Rwandan Stories of Change

What kind of personal growth can come from committing atrocities?

Posted Dec 20, 2017

It is almost 25 years since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, an event that led to shattered lives, displaced people, and for a time, a broken society. Rwanda has since prospered as a nation, but for those who lived through the genocide, their memories remain.

In our work at the Rwandan Stories of Change research project at the University of Nottingham in England and the University of St Andrews in Scotland, in collaboration with the Aegis Trust and the Genocide Archive of Rwanda in Kigali, we have been interested in posttraumatic growth (PTG) following the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. 

PTG describes how the struggle to overcome adversity can lead to meaningful positive changes in a person’s identity, relationships with others, and perspectives on life. Over many years now researchers have collected evidence for PTG in survivors of many different traumatic life-events, including some emerging evidence in relation to survivors of the 1994 genocide.

More controversial is the study of PTG in relation to perpetrators of political violence, and those who committed acts of violence and took part in the killings in the 1994 genocide. Somehow it doesn’t seem right to discuss the notion of personal growth as arising from such acts.

In our recently published article, Laura Blackie, Nicki Hitchcott, and I discuss the theoretical and ethical issue of applying the concept of PTG to perpetrators of the genocide.

It is a controversial topic but one reason why the study of perpetrators may be useful is because of the potential of PTG to promote genuine and lasting reconciliation.

Reconciliation requires more than peaceful co-existence. It requires apology and forgiveness. But what does it mean to be a perpetrator? There were those who orchestrated the violence for political gain, those who participated for material benefits, and those who conformed to social pressure. Not all had the same motivation. But whatever the motivation, for PTG to arise there must be acceptance of what one has done and the choices made. Remorse, shame, and guilt may all be critical in eventually facilitating PTG.

But perhaps the term PTG is not helpful when used in this context and we would be better to think of more appropriate terminology.

We conclude in our article that understanding perpetrator’s stories of change is a topic worthy of future investigation because of its potential importance in helping to promote reconciliation. We urge caution for researchers in this area to attend carefully to the important theoretical and ethical issues inherent in such a controversial topic.

To find out more, please see here.

References

Blackie, L. E. R., Hitchcott, N., & Joseph, S. (2017). Looking for Post-Traumatic Growth in Perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda: A Discussion of Theoretical and Ethical Issues. Journal of Perpetrator Research, 1.1.