Political representation in the aftermath of ethnic violence: a comparative analysis of Rwanda and Burundi (1985-2015)

Réginas Ndayiragije and Marijke Verpoorten

The lack of political representation lies at the origin of identity-based political violence, and - when not resolved - can re-ignite violence. We study who perceives gains and losses in political representation in Rwanda and Burundi, and why. We rely on quantitative and narrative dimensions of over 700 individual life histories that cover the period prior, during and after violence. The quantitative dimension includes 22,546 observations of self-reported rankings of political representation throughout the respondents’ life history years. The qualitative dimension consists of 1,282 self-reported reasons for changes in these rankings, which we code as related to formalistic, symbolic, descriptive and substantive representation. In both countries the war brought a reversal in ethnic power relations, but in the opposite direction. In Rwanda, the RPF of the Tutsi minority took a firm grip on power, whereas in Burundi the CNDD-FDD of the Hutu majority came to dominate the post-war political landscape. Our findings show a sharp drop in perceived political representation in the run-up and during political violence, and a reversal of perceived political representation across ethnicities in its aftermath, when Tutsi feel more represented than Hutu in Rwanda, and Hutu feel more represented than Tutsi in Burundi. We find however that the ethnic gap in perceived political representation narrows over time in Rwanda as Hutu gradually perceive increases in substantive representation. In contrast, in Burundi, perceived political representation is largely determined by formalistic, symbolic and descriptive representation, which leads to divergence rather than convergence across ethnicities, and peaks around the time of elections, but only when these are perceived as free and fair.