Rwanda (locally known as U Rwanda, literally “the extension” or “the extending territory”) is a small, landlocked country in the heart of Africa. Despite its legendary paucity of natural resources and absence of any obviously significant geostrategic asset, Rwanda has fascinated Western writers and policy-makers over the 20th century. The accounts of the early European explorers and missionaries describe precolonial Rwanda as one of “the greatest and the most complex” kingdoms in central Africa and “one that differed from all the others” (Vansina 2004, p. 1; cited under General Overviews). A prominent scholar describes post-independence Rwanda as “one of the very rare examples of a genuine social revolution accompanying the accession of an African state to independence” and the paradigmatic “case of a large-scale, thorough-going transformation occurring under the auspices . . . of a colonial power” (Lemarchand 1970, p. 3; cited under General Overviews). In 1994 Rwanda suddenly became the focus of horrified international attention as the epicenter of genocidal violence that engulfed the whole Great Lakes region and proved wrong the post-Holocaust pledge of “never again.” Moreover, post-genocide dynamics have attracted an important body of literature in which, as was the case in the years preceding the 1994 genocide, Rwanda is once again praised as a model of development in Africa and—in a revealing phrase—a “donor darling.” This bibliography gives an overview of the rich body of literature that developed over the 20th century to account for the myths and realities of Rwanda, past and present. The focus is on the country’s social, political, and economic critical junctures as well as on key distinctive features and areas of contention that have received varied amounts of scholars’ attention across time and space.
The most influential figures in Rwandan studies are probably Alexis Kagame and Jan Vansina. Kagame used his distinguished and multidisciplinary scholarship along with his social prestige and the Catholic Church’s facilities to reveal, illuminate, and sometimes embellish or “Europeanize” altogether various aspects of Rwanda (Kagame 1972–1975). Vansina pioneered the study of Rwanda past—and present—as a subject of scientific inquiry (Vansina 2004). Lugan 1997 and Chrétien 2003 account for the evolution of Rwanda from prehistoric ages to modern times. Lemarchand 1970, Prunier 1998, and Guichaoua 2010 provide essential background for understanding the roots and routes of political dynamics that culminated in the 1990–1994 genocidal violence and its aftermath.
Chrétien, Jean-Pierre. The Great Lakes of Africa: Two Thousand Years of History. Translated by Scott Straus. New York: Zone, 2003.
A massive oeuvre that excavates the historical development of Bantuphone culture from early settlement in the last millennium BCE to the waves of genocidal violence that engulfed Rwanda and its neighbors in the late 20th century. Originally published in French as L’Afrique des Grands Lacs: Deux mille ans d’histoire (Paris: Aubier-Historique, 2000).
Guichaoua, André. Rwanda: De la guerre au génocide: Les politiques criminelles au Rwanda (1990–1994). Paris: Editions La Découverte, 2010.
A gigantic work that is at once an unmatched history of the 1990–1994 genocidal violence and a pathbreaking step forward in our understanding of post-independence Rwanda. A related website, Rwanda: De la guerre au génocide, contains an impressive corpus of original materials and a freely accessible translation in Kinyarwanda.
Kagame, Alexis. Un abrégé de l’ethno-histoire du Rwanda. 2 vols. Butare, Rwanda: Editions universitaires, 1972–1975.
A rich chronological account of the main critical junctures in Rwandan history by a Rwandan scholar. Volume 1 gives a general overview of the Nyiginya kingdom. Volume 2 details the history of the country from 1853 to 1972.
Lemarchand, René. Rwanda and Burundi. New York: Praeger, 1970.
A watershed study of political developments. Its rigorous political historiographical approach rooted in “the sociology of revolutionary change” (p. ix) opened up many avenues for further research on this region and elsewhere.
Lugan, Bernard. Histoire du Rwanda: De la préhistoire à nos jours. Paris: Bartillat, 1997.
A massive book that is a mine of well-documented information about the evolution of Rwanda from prehistorical times to the 1990s.
Prunier, Gérard. The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide. London: Hurst, 1998.
First published in 1995 and now in its third edition with a new chapter, this book is the first thorough treatment of the multifaceted roots and components of the 1994 genocide in a more historicized and nuanced way.
Vansina, Jan. Antecedents to Modern Rwanda: The Nyiginya Kingdom. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004.
A masterpiece of analytical thinking and history writing that synthesizes the author’s efforts over a half-century to use African oral traditions as a valid source of history. Building on the author’s ethnographic sensitivity and historical rigor, the book vows “to present a starting point for thinking about Rwanda’s past in the light of the present” (p. 196). Originally published in French as Le Rwanda ancien: Le royaume nyiginya (Paris: Karthala, 2001).
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email email@example.com to express your interest.
- Achebe, Chinua
- Aid and Economic Development
- Arabic Language and Literature
- Archaeology and the Study of Africa
- Archaeology of Central Africa
- Archaeology of Eastern Africa
- Archaeology of Southern Africa
- Art, Art History, and the Study of Africa
- Arts of Central Africa
- Arts of Western Africa
- Asante and the Akan and Mossi States
- Bantu Expansion
- Benin (Dahomey)
- Botswana (Bechuanaland)
- Brink, André
- British Colonial Rule in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Burkina Faso (Upper Volta)
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- Children and Childhood
- Christianity, African
- Coetzee, J.M.
- Colonial Rule, Belgian
- Colonial Rule, French
- Colonial Rule, German
- Colonial Rule, Italian
- Colonial Rule, Portuguese
- Comoro Islands
- Congo, Republic of (Congo Brazzaville)
- Congo River Basin States
- Conservation and Wildlife
- Crime and the Law in Colonial Africa
- Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire)
- Development of Early Farming and Pastoralism
- Diaspora, Kongo Atlantic
- Early States And State Formation In Africa
- Early States of the Western Sudan
- Economy, Informal
- Education and the Study of Africa
- Egypt, Ancient
- Environmental History
- Equatorial Guinea
- Ethnicity and Politics
- Europe and Africa, Medieval
- Food and Food Production
- Fugard, Athol
- Genocide in Rwanda
- Geography and the Study of Africa
- Gikuyu (Kikuyu) People of Kenya
- Gordimer, Nadine
- Great Lakes States of Eastern Africa, The
- Health, Medicine, and the Study of Africa
- Historiography and Methods of African History
- History and the Study of Africa
- Ijo/Niger Delta
- Image of Africa, The
- Indian Ocean and Middle Eastern Slave Trades
- Indian Ocean Trade
- Invention of Tradition
- Iron Working and the Iron Age in Africa
- Islam in Africa
- Islamic Politics
- Kongo and the Coastal States of West Central Africa
- Language and the Study of Africa
- Literature and the Study of Africa
- Lord's Resistance Army
- Maasai and Maa-Speaking Peoples of East Africa, The
- Mau Mau
- Media and Journalism
- Military History
- Modern African Literature in European Languages
- Music, Dance, and the Study of Africa
- Music, Traditional
- Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
- North Africa from 600 to 1800
- North Africa to 600
- Northeastern African States, c. 1000 BCE-1800 CE
- Oman, the Gulf, and East Africa
- Oral and Written Traditions, African
- Police and Policing
- Political Science and the Study of Africa
- Political Systems, Precolonial
- Popular Culture and the Study of Africa
- Population and Demography
- Postcolonial Sub-Saharan African Politics
- Sao Tomé and Príncipe
- Seychelles, The
- Slave Trade, Atlantic
- Slavery in Africa
- Social and Cultural Anthropology and the Study of Africa
- South Africa Post c. 1850
- Southern Africa to c. 1850
- States of the Zimbabwe Plateau and Zambezi Valley
- Sudan and South Sudan
- Swahili City States of the East African Coast
- Swahili Language and Literature
- Tanzania (Tanganyika and Zanzibar)
- Traditional Religion, African
- Trans-Saharan Trade
- Urbanism and Urbanization
- Wars and Warlords
- Western Sahara
- Women and African History
- Women and Colonialism
- Women and Politics
- Women and Slavery
- Women, Gender and the Study of Africa
- Women in 19th-Century West Africa
- Yoruba Language and Literature
- Yoruba States, Benin, and Dahomey