I have to admit, I knew very little about the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. When I planned my trip to Tanzania with African American Travelers, and I saw that one of the excursions was going to the Kigali Memorial Centre, I definitely wanted to go on this trip. I went to Rwanda in 2019, 25 years after the genocide.
Going to the memorial, I wanted to hear about the tragedy from the actual people that had loved one who was murdered and words from the survivors.
The Kigali Memorial Centre opened in April 2004 on the 10th commemoration of the genocide.
The tour guide did not join us inside the Kigali Genocide Memorial. He has not yet visited the memorial because some of his family members were victims of the genocide. He told me he was not emotionally ready, but hopes one day he will have the strength to go in.
Honestly, I didn't know what to expect as the tour bus I was in passed under the Kigali Genocide Memorial sign.
Rwanda is a country of mountains, forests, hills, and lakes. In 1994, genocide cast a dark shadow on thousands of lives that were lost.
The Belgians presented Tutsi as an alien race and used their physical features to differentiate them from the Hutu.
Race was added to the Rwandan identification cards in the 1930s by the Belgian authorities. Ethnic identity began to determine Rwandan lives.
Political parties were formed. Mouvement Democratique Republicai (MDR) was an opposition party. It had moderate and extremist Hutu members. some of whom were singled out for extreme violence. The Coalition pour la Defense de la Republique (CDR) were radical Hutus who were linked with the death squads that carried out massacres of Tutsi civilians. The Parti Social Democratique (PSD) was a moderate opposition party.
In 1959 when King Rudahigwa died, the massacres of Tutsi were organized. Thousands of Tutsis were killed. Many fled to neighboring states for refuge. In 1961, Gregoire Kayibanda, founder of the Parmehutu, became the first governments' Prime Minister, a party for the emancipation of the Hutu. The following year Rwanda gained its independence.
"The Hutu and Tutsi communities are two nations in a single state. Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy, who are ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings as if there were the inhabitants of different zones or planets." - Gregoire Kayibanda.
Rwanda became a repressive state with a single-party system.
The Hutu regime was characterized by the persecution and ethnic cleansing of Tutsi and created regional divisions that contributed to the coup d etat by Major General Juvenal Habyarimana in 1973.
In 1990 Kangura Magazine published the "Hutu Ten Commandments." It stated that any Hutu that is associated with Tutsi were traitors.
Several journals and newspapers incited hatred for the Tutsi. An editor for the Kangura advised that the Hutus need to protect themselves because the Tutsis were planning a massacre that would "leave no survivors."
January 10, 1994, an informant, code-named "Jean-Pierre," who was a former member of the president's security guard, came forward with information.
He told Colonel Luc Marchal of the UN that 1,700 Interahamwe had been trained in Rwandan army camps, and training was taking place at an estimated 300 people per week and registering all Tutsi in Kigali for an extermination plan. The plan was to kill up to 1,000 people every 20 minutes.
On April 6, 1994, Presidents Habyarimana and Ntaryamira of Burundi were killed in a plane crash that was shot down on its arrival at the Kigali airport.
This led to roadblocks around Kigali and homes being searched. Any Tutsi who tried to pass were beaten, mutilated, and murdered. Hutus who did not comply, their lives were threatened. and if they tried to protect Tutsis were persecuted and killed.
Children watch their parents being murdered before they faced the same fate. Even the elders were murdered in cold blood.
WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS
Muhigana George (first from the left) and Mujawamariya Epiphaine (fourth from the right) were chained together and buried alive.
This is the chain that was used to chain George and Epiphaine. When they were exhumed, their dead bodies were still chained together.
Families turned on families, friends turned on friends and neighbors turned on neighbors.
Thousand were killed each day
400 killed each hour
7 killed each minute
1,000,000 people were murdered
The first exhibit I went to is photos of hundreds of men and women killed. It was heartbreaking, and I was completely numbed looking at the photos. I saw young mothers and fathers holding their children, family photos, and elders.
This is only one side of the wall.
I had to take a minute before going to the children's exhibit and seeing the photos of several children and infants who were killed. Lives were cut short. Their future was stolen from them.
Name: Patrick, age 5
Favorite sport: Riding bicycle
Best friend: Alliane, his sister
Cause of death: Hacked by machete
Names: Yvonne (5) and Yves (3)
Relationship: Brother and sister
Cause death: Hacked by a machete at their grandmother's house
Name: Fillette, age 2
Favorite toy: Doll
Best friend: Her dad
Cause of death: Smashed against a wall
Names: Irene, age 6, and Uwamwezi, age 7
Cause of death: Grenade thrown into the shower
Name: Thierry, age 9 months
Favorite drink: Mother's milk
Cause of death: Machete in his mother's arm
A survivor recounts about his friend who thought he had killed him.
Claudine: "My parents were killed during the genocide. I don't remember them. I was angry at people who had parents. I wanted them to become orphans like me. The only orphans I knew were genocide orphans, but I began to understand others had the same problems, like me. I started to realize that we are all Rwandans and began socializing with others."
The United States was supposed to provide 50 armored personnel carriers. It took over a month for them to arrive in Uganda. Per CNBC, former president Bill Clinton admitted that if the U.S. had gone into Rwanda sooner following the start of the 1994 genocide, at least a third or roughly 300,000 lives could have been saved.
Rwandan refugees fled to Zaire, which is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Children looking on the search board looking for family and friends after the genocide. There were over 300,000 orphans and over 85,000 children who became head of the household.
Many survivors will carry this trauma for generations, emotionally and physically.
By 1994, 37,000 unaccompanied children were registered by The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), and other non-governmental organizations.
Right outside the museum under the concrete is the mass grave of an estimated 250,000 people interred.
Another mass grave where genocide victims are interred. A decade after the genocide, seven mass graves have been discovered. In 2020, 2,500 remains were found. Bone fragments and strips of clothing were found. The clothing and personal items that were found were used for survivors to identify their loved ones.
The Wall of Names is a permanent memorial of the names of the victims of the genocide. This is an ongoing project to display all the names of the victims.
The Flame of Remembrance symbolizes the courage and resilience of Rwandans towards forgiveness and reconciliation. Every April 7th, the torch is lit on the top of the structure for 100 days. The year I went to Rwanda was the 25th year since the genocide.
I love the Ubumuntu symbol. It means humanity, goodness, generosity, and kindness. I purchased a Ubumuntu pin that I wear every April 7th to remember the victims of the genocide.
My trip to the Kigali Memorial Centre was very emotional and very difficult to process. It was hard to imagine 1,000,000 men, women, and children were senselessly murdered. But it's history. The Kigali Memorial Centre is a must-visit. Not going to the Kigali Memorial Centre is like not going to Rwanda.
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