Conducting Research in Rwanda: Admission not impossible


My recent article on conducting field research in Rwanda (“The price of admission”, 28 November) generated two critical responses in these pages – an article by Erin Jessee (“Subtle as foxes for prey”, Opinion, 19/26 December 2013) and a letter signed by 10 academics and a journalist (“Truly hostile environment”, Letters, 19/26 December).

On Twitter on 28 November, one of the authors of the letter, Boston University scholar Timothy Longman, described my article as “thoughtful” and defended it against the sort of denigration that is now reflected in the missive he co-authored.

According to the letter, I argued that all “researchers who have fallen out with the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the country’s ruling party, have exaggerated the intimidation and interference that they have experienced” and set out “a false dichotomy between those who can no longer conduct research in Rwanda and those who can”.

Both claims misrepresent my argument. Acknowledging the “inevitable tensions, divisions and trauma” associated with researching in the country, I argued that some foreign academics exaggerate the difficulties they face in the field (some do so to protect their own patch). Most importantly, a large number of critical commentators on Rwanda (including some well known to the letter’s authors) continue to research there, adopting a wide range of creative, time-honed techniques. It is a pity that the letter writers chose to respond in such a defensive and barbed manner rather than engaging with the issues raised in “The price of admission”.

Jessee’s article is a more thoughtful contribution, highlighting the Rwandan government’s use of bureaucratic measures (particularly the Rwanda National Ethics Committee) to hamstring research. However, her own account of dealing with this system – which is common in many East African countries, including Uganda, where the red tape is much more extensive (and expensive) – highlights that, despite the challenges at hand, it is possible to research in Rwanda.

Depressingly, Jessee also defends those senior scholars who try to dissuade their students from conducting research in Rwanda. Since the publication of my article, I have received numerous emails from postgraduates lamenting this tendency among their elders. The more productive approach is to counsel students about the challenges involved while emboldening them to find ways around or through them – as Jessee and countless others have done.

Phil Clark
SOAS, University of London



2 thoughts on “Conducting Research in Rwanda: Admission not impossible

  1. I have been working with Researchers from Australia to collect Genocide Survivors’ testimonies but though we had an official permission to carry out the exercise, our work has never been facilitated by AVEGA and the Head of the organization always kept us away. However IBUKA has been of assistance.

  2. I can be a good witness that carrying a research in Rwanda is possible and easy as long as you you applied for a permission and present well your project at National Ethic Commission working under the Ministry of Education, but the problem is that many foreigners especially people from Holland think that they can come and carrying a research in Rwanda without the permission, i know many of them who tried this and they failed to get any thing. Those are the ones who are shouting in newspapers saying that it is impossible. I thank a lot the members of National Ethic Commission.

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