A VISIT TO KIGALI’S GENOCIDE MEMORIAL
Many capital cities have ‘must visit’ places, firmly entrenched on the itineraries of city tours and excursions, in DC the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, Moscow’s Red Square, the Atomium in Brussels, the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Buckingham Palace in London, but Kigali / Rwanda has one ‘dark’ attraction, not commonly expected by tourists visitors, even those who read up on the destination prior to their journeys.
A visit to the national Genocide Memorial and Museum is not what tourists expect when they come to a destination like Rwanda, and yet it is a firmly established part of most city tours. It brings the horrors of the genocide of 1994, which was inflicted on the Tutsi people and moderate Hutus promoting reconciliation and togetherness of the tribes and cost anywhere between 800.000 and one million lives, to the forefront with documentaries and photographic evidence which is often too strong for visitors who are then overcome by emotions and break into spontaneous tears.
As the tragedy unfolded in Rwanda, the United Nations and the world stood by idle, seeing mass slaughter on a scale not often seen, and more associated with names like Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot, yet equally perpetrated on the hundreds of thousands of innocent men, boys, women, children and babies of Rwanda, often broadcast live by international media teams to an increasingly horrified audience, and yet nothing was done.
When Paul Kagame’s Rwanda Patriotic Front eventually marched into Kigali – the RPF at the time of the genocide already occupied between 35 and 40 percent of Rwanda’s territory, they were as taken aback by the scale of the well planned and swiftly executed plans to commit mass murder by regime fanatics, as the rest of the world was, and as they were driving the killer militias and shambled armed forces of the Habyarimana regime out of the country and across into the Congo, the full scale of the genocide unfolded in front of their eyes.
It is such pictures, documented then by the RPF, which are on display at the National Genocide Memorial and Museum in Kigali today, with much other evidence gathered since and processed for showing.
I recall the immediate aftermath in 1994, having gone to Rwanda with a Rotary relief mission to bring urgently needed supplies and goods, and have yet rarely spoken about it. I had also visited the National Genocide Memorial and Museum during a previous visit, and still not had the stomach to write about it until now. My most recent visit though made it all but clear that the story must be told so that future visitors can appreciate that the remains of as many as 200.000 plus victims are interred at the site and take the message home with them ‘Never Again’. During my last visit I observed many foreign visitors crying as they stood at the mass graves and were told the stories, and saw them crying inside the Museum where the stories are told and the pictures are too graphic for many, mothers clutching babies to their breasts, still trying to protect them even in death, churches – supposedly refuges in war – being filled to the brim with those seeking refuge, bombed and burned with walls collapsed on the fallen, wounds to gruesome to describe, inflicted by crude nail studded hammers, machetes and in the rarest of cases only by gunfire.
Rwanda has since risen like the Phoenix from the ashes and only recently commemorated the 17th anniversary of the 1994 genocide and crimes against humanity. The present government in Rwanda has promoted a spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness for many guilty of ‘lesser crimes’, i.e. for those misled, but continues to hunt down the misleaders, as the State of Israel was relentlessly hunting down the Nazi killers, those masterminds, perpetrators and promoters of the genocide to have them tried either at the UN Tribunal in Arusha, abroad wherever they are found or as and when possible bring them to justice in Rwanda itself. Healing is clearly underway across the entire country, and it is visible too, but until the very last of those responsible have been tried and sentenced, the victims cannot rest in peace and this also explains the swift and harsh reaction by Rwanda towards those attempting to deny the genocide, just as the Nazis attempted to deny their own barbaric acts, how Stalin’s goons were denying his extermination policies and how Cambodia’s killers tried to wash their hands …
Having at last written this ‘piece’, which was long overdue, I can only encourage all visitors to Rwanda to pay their respects, at the ‘national site’ in Kigali or across the country in memorials erected for the victims of tribal and when going home carry with them the message ‘Never Again’, and make sure it truly this time is meant to be ‘Never Again’.