The first time I was in Kigali in 2015, I visited the Kigali Genocide Museum. It was such an eye opening, informative, educational and all round heart wrenching experience. There was so much I didn’t know about the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
This museum serves as a memorial centre commemorating said genocide and is the resting place of the remains of over 250,000 people. This museum is one of 6 major centers commemorating the tragic event. Along with Leila, my unofficial tour guide, we arrived at the centre on a Monday afternoon. Entrance here is free with donations being accepted to help with the day to day operations. Audio recordings to go along with the tour are also available for 15$.
Once inside we watched a 9 minute video of accounts from some of the survivors which marked the start of the tour. We were then ushered into the exhibits. The centre is divided into two floors. The lower floor gives a historical context of Rwanda before, during and after the genocide. It was only now that I learned that the Burundian President, Cyprien Ntaryamira was also on President Juvenal Habyarimanas’ jet that was shot down. This assassination is what set in motion the Rwanda Genocide. Leila then told me of a Rwandan saying for people who are constantly asking for lifts and free rides to places, something about ending up like Ntaryamira! I literally burst out laughing in this quieter than a cave chamber. In that moment it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. I think it’s the way she said it, or the idea that a whole president was out here soliciting free rides, like do you not have your own presidential situation? Even the memory of this is cracking me up. Obviously I’m aware people died and the consequences of this were deadly, I’m in no way detracting from that, it was just a really funny thing she said to me.
I spent the next half of the tour trying not to burst a blood vessel suppressing my laughter. This is a somber experience but there I was emulating the joker, thanks Leila!
The upstairs floor includes a video room where you can watch the rest of the video from the start of the tour, the children’s’ memorial with pictures and information of how these children lived and died. This is perhaps the hardest bit. To see what as humans we are capable of. To do such things to children, family, friends and neighbors! Here we also saw various human remains; bones, articles of clothing and different weapons that were used.
The last bit is a section exhibiting different genocides worldwide. Germany, Japan, Cambodia, Bosnia and Namibia. I remember the Namibian one from the last time I was here. If you have time please read about it, yes it will ruin your day but it’s one of those things that should be known. The thing that stood out the most for me was the information on the Gacaca courts system. This is essentially a system of community justice. It was intended to provide justice, communal healing, reconciliation and rebuilding since persecution of the large number of genocide perpetrators would have taken so long. Thinking on the reconciliation bit, I wondered whether forgiveness on this scale is something I’d be capable of. I was always one to hold on to things. It’s something I’m endeavoring to work on every day. I like to think I’m getting better at the whole live and let live thing and I’m a much happier person for it. This place will make you think about things.
Outside we saw the rose garden, graves of those interred here and the black wall with their names.The memorial centre; the thought and intention that went into it, the awareness, the exhibitions; I thought it all to be really beautiful. What’s been done for the victims is a truly great resting place. I imagine their families are happy with it, I know I am .Hopefully this centre is something we can all learn from although when I think about it, historically; our propensity to do so much harm to one another tells me we never learn. It’s hard for me not to be so cynical .