It is no news that Rwanda has a dark history and when I got to Rwanda, the Kigali Genocide Memorial located at the Gizozi Center was my first stop. I wanted to know it all, how friends turned on friends, why neighbors executed neighbors, I wanted to know the history of the place I just set foot.
The Kigali Genocide Memorial was opened on the 10th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. It is the final resting place for over 250,000 victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. It tributes the memory of over 1,000,000 Rwandans killed in 1994. The Kigali Genocide Memorial includes three permanent exhibitions, documentary of the 1994 Genocide, a children’s memorial and an exhibition on the history of genocidal violence around the world.
On arrival, a brief video is played to introduce visitors to the memorial. The contents of the exhibition are self-explanatory enough, but for additional info and excerpts from survivors’ testimonies, I hired an audio guide which cost me $15. Explanatory texts in all sections of the memorial are in English, French and Rwanda’s national language, Kinyarwanda. The memorial shows the gruesome activities that took place during the genocide and is not for the fickle minded.
The Rwandan genocide is one of the worst large-scale genocide in modern history. An event which occasioned the mass butchering of up to one million people, predominantly of the Tutsi ethnic minority by extremists of the Hutu majority. The killings which lasted for about 100 days from April to July 1994 was an out pour of ethnic distinction which was institutionalized during the colonial rule by Belgium. Learning about the root cause made me angry at the colonialist for planting strive.
Before the advent of colonialism, distinction between the Rwandans had been by class rather than race although the Tutsi minority were the elite. There were a lot of intermarriages such that the ethnic divide was blurred. The ethnic distinction was only institutionalized and enforced in identity papers during colonial rule by Belgium. The Belgians also taught ethnic cleansing which eventually became grounds for open confrontational racism during the post-colonial power struggle.
Before the 1994 genocide, there were sporadic genocidal acts directed against the Tutsis but the situation grew increasingly more violent and explosive during the early 1990s. There had been mass propaganda through radio and hate speech however, the catalyst for the eruption of the mass killings was the shooting down of a plane on the evening of 6 April 1994 which had Rwanda’s then Hutu president Habyarimana as well as Burundi’s Presidenton board
Both presidents were killed in the subsequent crash after which a planned, systematic, nationwide extermination operation targeting both Tutsi and moderate Hutu leaders began.
Genocide was instant.
Road blocks were mounted by militia with one intent – identify and kill Tutsis.
House to House searches were not left out.
It was an Apocalypse.
It was Genocide from the first day.
No Tutsi was exempt.
All Hutus were openly requested to take part in this extermination of all Tutsis else they were at risk of being slaughtered. It was declared “work’’ and the 10 commandments which the Hutus were to live by was published.
Women suffered largely during the genocide, a significant part of the genocide was the organized mass war rape of Tutsi women and girls, often carried out in full public view before they were slaughtered. In the process many women were deliberately infected with HIV, a disease deliberately used as a weapon. Children were also not left out as victims, majority watched as their parent were being executed. A separate section is devoted to the many child victims of the Rwandan genocide.
The genocide I learnt was well orchestrated, through a whole hierarchy, often supported and ordered by local and regional leaders, in many cases even with the active involvement of the church. I also learnt that France might have sponsored the genocide war, I read that France provided the genocide perpetrators a safety net with which to escape and that the French helped the Rwandan Hutu regime by providing military training to the Hutus before the genocide.
The international community failed to come to the rescue of Rwanda, and the failure of the world and the UN to intervene and stop the genocide despite being informed as to clear indications that a genocide was being prepared stands as one of the blackest marks in the history of the organization. The eyes of the media were also focused on Bosnia where war which also included genocide was occurring but on a much smaller scale than in Rwanda, because it was closer to the west.
In the end it was the Tutsi rebel army of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) under Paul Kagame the current president of Rwanda who ended the genocide through systematically invading Rwanda from their bases in Uganda, and eventually seizing power in the country. When the genocide was over, foreign aid money started to flow, far more than what it would have cost the world to prevent the genocide in the first place.
Today though political freedoms are still largely restricted, the country is coming to terms with its genocidal recent past. I asked my friend John who was my guide for most of my stay in Rwanda whether he was Hutu or Tutsi and the response I got was shocking. He told me He was Rwandan and Rwandans are one.
This showed me that Rwanda was amazingly quick with reconciliation efforts which was taken as a state policy. The future of any country depends on its ability to understand and reconcile with its past and this Rwandans have taken to the letter. Throughout the country, youths are engaged in peace education programs and unity clubs.
The Kigali Genocide Memorial is an important place of remembrance and learning about the Genocide against the Tutsis. It is through this education that other mass atrocities can be stopped from occurring in our communities. The mass graves are supplemented by a wall of names of some of the victims buried there.
The Gisozi Centre also features a book and gift shop where Made in Rwanda products can be purchased, there’s also an extensive range of books on the Rwandan genocide. It is free to access the Kigali genocide memorial but donations are welcome. Opening Time is 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, the memorial is closed on public holidays and the last Saturday of each month. I was so excited to have been to the memorial, I left with a lot more clarity, knowledge and insight.