Modules for History Lessons
Edited By Uta Fenske, Daniel Groth, Klaus-Michael Guse and Bärbel P. Kuhn
Switzerland and Rwanda: A Troublesome Partnership
Introduction to the Module
Rwanda gained independence from Belgium in 1962. At around the same time Switzerland was seeking to reposition itself in a new world order marked by the Cold War. The reason for this was that Switzerland’s neutrality had come under fire from the US after the end of World War II. The new super power maintained that the Swiss had economically collaborated with Nazi Germany. Although the US lost interest in Switzerland’s war-past as the conflict with the Soviet Union intensified in the 1950s, Switzerland’s image remained shattered. In reaction to this the Swiss government tried to redefine “neutrality” with “solidarity” in order to make Swiss foreign policy seem less “selfish”. One way of ‘performing’ Swiss solidarity was to engage in “technical development aid” for “third world” countries. In the late 1950s Swiss authorities began to look for an ideal development “partner”. When the young and newly independent government in Rwanda asked Switzerland in the early 1960s to help build new national infrastructures, this initiative was greeted quite warmly by Swiss government agencies. Rwanda was quickly selected to become Switzerland’s “key country” (Schwerpunktland) for development aid.
Switzerland’s dealings in Rwanda became the subject of a sudden heated public debate in 2008 when a novel by Swiss writer Lukas Bärfuss was published.1 Although fictionalised, Bärfuss’ thoroughly researched book disclosed troubling insights into how strongly Swiss development workers were caught up in the Hutu government’s genocide of the Tutsi minority in...
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