On my first day in Kigali, I decided I should start with that gruesome chapter of the history of Rwanda, the genocide that took place here. While I walked from the bus stop to the entrance under a warm sun, I was greeted by friendly passer-bys. All seemed normal, yet I knew I was about to see atrocious things. After a double security search at the entrance of the modern, white washed building, I decided not to take the audiophone; indeed, it turned out there were plenty of explanations in the memorial centre. The first rooms told the story of Rwanda in (pre-)colonial times, and how the two main groups of the country, the Hutus and Tutsis, came to be separated as groups, treated differently, and ultimately, oppose and fight each other as a consequence. There were videos, with Rwandans telling their story. More than anything, it was their calm voice while recounting horrible events that was impressive. There were pictures, with gruesome scenes, leaving no doubt as to what had happened. There were graphic explanations in three languages.
After seeing several rooms, the stories and pictures all added up, leaving me speechless. It was the scale of the genocide, the massacres, the fact that so many children and babies were brutally murdered, the many thousands of women that had been raped by HIV positive men, the family members who were forced to kill their next-of-kin before being murdered themselves, the former friends that turned on each other, the sad stories of lone survivors of wiped out families... What probably hit me most, is that these acts had all been carried out by humans, ordinary people - perhaps even those friendly ones I had seen just outside the gates, or their brothers, fathers, neighbours? One of the most incomprehensible features of the Rwandan genocide was that so many people participated. As one of the Rwandans on the video said: 5% of the people were good, 5% was neutral, and the remaining 90% were involved. But the international community was also slow to react; there were declarations of international political leaders saying - afterwards - that they should have done more.
I went outside for some fresh air, and then went upstairs. Here, several rooms are dedicated to remind visitors of other genocides in the relatively recent history of the world. I looked into the inevitable face of Hitler, but also Milosevic, Karadzic, and saw displays of the Pol Pot era in Cambodia and the genocide of the Armenians. The last part of the memorial centre was dedicated to the children who lived the period - stunning stories of how babies who were not even able to walk or talk were brutally killed; the strategy of the perpetrators was that Tutsis should be robbed of their future altogether by taking away their youth. After having seen the inside of the memorial centre dedicated to the Rwandan genocide, I walked the garden outside, to the burial sites with roses on top, a long wall only partly covered by names. Only a small part of the elongated burial sites had a window, allowing to peek inside, where coffins covered in purple cloth could be seen. When I walked out the complex, with the images I had just seen still on my mind, I had to make an effort to get back to the world of today. I could not help but wonder about anyone I saw older than, say, 20 years: where had they been, what had they done? It seemed impossible to imagine what it must be like to carry the brutal history in your soul for those who had lived that black episode in Rwandan recent history.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre (Rwanda). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. Read more about this site.