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Rwanda: Propganda vs. Education

Literacy rate is globally considered to be a good indicator of how well-educated a nation is. However, just like all statistics, it is very important to contextualize the type of literacy present, though. What is it really that is being taught in schools, and what is the system managing to achieve?


Discourse around pre-genocide Rwanda often revolves around the idea that the education system of the country played a big role in the escalation of conflict. Postcolonial Rwanda took a strong stance against the Tutsi domination of Colonial Rwanda. Nowhere was this stance more visible than in their education policy, with fixed quotas for both Hutus and Tutsis established, and an Us vs. Them mentality maintained against the minority Tutsis. Students were required to ethnically identify themselves, and were segregated against. Colonial history was taught “to render a part of the population apathetic to the situation of the other.” These policies hint towards the idea that education in post-colonial Rwanda played a big part in inducing violence.


However, if we look at literacy rates in connection with another violence-inducing mechanism, the RTLM “hate” radio broadcasts, our understanding of the role of education begins to shift. RTLM radio broadcasts were hyperfocused broadcasts that were instrumental in riling the Hutu public against Tutsis. An analysis of RTLM radio reception when compared a


gainst literacy rates tells us that the educated public within Rwanda was less likely to respond to RTLM (and consequently engage in civilian violence) when compared to illiterate folk. This, while taking into account that radio coverage was 38 percent higher in high literacy areas, shows education to be a significant factor in the interpretation of state propaganda.


Where does that leave our understanding of the Rwandan genocide and education in that context? Well, for starters, it shows us that the conclusion provided by a lot of academic research that education induced violent tendencies may need to be revisited. The only thing education policy shows us, in this case, is that there was an active effort by the policymakers to exacerbate the divide between the two ethnicities. In reality, education may have done what we’ve thought of all along: make people less receptive to hateful ideas.




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Great piece. RTLM, a station established in 1993 that regularly called Tutsis “cockroaches” and encouraged people to “cut down the tall trees”. They often propagated this hate in the form of songs.


"I remember RTLM broadcasting songs conveying hatred and demonising the Tutsi. The songs would openly call for our extermination. Political slogans were translated into song and young people were mobilised into youth movements. These youth movements were key to executing the genocide" a Tutsi survivor of the 1994v genocide.

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