Competing Narratives and Performances in Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts’

Breed, Ananda and Jamar, Astrid (2019). Competing Narratives and Performances in Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts’. In: Hitchcott, Nicki and Grayson, Hannah eds. Rwanda Since 1994: Stories of Change. Francophone Postcolonial Studies (10). Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, pp. 62–82.


Building on legal anthropology and performance studies, this chapter analyses the Gacaca law talk and performances to evidence the wider context of changes in Rwanda post-1994 due to national and international pressures. The Rwandan government legally mandated Rwandans to actively participate in the gacaca courts from 2004 to 2012 for crimes committed during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. Every citizen was required to attend the local level courts to provide testimony and to serve as judge, witness and testifier on a weekly basis. In total, 15,300 courts ruled over nearly two million cases. Based on a ‘kaleidoscopic’ reading of optical illusions, or a slight shift in perspective to integrate the multiplicity of performances within the gacaca system, we demonstrate the dramaturgic nature of gacaca through gacaca law, policy and practices. Ultimately, such visual metaphors provide important interpretative tools to grasp how gacaca scripts were performed for different audiences with different effects and functions depending on micro to macro politics, and the resulting performances of competing narratives and the variances within the gacaca system.

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