Gacaca 2.0 - what is left of the traditional justice system in Rwanda? Research Design (englisch)

Seminar Paper, 2013

10 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1) Introduction

2) Literature Review

3) Conceptualization
3.1) Research question and hypothesis
3.2) Methodology

4) Critical View

5) Conclusion

1.) Introduction

There is no doubt about the fact that the majority of the African states continue to exhibit unstable state structures. After regaining independence, some states have experienced terrific civil wars, some found stability only after the installation of an autocratic regime with questionable leaders. The Rwandan genocide in 1994 certainly illustrates the peak of violence over the last decades. Estimates quantify an amount up to 800.000 victims. Several decades of military dictatorship under the former Army Chief of Staff Juvénal Habyarimana had preceded the cruel occurrence. Facing such elites, Jean-Pierre Bekolo, one of the most popular African film producers, called in a recent interview „que les blancs reviennent à l’Afrique“ (In: Slate Afrique, last access: 05/09/13). This paper doesn’t want to take up this demand; the author rather postulates that there must be other ways of conflict resolution than recolonization.

More than other African countries, Rwanda is an interesting case when it comes to its individual approach towards indigenous traditions. So called “Gacaca-courts” (the term “Gacaca” can be more or less translated with “grassroots” from Kinyarwanda, the official language in Rwanda) have been installed after the genocide in order to clarify and to reconcile perpetrators and victims: “(…) the courts are meant to fight genocide and eradicate the culture of impunity, and they need to reconcile Rwandans by (re-)enforcing unity” (Ingelaere 2008:32). Since this, numerous research papers have commended the potential these Gacaca-courts had to function as a role model for other African states. However, this paper dares to state a fundamental, critical thought: what, if “Gacaca” was no African tradition at all? Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Range have distinguished native, grown traditions from those emerged under colonial influence already several decades ago (Hobsbawm/Ranger 1983). The result of similar research work of the past decades turns out to be as Peter Geschiere describes it in his contribution to a journal, which he called „Chiefs and colonial rule in Cameroon: Inventing Chieftaincy, French and British Style“ (1993). Concerning those chiefs which had been installed by colonial power, he says: „The chiefs and their descendants played only a minor role in this elite“ (Geschiere 1993:156f.). Because: „To them [the people] the chiefs remained the ruthless executors of highly unpopular government measures” (ibid). To sum it up: “invented tradition” receives far less acceptance, if not even rejection, throughout the population.

The purpose of this research design is to encourage the reader to reflect Gacaca-courts in a critical way, since it is evident that the Rwandan government was at least interested in a renewal of the Gacaca-courts. But how strong was the governmental influence? Does it make sense to speak of an “invented tradition”? And what could that mean for the legitimacy of Gacaca-courts throughout the Rwandan population? Could there even be a loss of legitimacy? Especially the response to our last question could contribute in a considerable way to the following, exceedingly popular discussion: to what extent can one transfer the conflict resolution mechanism of the Gacaca-courts to other African countries?

2.) Literature Review

Literature about the Rwandan genocide as well as the Gacaca-courts in particular is extensive and diverse. But this is not very surprising: since the Rwandan government has not just tolerated Gacaca, but did rather foster the courts in an active and demanding way, the re-institutionalization of Gacaca has experienced broad attention throughout politicians and scientists of many different disciplines. For political scientists, the re-institutionalization of Gacaca-courts is an auspicious example for the incorporation of indigenous traditions into modern African political systems. Unfortunately, it can be stated though, that the majority of the working papers published about this topic either evaluate various pros and cons of the courts or focuses merely on a description of the procedures. The literature following below can be also seen in this context. Nevertheless, it has been chosen on the basis of short episodes, which seem relevant for the suggested research work (for example, in order to illustrate exemplary points of view concerning the first part of the later research question). Furthermore, the literature outlined below can be seen as assistance to begin research work. And thirdly, it is also a good fundament to enhance the later research concept, as the author is going to propose qualitative analysis although a quantitative analysis could make up a more significant approach.

To read up on the subject, Bert Ingelaere’s book chapter „The Gacaca Courts in Rwanda”, being part of the book “Traditional Justice and Reconciliation After Violent Conflict – Learning from African Experiences” (2008) by Luc Huyse and Marc Salter seems to serve quite well. Describing preliminary events, different sequences and the situation after the genocide, Ingelaere gives a basic overview of the topic. Especially his analysis of the Gacaca-courts before and after the genocide might be relevant. Thereby, he delivers a clear judgment: „The „new“ Gacaca courts are in the truest sense an invented tradition“ (Ingelaere 2008:32). An evaluation of the pros and cons of Gacaca-courts completes the book chapter.

Jeremy Sarkin comes to a similar conclusion about the Gacaca-courts. In his article „The tension between justice and reconciliation in Rwanda: politics, human rights, due process and the role of the Gacaca Courts in dealing with the genocide” (2001), published in the “Journal of African Law”, Sarkin evaluates the potential of Gacaca-courts as well as of the formal Rwandan justice system in accounting for the past. In this context, he discovers a certain impact of the government on the objectives of Gacaca-courts (Sarkin 2011:159). Sarking finishes with his concerns about possible, negative consequences: „The government should not change the nature of Gacaca by making them play a role they have not traditionally played. Using them in the way envisaged by the new legislation (…) will most probably undermine any role they are able to play in the future” (Sarkin 2011:170).

The journal article of Peter Uvin and Charles Mironko „Western and Local Approaches to Justice in Rwanda“, published in the journal „Global Governance“ yet seems to be relevant in two ways: on the one hand, this article delivers a good and brief overview of the procedures and order of Gacaca-courts. On the other hand, Uvin and Mironko do not only compare the efficiency of the different judicial approaches (ICTR, state courts, Gacaca courts), but also their legitimacy. As a result, they plead for Gacaca: „Perhaps the strongest element in favour of gacaca is the lack of an alternative. Neither the ICTR nor the formal justice system seems capable of providing the basis for justice (…) in Rwanda” (Uvin/Mironko 2003:227). Yet, their pleading is underpinned by empirical outcomes: 95 percentage of the population declared to be willed to participate in Gacaca-courts.


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Gacaca 2.0 - what is left of the traditional justice system in Rwanda? Research Design (englisch)
University of Constance
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Gacaca, traditional, Rwanda, research, design
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Sven Piechottka (Author), 2013, Gacaca 2.0 - what is left of the traditional justice system in Rwanda? Research Design (englisch), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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