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Appropriating the past: A comparative study of official memory practices in Rwanda and Burundi

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In the aftermath of mass violence, the political and social nature of memory becomes even more apparent. The way in which past abuses are remembered and represented significantly influences the ability of individuals and communities to reconstruct social relations. The cases of post-genocide Rwanda and Burundi reveal strongly the relationship between memory, identity and power in the aftermath of mass atrocity. Although contemporary Rwanda and Burundi are often contrasted due to their diverging approaches to ethnicity, this paper argues that the memory of past conflict and ethnic tension has been appropriated by elites in both nations, resulting in the subjugation of alternate narratives of the past. It further asserts that the restriction of political space for dialogue on the past prevents a collective appreciation of the inherent complexities of genocide and mass violence in both nations. The failure of dominant groups in both cases to allow for a critical engagement of the past is concerning, as divisive identities and overt conflict risk being reproduced rather than deconstructed.
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