Memorial Kigali
Kigali Memorial Centre
photo from the coffee-table book "Rwanda Nziza" (Beautiful Rwanda)
(click, then click again to enlarge two times)


When we woke up on our first morning in Rwanda it was Sunday and thus the perfect day to visit the Kigali Memorial Centre which is the building and grounds built on the site where 250,000 Rwandans, most from Kigali, were buried after being killed in the 1994 Tutsi Genocide.

Their bodies were left rotting on the streets and in ditches, schools, houses, churches, latrine pits and mass graves after the perpetrators of the genocide escaped from the only people in the world who were trying to stop them, the soldiers of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), victorious under then Commander Paul Kagame, now leader of Rwanda this past twelve years. It was his government that retrieved the bodies, from everywhere they lay, and allocated a burial ground for them.

Before leaving for the Memorial we had the first of all our Kigali breakfasts in the hotel's restaurant down by the pool. Homegrown Rwandan coffee, tea, tropical fruit, cereals, vegetables, meat, eggs, yoghurt, cream, milk, bread and jams were on buffet every day. Actually, the food and atmosphere were so comfortable at the hotel that we ate dinner there too all the time. My favourite drink was bottled "maracuja" which is the juice from a fruit of that name. I've subsequently learned that maracuja is a member of the passion-fruit family which explains my passion for it.

My email-friend, Amani (who with his wife had met us at the airport and presented us with the gift of a beautiful coffee table book entitled RWANDA NZIZA) offered to accompany us to the Memorial and arrived at the hotel at the scheduled time. We hailed a taxi and, along the way, he pointed out the significance of places we were passing. We'd already seen, on the ride from the airport, whole new subdivisions being built on slopes of hills that were previously totally undeveloped, and now, closer to town, we saw more evidence of Kigali's construction boom, with new buildings looming up next to old.

The Kigali Memorial Centre is located on the Gisozi hill, which wasn't very far from our hotel. Kigali is made up of suburbs that are located on separate hills. It's not for nothing that Rwanda is nicknamed "The Land of a Thousand Hills" (or as the french say "Le Pays des Milles Collines").

Two years ago, on the tenth anniversary of the Genocide, the Kigali Memorial Centre was built on the place where the bodies of Kigali's murdered victims of genocide are buried, and it has become a place of homage for people from all over the world. Inside the building there are many rooms containing wall displays and video-recordings of the history of the 1994 genocide of Tutsis and also the previous ones in 1959 and the early 60s and 70s.

The Genocide of 1994 (which resulted in the slaughter of 1,000,000 civilian Rwandans) was supposed to be the "final solution" (the plan to eliminate Tutsis) that was originally conceived by the government previous to Habyarimana's (the tyrant who had been ruling Rwanda as a dictatorship for twenty-one years, ie 1973-1994 after seizing power from the government of Kayibanda, the tyrant who had ruled Rwanda as a dictatorship for eleven years, ie 1962-1973). Some Rwandans say that Kayibanda, who was educated by priests, was more evil than Habyarimana who was considered more of a "puppet" of ideologues, rather than an ideologue himself.

The 1994 genocide of the Tutsis would have succeeded if it hadn't been for the army of Rwandan refugees (orignally led by Fred Rwigema, then Paul Kagame) who - in 1990 - came down from exile in Uganda to fight against the Habyarimana government to liberate Rwanda and set up a democratic government benefiting ALL Rwandans, not just Hutus, and allowing Tutsis to return to their homeland from which they had been banished for thirty years. If this Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) had not won the Civil War (in July 1994) and formed the present government, the "genocidaires" (those who plan and/or commit genocide) would have achieved their "final solution" and Rwanda would now be a nation governed by genocidal maniacs.

And, if those genocide perpetrators now governed Rwanda, instead of the government that stopped the genocide, then there would be no Kigali Memorial Centre to visit because the 250,000 bodies would not have been buried there but would have instead been treated as evilly in death as they were in life. No one would know where they were and no one would be able to pay physical homage to them, as they can now do.

Before leaving the Memorial Centre I bought the book A PEOPLE BETRAYED: THE ROLE OF THE WEST IN RWANDA'S GENOCIDE (by Linda Melvern) from the bookshelf in the lobby where other educational and informational pamphlets and books are displayed. I had heard of this book and had always wanted to get it and so this was a golden opportunity to read it while I was here, in Rwanda, where I could see for myself the places and events it talks about. Also, it had excellent maps of the April-July 1994 Civil War battles fought between the genocidal Hutu-Power government's army/militia/interahamwe/presidential-guard forces and the soldiers of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), and also a map of locations of all the genocide sites throughout the country. In our room at the end of the day, while my husband was watching the nightly soccer game (including England's loss to Portugal on Saturday, the day we'd arrived), I'd read A PEOPLE BETRAYED and it was a great refresher to Genocide events and locations and helped me appreciate the significance of things as we came across them in our travels. I carried the book with me wherever we went, in a straw shopping bag I bought in the hotel lobby, with straw hat to match.



Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~