What's on a peasant's mind? Experiencing RPF state reach and overreach in post-genocide Rwanda (2000-10)
Institute of Development Policy and Management
Journal of eastern African studies. - Abingdon
, p. 214-230
University of Antwerp
This article attempts - for the Rwandan case - to answer a fundamental question of state-builders in Africa: to what extent and how is authority broadcast over people? There is much controversy concerning the nature of governance by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in contemporary Rwanda. This article moves beyond existing knowledge on local government structures and practice by analysing over 350 life histories of rural Rwandans collected in 2011. It will be explained that these data provide an insight into the 'subjective realm' of governance experience and function as a social commentary on the nature of governance during the era of RPF regime consolidation: 2000-10. An immediate observation - based on a simple word frequency count executed on the total sample of life stories - is the high presence of 'authority' in the lives of Rwandans. This insight points towards a significant degree of state reach under the RPF in Rwanda, contrary to what is often observed in Africa. In addition, the findings identify an overall perceived improvement in basic service delivery but also reveal the often authoritarian nature and, at times, overreach of underlying governance practice. The observed state-society relations are qualified by examining a number of life story narratives. The article concludes with reflections on the methodological, theoretical and policy implications of the observed dialectic of state reach and overreach discernible in the lives of peasants in contemporary Rwanda. It calls for a reconsideration of 'state fragility' both in the Rwandan case and globally.