Propaganda, Nation Building and Identity in Rwanda

The lead title is “Erasing Ethnicity,” the authors are Arthur Blouin and Sharun W. Mukand, and the paper is forthcoming in the Journal of Political Economy:

This paper examines whether propaganda broadcast over radio helped to change inter-ethnic attitudes in post-genocide Rwanda. We exploit variation in exposure to the government’s radio propaganda due to the mountainous topography of Rwanda. Results of lab-in-the-field experiments show that individuals exposed to government propaganda have lower salience of ethnicity, increased inter-ethnic trust and show more willingness to interact face-to-face with members of another ethnic group. Our results suggest that the observed improvement in inter-ethnic behavior is not cosmetic, and reflects a deeper change in inter-ethnic attitudes. The findings provide some of the first quantitative evidence that the salience of ethnic identity can be manipulated by governments.

Propaganda works.


In an unpublished email to both Drs. Tyler Cowen and Scott Sumner, PhDs, I have proposed that the Great Depression (GD) bottomed when FDR gave his famous "radio chat" in March of 1933. The end of the GD was not going off gold, as I conclusively proved by showing countries that went off gold both before and after the USA had their economies unaffected (some, like Argentina, continued down, while numerous others stayed flat, only the USA noticeably improved after going off gold and this was coincident with FDR's radio fireside chats). Keep in mind three disruptive technologies appeared during the GD: radio penetration (to nearly all households, it was like cell phones today), electricity (which was huge) and finally the automobile (mass adoption by 1930).

Bonus trivia: the GD was a demand phenomena caused by bank panics and yes, propaganda works. Jimmy Carter vs Ronald Reagan is another example of the power of propaganda ("Iran Hostage Crisis" and "Voodoo economics" nonsense). Another was the 1987 stock market crash (herd effect, also a function of mass communications).

The Great Depression ended when WW II began. Virtually everything FDR did made the GD worse and arguably was never intended to fix the GD but in fact merely realization of FDR's socialist views and he used the crisis of the GD to implement them. Many of the problems of the federal government that we still deal with today were implemented by FDR under the cover of doing good. It is also provable that the 2nd WW could have been avoided or minimized but in fact FDR's policies exacerbated the situation.

"provable" LOL

FDR eviscerated the military. That is why Japan thought they could win a war with us. If we had kept a strong military during the 30's Japan would not have attacked us. Germany too saw our weakness as an invitation to conquer Europe. Peace through strength is more than just a slogan. If you want peace, prepare for war. Weakness is an invitation to bullies.

Guys that make a big show of machismo basically reveal to the whole world their micro-penises. Chrome spinner rims on SUVs, anybody?

Some kind of unintelligible insult. I guess I'm supposed to respond that my hands are bigger than yours. The point though that seemed to go over your head (as I'm sure everything does) is that a country's first responsibility is to protect the country and the citizens. In the example FDR choose to divert the money on defense to spend it on a socialist agenda. Some would applaud that; some Germans and Japanese applauded it then. Today some Russians and Chinese would applaud that.

'Propaganda works.'

Of course - as the Rwanda genocide already demonstrated.

'The Rwandan audiotapes of the International Monitor Institute (IMI) records are comprised almost entirely of the transcripts of radio broadcasts translated from Kinyarwanda into French and English. These are the broadcasts which aired in 1994 during the Rwandan genocide, which took place from April through early July of that year and in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred.


Radio became a powerful weapon used to incite and direct the Rwandan genocide. The majority of radio broadcasts in the Rwandan audiotapes collection are from the privately-owned Radio Télévision Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM). What I found especially interesting about the content of these broadcasts (the transcripts of which can be found in the IMI organizational records and the audiotapes of which can be found in the Rwandan Videotapes and Audiotapes inventory) was the way in which its efforts to direct the extermination of the Tutsi population was paralleled by its efforts to claim authority over the telling of history. The radio broadcasts reveal a struggle over who gets to tell history and, therefore, a struggle over a monopoly on truth. In other words, the RTLM broadcasts exhibit a phenomenon which seems to be more universally true, which is the political necessity of storytelling.

There are a few particularly conspicuous aspects of the history-telling of the RTLM broadcasts, one being the discourse of revelation or enlightenment – the idea that if we only peel back the layers, we can finally see the truth. And this encounter with the truth is the basis for political action, or, in this case, the basis on which genocide becomes justified.'

At first I thought this study was about the old Hutu government of Rwanda's propaganda broadcasts of "Chop down the tall trees." I was wondering how they had accounted for a lot of the listeners being dead or in exile in Congo.

"We exploit variation in exposure to the government’s radio propaganda due to the mountainous topography of Rwanda."

Wait, isn't it possible that the towns that are more exposed to radio propaganda are also less isolated and more cosmopolitan in general (and likely to have better developed economies, higher incomes, higher education levels, etc.). Whereas the areas that are cut off by mountains from government propaganda are also likely to be cut off from all of those things, and be your stereotypical hill people a la Afghanistan or West Virginia.

I recall someone (maybe Jared Diamond?) claiming that people who live in hilly regions will tend to have nomadic or pastoral economies, or small farms if agricultural, and will tend to have a fierce independence and constant wariness or hostility toward their neighbors and strangers. Whereas people who live in flatter and more fertile lands where large-scale agriculture is possible will tend to develop towns, cities, large nations, empires, and civilization in general.

Thus the researchers' reliance on differences in radio contact may be reflecting these geographic factors rather than the propaganda factors that they claim.

The authors control for:

At the village level, controls are included for whether the village historically received an RTLM signal (the signal for the hate radio station that incited genocide violence); the light density in the village at night; the distance to Kigali, to the nearest road, and to the nearest major city; the level of genocide violence; the elevation of the village; the variance in elevation of the village’s sector; the ethnic composition; and indicators for whether thevillage faced north, south, east, or west. Additionally, since identification should rely only on the variation of the topography of Rwanda, variables for the Euclidian distance to the nearest three Radio Rwanda towers are included, as well as variables for the travel-time to the nearest three towers.

In particular, light density at night is an ingenious way to proxy for development.

"In particular, light density at night is an ingenious way to proxy for development."

That's a terrific idea.

Yeah, whoever first thought of it must have been tickled pink.

Bombs away - wait, you probably weren't thinking about WWI and bombing, were you?

@nobody, thanks, but that amount of control is just checking, like mkt42 says, whether or not you're dealing with hillbillies or not.

Reminds me of a study by some economist about 40 years ago that 'controlled' for so many variables they concluded that refrigeration was no big deal, since they had ice boxes back then that did about the same thing (controlling for stuff like price, convenience, degree of cold, volume of goods made cold, etc).

Absent from the list is whether village residents possessed radios, which would seem to be the most important datum.

It works on my parents, anyway -- my 78-year-old mother used the word "hateful" on me (I think I was saying that women shouldn't vote or something like that) and she must have gotten it from BBC or some other TV network because the word in that sense was never in her vocabulary before. And my father said that reading Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (the Rise part) reminded him of current political events.)

Yes, ask him how Hitler did in his first midterms.

Of course, the propaganda that comes from the mouth of Donald Trump fuels racial and ethnic hostilities and mistrust, as does the propaganda network, Fox. And Ray makes a good point about FDR and his upbeat attitude: "Only thing we have to fear is fear itself". Trump and Fox have turned that upside down with their constant message of fear of black and brown people and immigrants.

FDR sent Japanese-Americans to internment camps and deported a million people to Mexico (including some number of US citizens). But hey, he did it cheerfully!

Hey give rayward credit here. He's using every opportunity to spin out his propaganda. When it comes to propaganda, it's not the truth that matters but being first and being loud.

"FDR sent Japanese-Americans to internment camps": had the Americans been Germans those would be referred to as concentration camps.

I can see the point of them as an emergency response, especially if accompanied by an effort to work out who poses no risk and can therefore be released to go home.

But as I understand it the Japanese citizens also had their houses looted. How very 1930s Germany.

'had the Americans been Germans those would be referred to as concentration camps'

Well, you would have also had to kill those Americans too.

And internment is the correct term for what happens to citizens of enemy foreign powers during war time.

The Canadians also had internment camps, in part to handle 2,300 British internees. But nobody would suggest that Canada was running Jewish concentration camps at the behest of the British government - 'European refugees who had managed to escape the Nazis and made it to Britain, were rounded up as "enemy aliens" in 1940. Many were interned on the Isle of Man, and 2,300 were sent to Canada, mostly Jews. They were transported on the same boats as German and Italian POWs. They were sent to camps in New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec provinces where they were mixed in with Canadian fascists and other political prisoners, Nazi POWs, etc.'

If you bother to read further, you will discover that the Canadians also interned their own citizens, by the way.

Weren't American citizens of Japanese descent interned?

Yes, 2/3 of those who were interned (i.e., 80,000 people) had been born in the US. Prior is lying to defend an atrocity, because he's a troll. The irrelevant Wikipedia dump is typical of him too.

Of course only conservatives and Republicans in the US use propaganda. Every word from a Democrat or progressive expresses scientific truth.

"Propaganda works."

+1, Rayward immediately puts the advice to use

It would be interesting to hear whether or not this propaganda was equally effective among Hutus and Tutsis.

Maybe online globalist propaganda is erasing ethnicity all around the world.

Would that be a bad thing?

I think most people would consider it a good thing. I'd say the takeaway from Zaua's point is that propaganda is considered "bad" ... unless we agree with the outcome. And of course, people will often deny it's 'propaganda', in that case.

It's also noteworthy that a lot of political rhetoric (propaganda) in the US is actually emphasizing ethnicity. Which I consider a bad outcome.

To be slightly rude, some black people said "stop killing us!" and for some reason, a number of white people had to respond "why does it always have to be about you?"

The first complaint was actually on the road to a more equal society. The counter complaint was the disruption.

+10, excellent use of propaganda

I particularly like how you framed it in race terms. So, you can directly increase ethnic and racial tensions. The use of highly emotionally laden words was well done. Then you misrepresented the other side in a classic straw man position for a counter point.

And ultimately your last line is a framing of the debate that clearly leads to no room for a compromise position!

If you are an actual Russian troll attempting to sow discord in America, then well done sir.

It's just history, both recent and repeated.

By the way, when someone says "stop killing us," is "let's compromise" really a good answer?

If there was one thing that would have nipped Black Lives Matter in the bud it would have been an immediate "you're right!"

A "yes," rather than a "no" as the first word of response, compassion rather than anger that All Lives Matter "instead."

And yeah Putin's trolls did pick up on that problem.

"By the way, when someone says "stop killing us," is "let's compromise" really a good answer?"

Again an excellent use of emotionally laden verbiage! You've framed it in such a way that no form of compromise with any other position, no matter how reasonable, can be acceptable.

" that All Lives Matter "instead.""

A reasonable person would conclude that All Lives Matter is inclusive of Black Lives Matters not an exclusive position. But once again, you've framed the debate in terms which make any type of compromise unacceptable.

I believe a more reasonable position would have to de-emphasize race as a factor at all and to make the issue about solely about excessive use of force by police. Any emphasis on race is almost certainly going to lead to an increase in racial tension. "All Lives Matter" was a race neutral position.

Why do you insist on trying to inflame racial tensions in America? When you could just as easily de-emphasize race and tackle police abuse in a straightforward manner.

I think that is clearly a false history, and one you seek to prolong.

The people who were for ALM were outspoken in their opposition to BLM.

That's just the way it was.

From your own link:

"According to an August 2015 poll, 78% of likely American voters said that the statement All Lives Matter was "close[r] to [their] own" point of view than Black Lives Matter was. Only 11% said that the statement Black Lives Matter was closer.""

You're certainly playing your role well today, Mister Putin's rat.

That page explains the chronology, and how "all lives" was set in opposition to "black lives."

Including in that poll.

Of course if you reduce it to two ideas in opposition "all" has to triumph over "some," but what you've done in that process is erase the original claim of Injustice.

As was as your goal. You were never really about embracing BLM as a subset of ALM.

"President Donald Trump has stated that "Black Lives Matter" is a divisive term and that the term is inherently racist."

As was your goal.

Like, what if Bear/anonymous is building the maze that the mouse is stuck in?


~exhales cloud of smoke~

What we can clearly see in retrospect is that one side in a division was told "look at the racial Injustice."

The other side was told "if you even see the racial Injustice you are being divisive and un-American."

Obviously that was effective Russian propaganda.

A reasonable person would conclude that All Lives Matter is inclusive of Black Lives Matters not an exclusive position.

So what? Black people wanted to say something about black lives and a bunch of white people decided that they needed to be corrected. Like they couldn't just listen in good faith and let black people say what they wanted to say - they had but in and tell black people why they were wrong.

See, this is why a lot of black people dislike it when white people claim that they are "color blind". You can't really heal ethnic divisions by merely pretending they don't exist.

it's like after segregation a bunch of white people said "okay, let's all just pretend that none of that slavery and Jim Crow stuff happened. We're all equal now. " And then a generation or so later said: "Now how come you aren't just as rich as white people? Why do you have so much crime?" And then when a black person points out that uncomfortable shit involving slavery and Jim Crow and maybe even continuing racism, shit that white people don't want to talk about, white people are like "How dare you bring up race! You just hate white people don't you? Anyone who mentions race is actually being racist! We're all supposed to be pretending race doesn't exist and racism isn't even a thing!"

It's fucking neurotic. It's like white people are more mentally fucked up by slavery than black people are. You can't be a black person and say that hey, sometimes you kinda think maybe there is some racism, without having a bunch of white people get all up in your shit freaking out about how you're playing identity politics and creating social divisions just by mentioning the possibility of racism.

It wasn't white people. It was democrats.

Finally someone with the balls to say it. Everyone knows the Democrap party are all black-hating racists, which is why so few black people vote for them. Republicans are the party of respect for minorities.

It is if you think human diversity is salutary and a good in itself.

Equality is not really at odds with diversity. In fact freedom empowers diversity. He removes constraints of conformity.

Diversity, liberty, or equality. Choose one.

This classic propaganda aims to support all three.'t_Be_a_Sucker

It was definitely the goal of post world war II world building.

Here's hoping that the counter trend is short-lived. As dead as a comb-over in the rain.

This is the argument for the US invade-the-world/invite-the-world hegemonic policy. Whether you agree with it or not, I don't think it's sustainable.

We were not invading the world from 1950 to 2000. We got sucked into to anti-communist wars, but that is not at all the same as hegemony. Communist propaganda of that era notwithstanding.

World history since 1945 has been nothing less than American hegemony. We're like the Roman Empire. Everybody else has just been along for the ride since the end of the World War, though that dynamic is now shifting, like it always does.

I would modify your statements somewhat. From 1945-1991, it was a bi-polar world with America leading the dominant side, but clearly not hegemonic. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, then yes America was effectively a hegemon. Though it was primarily an economic and cultural dominance with a very large military to enforce peace.

Regardless of the past, the most significant factor, is that the US can not afford it's current level of military, social welfare and debt repayments. Something has to give.

If its not obvious by now, Anti-Gnostic roots for Putin.

Please let me know how I can be paid for it.

Does this tie in with the popular fascination for dystopian fiction?

It seems entirely possible, and not just there, that we can propagandize ourselves with our choices.

Vampire Cleanup Department is streaming on Amazon if you want a little optimistic horror comedy instead.

People on the left make fun of the idea of color blindness. However with enough propaganda that could work. I don't see race, is an ideology we can all believe in the alternative is Syria, Lebannon, and Donald Trump. I don't think there are many stable equilibriums between those poles.


One of the tragedies of American politics is that there are value networks on the left and the right which benefit from "established differences."

Still the background trend is good, with less and less ethnic isolation.

Nothing causal can be drawn from that study. There are countless other things that could be related to radio penetration as mountain terrain is a proxy for it. Think more difficulty traveling to cities therefore less opportunity to interact with different ethnicities.

I think the main factor in civic nationalist Rwanda is a very determined and idealistic strongman in the person of Paul Kagame. His son went to West Point, so the Kagames probably regard the Rwandan presidency as a family business. This seems to work well for Rwanda, along with lots and lots of foreign taxpayer dollars. But putting all your eggs in the basket of a single nuclear family seems kind of fragile.

The Assads seem to be doing a good job of fostering Syrian civic nationalism but I'm not sure what happens after Bashar dies in office (and he will die in office, of natural causes).

By the way, Donald Trump is a civic nationalist, which is why Trumpism is the only viable alternative to the Democrats.

Holding up Syria, Rwanda, and Donald Trump as shining examples of civic nationalism can make one ejaculate violently warm liquid through the nasal cavity in a fit of raging, convulsive laughter.

The subject of the OP is Rwanda. I bring up Syria because it follows the same model: a secularized nuclear family exerting top-down control to keep all the diversity together.

That's how diversity works: a muscular, centralized government with a large civil rights and national security bureaucracy keeps the lid on things.

The alternative to Donald Trump is the identity politics Circular Firing Squad. Anybody who thinks a coalition of ethnic minorities competing with each other for redistributive justice will have any sense of civic nationalism is deluded.

60 comments and not a single mention of the am radio rebirth started by Rush Limbaugh and sustained by dozens of right wing propagandists here in the states.

I tip my hat to this impressive effort from all here! Congrats!

You've got NPR. Quit complaining.

NPR accurately reports the news and NPR listeners routinely score tops in the most accurately informed news consumers.

Rush Limbaugh listeners are fed terms like Feminazi, a term which is nearly 30 years old at this point. And democrat party instead of Democratic Party.

He repeats these terms thousands of times to drive them into your willing mind

I’ve listened to thousands of hours of rush, perhaps more

He’s a propagandist.

Most people would consider propaganda to be biased information put out by an organization for it's own purposes. Talk radio is just opinion radio. Just because people are saying things you don't like, doesn't make it propaganda.

By that same token, the New York Time's, MSNBC and FOXNews aren't propaganda either.

Not that it is too surprising, although it is very nice that someone did the research. After all, advertising works, why propaganda shouldn't?

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