In a working paper published last week, Oxford University’s Andrea Purdekova labeled Rwanda’s ingando camps as a “post-genocidal government tool of social engineering.” The government contends that ingando are a traditional means of unity-building with a pre-colonial history.
Purdekova spent seven months in the field in Rwanda researching the government’s ingando camps. In her analysis, the government has adapted a traditional means of unity building to create an ideologically homogeneous society.
Purdekova noted three categories of people who attended the ingando camps: disconnected/opposition groups, the future elite, and social deviants. Returning refugees, rehabilitated prisoners, university students, and street children are often attendees. Although participation is not mandatory, per se, administrative hurdles often make it a necessity; returning refugees would be unable to find a job and students unable to attend university without having gone through a camp. Furthermore, the government hopes to one day put every citizen through an ingando camp.
All ingando camps include lectures and cultural activities. Some also include military training and manual labor. The pre-colonial ingando was a “military custom of ‘halting normal activities to reflect on, and find solutions to national challenges,’” however today they are “mass sensitization, education and re-education centers aimed to transmit not only various types of information, but ‘consensuses’ on key issues.”
Interviewees repeatedly described the purpose of the camps as replacing bad ideas with good ideas or destructive ideology with constructive ideology. One director of and ingando camp even admitted that the purpose was to demonstrate that “defending your country is your primary role, defending the policy of your country is your primary role.”
No wonder that past observers have labeled ingando camps centers for “brainwashing.” Purdekova is slightly more conservative in her analysis, noting that attendees often repeat what they learned at camp regardless of personal views because it is in their best interest for advancement in society.
The Rwanda government’s manipulation of a pre-colonial tradition for the purpose of sowing consensus and pro-government ideology in the population is disconcerting, yet active resistance to the program is minimal and the social benefits of attending are often great. The camps do teach beneficial lessons, such as ethnic tolerance, but their political agenda is a threat to a pluralistic, democratic society.
Author: Tim Davis