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When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda. Hardcover – May 1, 2001

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (May 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691058210
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691058214
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #995,316 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The strengths of the book are clear and admirable. First, it provides what might be called an intellectual history of the Hutu-Tutsi division that is invaluable. . . . Anyone from now on who writes on identity in Central Africa--and there will be many--will have to wrestle with the case that Mamdani has made."--Jeffrey Herbst, Foreign Affairs

"Mr Mamdani's political settlement is not democracy, which would simply restore the majority Hutus to power, but an acceptance of the Hutu and Tutsi with political, not cultural or class affiliations. He recommends a broad-based constitutional settlement that includes everyone prepared to give up violence whatever their ideology."--The Economist

"[Mamdani's] analysis of Rwandese society, in particular the role of the church in the genocide, is fascinating. . . . Mamdani believes that the tens of thousands of killers who wielded the machetes that murdered 800,000 people in three terrible months of 1994 saw themselves as victims who feared losing out in the struggle for power."--Victoria Brittain, The Guardian

"Few are better qualified to explain the tensions of post-colonial Africa than Mahmood Mamdani, a Ugandan political scientist with a sharp perspective on the colonially inspired differences between 'subject races'. His Rwandan case-study provides powerful evidence that the Tutsis came to be crushed between colonist and native."--Richard Synge, The Independent

"A welcome, powerful, and clear-sighted addition to this literature. . . . When Victims Become Killers represents a great achievement. It is a passionate and strongly argued work, memorable both as scholarship and as a brilliant political polemic."--Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History

"Nuanced and ground-breaking . . . a book that, unlike any of its kind, holistically encompasses all the underlying factors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. [It] would be useful to anyone who is interested in not only knowing more about Rwandan history, but also how such a tragedy could occur in the modern era."--African Studies Quarterly

"A genuinely original contribution to understanding the Rwandan catastrophe."--Dissent

"This book is a must-read. In terms of historical research and analytical depth, When Victims Become Killers is an invaluable academic work. . . . [Mamdani's] arguments are compelling even to those who may wish to disagree with him."--Monitor (Kampala, Uganda)

"[A] brilliant study of political identity and violence."--Elisa von Joeden-Forgey, H-Net Reviews

From the Inside Flap

"This well written and strongly argued book qualifies Mahmood Mamdani as one of the most articulate, original, and stimulating African social scientists. His interpretation of the Rwandan genocide crisis will cause considerable controversy and will prove a fresh turning point in the process of 'de-inventing' Africa."--Mamadou Diouf

"This is a very impressive piece of work--a scholar's attempt to move beyond the clichés of horror towards a genuine understanding of the social dynamics which made horror possible. It's a good example of relevant, committed, and passionate scholarship."--Michael Ignatieff

"Daring, knowledgeable, and wise, Mahmood Mamdani places the terrible massacres of 1994 in historical, regional, theoretical, and moral perspective. His analysis of Hutu and Tutsi as historically grounded and incessantly changing political identities not only clarifies struggles of the 1990s in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Congo but also helps identify ways of preventing future bloodshed."--Charles Tilly

"Mamdani's central argument is coherent, consistent, and compelling, and his account of the Rwandan crisis is riveting from beginning to end. It is also rendered with eloquence, generosity of spirit, and political shrewdness. His uncanny ability to use scholarly methods to cast light on public life is admirable and a model for the rest of us."--Carlos Forment

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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See all 9 customer reviews
Well written, very good explanation why it happened on such a massive scale.
History plays a great part in influencing and explaining particular events that happen in the present but many people forget and view the event as inexplicable.
Herbert Kibuuka
I recommend this book to anyone who is seeking a well put together prequel to one of the most savage genocides ever conducted.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Adam J. Jones on August 21, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This new book by Mahmood Mamdani, one of the world's most respected Africa scholars, stands a good chance of replacing Gérard Prunier's "The Rwanda Crisis" as the standard English-language introduction to Rwanda and its genocide. Mamdani's highly-readable account focuses on the political construction of Hutu and Tutsi as racial/ethnic identities, tracing the tale from the pre-colonial era, through Belgium's administration of the country, to the 1959 Revolution and subsequent attempts to develop an overarching sense of Rwandan nationhood. These attempts were cut short by the rise of Hutu Power in the early 1990s, culminating in the horrific outbreak of mass killing in April 1994. The advantage of Mamdani's book is that it offers "history from below," arguing that the racialized hostility between Hutu and Tutsi helps to account for the extraordinary (perhaps unprecedented) degree of popular involvement in the 1994 killing campaign. He also stresses the regional context of the Rwandan civil war and genocide, with separate chapters on Uganda and Congo/Zaire. The book is rich in theoretical insights but never ponderous or pretentious. A "must" for any student of Rwanda or modern African politics more generally (see also Mamdani's award-winning 1996 book "Citizen and Subject," which fleshes out some of the theoretical frameworks used in "When Victims Become Killers").
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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The Rwandan genocide was a horrible affair of unequal proportions. I have always wondered though how a whole population can commit such horrendous acts against fellow countrymen/women en masse, as was reported. Surely there must've been something that must've been brewing all along; there must've been an underlying "cause". Despeakable it maybe I wanted to know what in Rwanda's history could've given rise to this. I have read Phillip Gourevitch'sr "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda", although a good book, is mostly a narrative and I was still left with the unfinished business of why? why? why?. This book filled the void for me. With a historical background of precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial sociopolitical Rwanda, the author provides an amazingly rich analysis of the Rwandan state leading to what heppened in 1994. It has given me the picture I needed to see, to begin to address the issues of why did this awful thing took place. It's a must read to anyone interested in Rwanda and what went on there.
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29 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Daniel H. Bigelow VINE VOICE on January 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
Respected scholar Mahmood Mamdani offers his take on the causes of the Rwandan attempted genocide of the Tutsis and how Rwanda ought to handle the aftermath. A longtime denizen of the ivory tower, Mamdani is not writing for general audiences here: his prose is denser than a nineteenth century Supreme Court opinion and often makes finer distinctions.

There is a certain amount of this that is inevitable -- Mamdani is writing, at least partially, in response to people who have given facile explanations for the genocide (e.g. "the Hutus hated the Tutsis"), and his entirely justified reply is that it's not that simple. Mamdani makes a fascinating and very persuasive case for the exact historical causes of this particular genocide that differentiates it from other genocides of history -- colonialistic influence combining with pan-African political forces that pit nationalistic concerns against ethnic and political ones.

That said, and with full awareness that I don't have the talent to do what I'm asking Mamdani to do, I'd like to say that his argument would have gone over a lot better if he'd been better at phrasing it. His academic language was very difficult to penetrate, even by a well-intentioned postgraduate-educated guy like me. I got to thinking towards the end that he was getting a bonus every time he added "-ize" to a noun to make it a verb.

Mamdani's message that a lot of complicated problems combined to create the genocide -- from which it follows that people peddling simple, easy answers haven't been paying enough attention or are pandering to their audiences -- is important. I hope it is given deep consideration by the grad students who are best equipped with time and incentive to understand his prose, and I hope one of them figures out what I cannot: how to phrase his message in such a way that a lay audience will be willing to hear it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Kibuuka on August 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
A great book that is doing justice to the people that were rudely touched by the genocide. History plays a great part in influencing and explaining particular events that happen in the present but many people forget and view the event as inexplicable. Those who forget to ask the 'why' question are always liable to repeat the blunders of history since they never learn from its ugly mistakes. Prof. Mamdani is trying to undo this mistake. Many, especially in the west from their self righteous pedestal, look at the Rwandan genocide and judge. Mamdani goes behind the scenes of history to dig out the 'why' of this ugliest of human ventures. Drawing heavily on Franz Fanon, he casts a wide net covering the whole Great Lakes Region and Colonialism through the cold war, to tell us that the victims of injustice can only be free if they kill the oppressor. To become human they must deny life to the oppressor. The irony is, to overcome the monster of injustice, you must surpass its monstrosity, leading to the cycle of violence. Americans who read this book will come to understand better the whyness of 9/11; the Europeans will understand Hitler and Africans will grasp the whyness of so many coup d'etats, and finally an insight that is long overdue will dawn on us all and we will see the light. We will understand that without justice in the world those who work for peace labor but in vain. A must read book for serious peacemakers.
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