Villagization as adaptation? Rwanda’s imidugudu policy in the context of climate change

Authors: Jessica Marter-Kenyon*, University of Georgia
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Development, Migration
Keywords: resettlement, adaptation, Rwanda, biopolitics, political ecology, climate migration
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Cabinet Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Permanent relocation has emerged as a policy option for people living in areas at risk of climate-related disaster, particularly in the Global South. Yet, historically, the disruption associated with intentionally dislocating human settlements has been profound. Of the three forms of climate-driven migration recognized by the UNFCCC, resettlement is the least studied. In this paper, I provide grounded evidence regarding why population resettlement has emerged as a priority adaptation strategy in developing countries, and how climate discourse influences the design and implementation of resettlement. I use a case study of a national villagization policy in Rwanda between 1994 and 2018, and data from documents and interviews collected during two years of fieldwork. I analyze the state’s perspective regarding the potential for resettlement to produce adaptive benefits and, using a within-case design based in a Foucauldian framework of governance, assess how the shift towards framing villagization as an adaptation (beginning in 2006) materially influenced resettlement policy and practice. I find that adaptation discourse is, in part, a biopolitical technique employed by the state to enhance the visibility of certain populations and to minimize the political nature of resettlement. In particular, framing villagization as a form of planned migration in response to climate change assists the Rwandan state in targeting and (re)sensitizing the households who previously resisted or avoided resettlement (i.e. those in ‘high risk zones’ located on steep slopes and wetlands). Adaptation discourse also functions to discipline donors and generate external financing for relocation, which has become increasingly coercive.

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