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Rhetorical legacies of leadership: projections of ‘benevolent leadership’ in pre- and post-genocide Rwanda*

  • Marie-Eve Desrosiers (a1) and Susan Thomson (a2)

Comparing pre- and post-genocide Rwanda, this article argues that clear continuities exist between the regimes of Juvénal Habyarimana and Paul Kagame. Both have projected a remarkably similar image of ‘benevolent leadership’. Presenting themselves as harbingers of an ‘improved’ or ‘new’ Rwanda, both leaderships have claimed to be best able and willing to guide Rwanda along the right path to peace, security, ethnic unity and development. ‘Benevolent leadership’ in both periods has also served as a tool to try and shape regime relationships with international and domestic audiences. Internationally, each government has worked to promote Rwanda and its authorities as a good development partner. Domestically, these projections have served to establish norms of order and obedience. We argue that projections of ‘benevolent leadership’ have been a tool designed to win over the international community and discipline the Rwandan population.

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The authors thank Danielle de Lame, Catharine Newbury, David Newbury, Villia Jefremovas, René Lemarchand, Filip Reyntjens, Joseph Sebarenzi, Noel Twagiramungu, as well as two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts. We also wish to thank our respective Canadian and Rwandan research assistants, translators and the individuals who agreed to participate in our research projects for making this publication possible. Research behind this article has been funded by the Canadian Consortium on Human Security, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Susan Thomson), and the University of Ottawa (Marie-Eve Desrosiers).

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