Purdekova, Andrea. Making Ubumwe: Power, State and Camps in Rwanda's Unity-Building Project. New York: Berghahn Books, 2015. xiv + 292 pages. Hardcover, $100.00.
Making Ubumwe: Power, State and Camps in Rwanda's Unity-Building Project is the product of a doctoral dissertation by Andrea Purdekova at Oxford, based on her ethnographic study of post-genocide Rwanda. The thematic focus of the research is building unity (ubumwe) in a divided society. The book explores the extent of state-directed, social and political, re-engineering activities aimed at building togetherness and social transformation in the wake of the mass slaughter of the Tutsi in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority government. Unity, although an ambiguous term, is a window to understand the complex processes of reconciliation activities and formulation of citizen identities following the 1994 tragedy which resulted in approximately 2,000,000 Rwandans, mostly Hutus, becoming refugees after the counterstrike by the Tutsi-backed Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) which took control of the country. Broadly, the book explores not only the prospects for nation-building, but also the prospects for stability, long-term peace, and social justice in Rwanda.
Ubumwe in this context is a fundamentally politicized word, designed to combat divisionism and "promote the building of Rwandanness and Rwandanicity" (p. 6). As a term of choice, ubumwe is a derivation of the word umwe or 'one' and literally translates as 'oneness.' To this end, the government abolished the mention of ethnicity (Twa--the earliest inhabitants of Rwanda, as well as Hutu, and Tutsi) in an attempt at de-ethnicization. Of all the official initiatives created under the banner of unity and reconciliation, Purdekova devotes special attention to one of these activities, namely, ingando camps. These camps are retreats for intense civic education for different segments of the population, including students, released prisoners, street children, youth and adult ex-combatants, and church Adventist youth. Many of the activities are not random; rather, they are official discourse shaped and organized by the state agency, the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC).
As Purdekova explains, the "unity as officially pursued in Rwanda is deeply political" (p. 61). The government polices the country so tightly, such that little organized or mass spontaneous protests are allowed, and crime levels are low, producing repressive...