genocide constitution mandated women’s equal representation in government. Although women’s experiences in the genocide and its aftermath have gained the most attention, they merit deeper analysis throughout the nation’s rich history for their many significant contributions.


Uwilingiyimana, Agathe  

Jennie Burnet

Agathe Uwilingiyimana was the first woman prime minister of Rwanda and only the second woman prime minister on the African continent. A Hutu from southern Rwanda, she was among the first Rwandans killed in the 1994 genocide of Tutsi. She was a political moderate from an opposition political party who rejected ethnic extremism. As the constitutional leader of the country in the wake of the president’s assassination, Hutu extremists killed her so that they could take control of the government. Born to uneducated parents, Uwilingiyimana was among the first women to obtain a bachelor’s degree from the National University of Rwanda in 1985. Before entering politics, she taught high-school science for over a decade. She dedicated her life to promoting women’s equality, removing obstacles to girls’ education, and speaking on behalf of the poor. As one of Rwanda’s first prominent women politicians, Uwilingiyimana faced intense misogyny, particularly from members of extremist Hutu political parties. The media frequently portrayed her naked or in sexual contexts. She was attacked in her own home on multiple occasions and menaced when she appeared in public. She was killed on April 7, 1994, along with her husband and an aide. The Belgian United Nations peacekeepers guarding her were also killed. Her death paved the way for Hutu extremists to take over the government and carry out a genocide targeting Tutsi, members of opposition political parties, human rights activists, and journalists.


Women and Genocide in Africa  

Erin Jessee

Genocide, defined in international law as killings and related mass atrocities that are committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” has negatively impacted countless communities across Africa over the centuries. The resulting historical literature is strongest regarding those genocides that occurred in the 20th and 21st centuries due to a tendency to privilege written sources. Within this literature, African women’s experiences remain understudied compared to the experiences of men, despite widespread recognition that genocides often affect people differently according to their gender identity. However, in looking at the widely studied examples of colonial genocides in Belgian-occupied Congo (1885–1908) and German-occupied Namibia (1904–1908), and the subsequent genocides in Burundi (1972), Rwanda (1994), and Sudan (2003–2008), it becomes evident that perpetrators have targeted women in particular ways as part of their broader efforts to exterminate unwanted communities. While women are frequently killed alongside men during genocides, the literature on these case studies abounds with examples of sexual violence, particularly rape, that the perpetrators inflict upon women as part of their efforts to undermine the social vitality of their intended victims’ communities. Women’s experiences of genocide are often far more diverse than the literature’s singular focus on sexual violence suggests, however. The case of Rwanda demonstrates that women can also serve as combatants and perpetrators, while the case of Belgian-occupied Congo reveals that women can lead resistance movements in opposition to genocidal violence. Similarly, German-occupied Namibia and Rwanda demonstrate that women can serve important roles in rebuilding their communities and advocating for recognition and reparations in the post-genocide period. Scholars are beginning to pay greater attention to women’s diverse experiences of genocide, but there is a great deal of research to be undertaken, particularly regarding how different facets of women’s identities, such as class, ethnicity, and socio-economic status, among others, shape their experiences of genocide.



Chima J. Korieh

The Igbo-speaking people inhabit most of southeastern Nigeria. Their political economy and culture have been shaped by their long history of habitation in the forest region. Important themes relating to the Igbo past have centered on the question of origin, the agrarian bases of their economy, the decentralized and acephalous structure of their political organization, an achievement-based social system rooted in their traditional humane living, and a fluid gender ideology that recognized male and female roles as complementary rather than oppositional. The Igbo contributed to major historical developments including the development of agriculture, the Bantu migration, and its influence in the making of Bantu cultural areas in sub-Saharan Africa. On the global arena, the Igbo contributed significantly to the transformation of the New World through the Atlantic slave trade and the making of New World cultures. The Igbo made the transition to palm oil production in the postabolition era, thereby contributing to the industrialization of Europe as well as linking their society to the global capitalist economy from the 19th century. The Igbo encounter with Europeans continued through British colonialism, and their struggle to maintain their autonomy would shape British colonialism in Nigeria and beyond. The postcolonial era has been a time of crisis for the Igbo in Nigeria. They were involved in a civil war with Nigeria, known as the Nigeria-Biafra war, and experienced mass killing and genocide but continued to be resilient, drawing from their history and shared experience.


Multicultural Lives, Defiance and Liberation Politics in Namibia: The Getzen-Kerina Family History  

Dag Henrichsen

A portrait of several generations of the Namibian Getzen-Kerina family reveals multicultural and cosmopolitan lives in this former German and South African colony of South West Africa. The lives and struggles of, in particular, Ida Getzen-Leinhos (alias Kaera, 1863–1926), Magdalena Getzen (alias Kasondoro, 1905–1977), and William Erich Getzen (alias Mburumba Kerina, b. 1932) provide a way to consider the complexity of central themes in Namibian history. With its strong roots in Herero society on the one hand and multicultural entanglements across the racial and ethnic divisions of segregated settler and apartheid society on the other hand, the Getzen-Kerina family history reflects subaltern experiences, networks, and worldviews that have shaped many Namibian families and influenced—often discretely—trajectories of defiance, antiracism, as well as anticolonial and antiapartheid resistance and liberation politics.


The Biafran War  

Ogechukwu E. Williams

From the onset of Nigeria’s independence on October 1, 1960, the nation was an uneasy union of numerous ethnicities whose ethnic rather than national allegiance had become entrenched in Nigerian politics under British colonial rule. These ethnic divisions came to the fore following a military coup on January 15, 1966, that became increasingly interpreted in the Muslim Hausa-dominated northern region as an Igbo coup against northerners. The coup worsened anti-Igbo sentiments in the north and resulted in repeated massacres of Igbos in the region. The widespread killing in the north continued unchecked by a new northern-led federal government that had come into power during a countercoup on July 29, 1966. When the government reneged on agreements it had made in Ghana regarding a confederal system of governance that guaranteed regional autonomy, eastern Nigeria seceded to form Biafra on May 30, 1967. Two months later, Nigeria declared war on Biafra, resulting in a conflict that lasted for thirty months. Although the war was initially regarded as merely another conflict in the Third World, Biafra propaganda, promoted by a Swiss media establishment, Markpress, ensured that the war and its image of starving children became common knowledge across the world. Markpress’s successful media campaigns resulted in the mobilization of many international organizations in a massive humanitarian effort to save Biafra and Biafran children. The war remained in a stalemate between 1968 and 1969 until the federal government made one final push in June 1969 that reduced Biafran territory to about one hundred miles by the end of that year. The war ended shortly after on January 12, 1970, following Biafra’s surrender to Nigeria. Shortly after, Nigeria implemented a “no victor–no vanquished” policy to prevent summary punishment of participants in the war. The government’s postwar policy has been criticized for excluding Igbos from key political and economic roles and potentially stoking reemerging demands in the east for Biafra.