Truly hostile environment

December 19, 2013

Phil Clark’s recent article in Times Higher Education strongly implies that foreign scholars – like us – who claim that it is difficult to do careful field research in post-genocide Rwanda do not know how to do so properly (“The price of admission”, 28 November). He writes that those researchers who have fallen out with the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the country’s ruling party, have exaggerated the intimidation and interference that they have experienced. Clark also implies that such scholars do not know how to constructively engage the RPF and government officials. We, especially those of us who have studied the country for decades, reject these suggestions of professional inadequacy and what we perceive to be ad hominem attacks against some in our midst.

In setting out a false dichotomy between those who can no longer conduct research in Rwanda and those who can, Clark fails to ask more important questions about why, how and to what effect the Rwandan government so often attacks scholars whose research raises critical questions about the virtues of Rwandan policy or its implementation. Clark is certainly aware of such hostility: he states that he “was shocked by the venomous reaction” of the country’s government to the edited collection Remaking Rwanda (2011) – a book that presents leading scholarly research on political and economic reform in post-genocide Rwanda, all of it informed by extensive fieldwork there.

His many trips to the country notwithstanding, Clark betrays a surprising ignorance about the difficult living conditions in the Rwandan countryside and everyday resistance to RPF rule. If you hobnob with government elites – many of whom benefit from and have a decidedly rosier perception of the authoritarian regime than does the country’s impoverished majority – you cannot see the many dark sides of the supposed Rwandan success story apparent since the 1994 genocide.

As such, Clark is poorly placed to comment on the dangers faced by scholars who have been more conscientious – and daring – in their appraisals of the government’s shortcomings. Several other respected scholars of Rwanda concur with the substance of our statement but do not feel that they can add their names for fear of negative consequences for their friends, family or continuing field research in the country.

Danielle de Lame, Royal Museum for Central Africa
Howard French, Columbia University
Villia Jefremovas, Queen’s University
René Lemarchand, University of Florida
Timothy Longman, Boston University
Jens Meierhenrich, London School of Economics
Catharine Newbury, Smith College
David Newbury, Smith College
Gérard Prunier, independent scholar
Filip Reyntjens, University of Antwerp
Susan Thomson, Colgate University

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