“ Address: Kigali Memorial Centre, c/o The Aegis Trust, P.O Box 7251, Kigali, Rwanda „
Genocide Memorial Centre - Kigali
The centre was set up by a joint partnership of the Kigali City Council and the Aegis Trust which is based in the UK. The Aegis Trust was the inspiration of two Jewish men after they had visited sites in Israel.
The centre has a number of aims. One was to provide a respectful place of rest for the many bodies found in the area after the 1994 genocide. The second was to be a place of education so that future generations of Rwandans will not forget the atrocities and understand what families went through and by this hopefully prevent it happening again. The third was to inform abut other genocides and once educate people so that it might never happen anywhere again.
You are allowed to take photographs anywhere outside but if you want to take photos inside they ask you to pay $20 US. I am not sure whether there was an entrance fee but we paid for an audio guide which cost $10 US each.
We followed the order more or less of this audio guide and explored outside first. The first area you come to is a fountain with a statue in the middle. The statue has a fire bowl at the top which is lit for the time of the genocide from April each year. The elephant planters around the fountain symbolise remembrance as elephants never forget.
The area above is called the children's garden and this had fruit trees all around a paved area. The fga of Rwanda flies in the middle of the paved area. The fruit trees represent children as they are the fruit of the next generation.
From here we went down to the mass graves. On the way we gave a donation of $2 each to take a rose to lay on the graves. The graves are huge concrete slabs on three levels as the bodies are unidentified and there are thousands buried in this place alone. Many people are still not accounted for as entire families were killed and so unless someone comes forward to give a name these people will never have a marker to show they have ever been here.
There is a wall of remembrance with names which has been started but as there are very many unnamed and unaccounted for this is a work in progress but sadly already three large stone plaques are full og names and many share the same family name so entire families no longer exist in the country.
There is a lovely rose garden where you can sit and reflect and also a forest of remembrance where those people who lost someone close can plant a tree or plant. This is also a work in progress and a lot of the plants are still quite young but will will be a lovely peaceful and beautiful place to spend time and think of those who were killed and also those who saw the families killed.
Inside the building you are taken on a journey through time in Rwanda. First you are shown what Rwanda was like pre colonial times. People got on with their lives and nobody was aware of the terms Tutsi, Hutu or Twa.
The Germans arrived and we obsessed by differences in the people. The decided that the people wgo were taller and thinner would be called Tutsi and that they were descended from tribes that originated from the North near Egypt. The sorter stockier people were to be called Hutu and came from cattle herders. The Twa were of no great number so of little significance. They then gave all the privileges to the Tutsi tribes and treated the Hutu as lesser beings. To make this worse they then gave people identity cards to say which tribe they came from.
The Belgians continued this policy and did nothing to improve the situation and tension began to arise. The Hutu uprising drove many Tutsi out of Rwanda across the borders into Burundi and Uganda where they lived for some years. This unrest continued for some years with no intervention on the part of Western powers. UN peace keeping forces were in the country but we rendered worse than useless as they were instructed to use force only if their own lives were endangered.
The next section explained the build up to the genocide and explained how propaganda played a massive role in the final tragedy, For months radio Mille Collines was consistently broadcasting anti Tutsi statements and urging neighbours to rid the country of 'cockroaches'. It started subtly and became more inflammatory as the months went by. When the President's plane was shot down in April 1994 he and the President of Burundi were killed and this was the spark that ignited the genocide. This action had been carefully planned for months before as large shipments of machetes and arms had been brought in and handed out to Hutu loyalists. This was in no way an impromptu act from the evidence gathered after the genocide and despite constant warnings of these things taking place the West stood by and let it happen. Kofi Annan was warned repeatedly by the UN General and he repeatedly told the General to do nothing. Apparently this is a huge regret of his and so it should be as over a million people lost their lives in those few months of horror.
The next section was pretty graphic and had photographs of slaughtered people and on TV screen young people were describing what had happened to their families and how they had escaped. You were spared no detail and it was very upsetting to read about so heaven alone knows how somebody wgo went through this can ever really get over it.
Two large stained glass windows were commissioned for the site and one is supposed to illustrate the chaos before the genocide, a second the actual genocide. The window is meant to show that despite the awful events that there was light and hope for the future.
Upstairs concentrated on other genocides around the world. Each section had images and a bit of background information about what took place, who were the victims and who were the instigators of the action. The events given coverage included, the Jews in Germany, the Herero people by the Germans in Namibia, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the Armenians by the Turks and the Bosnians people by the Serbs. When all these events are put in one room side by side it makes pretty shocking reading and why
Oh, why did we allow it to happen over and over again?
We then felt the need to return to outside and the different memorial gardens. They led from one to another; starting at the top with two circular pools within each other representing the fact that the country was united and living in peace, this led to the next garden which had a misshaped pool representing the splitting and breaking up of Rwanda during the genocide with animals including an elephant on a mobile phone trying to connect with the outside world and these are around the pool but all looking away from each other a waterfall then led to the Garden of Reconciliation which had a round pool with a mound of rocks representing the rebuilding of the country. The elephant and other animals are looking inwards this time showing the country working together to rebuild.
I think the worst part of all for me was the section dedicated to children killed in the genocide. These had large photos, a small bit of information about the child and what they liked to do and their favourite food and then it told of what age they were and how they were killed. There was a last section within this with photos hanging from lines also of lost children and I found that very upsetting that adults could machete young innocent children, some not much more than babies, in fact some were killed with their mother while in their arms. It was very hard not to not cry reading the mementos from the families for children lost.
As you can imagine this was a very sad and moving experience and I trust that this memorial does its job of educating people so that this time really we might never see genocide but we can only hope. There was a donation box to help people who had suffered to rebuild their lives by various organised projects and the money donated went to these worthwhile projects.
I really do salute the people of Rwanda who seem to have moved forward as one people and many have forgiven atrocities against them. I'm not sure I could.
I have awarded five stars for the sensitive way this has been done rather than the experience as a visitor as it quite an emotional place to go around.
Thank for reading. I hope this has given you some insight into events in Rwanda in leading up to the 1994 genocide. This review may be published on other site under my same user name.
The Kigali Memorial Centre was opened on the 10th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, in April 2004. The Centre is built on a site where over 250,000 people are buried. These graves are a clear reminder of the cost of ignorance. The Centre is a permanent memorial to those who fell victim to the genocide and serves as a place for people to grieve those they lost.