The Kigali genocide memorial stands atop Gisozi Hill in Kigali Rwanda . Here, the Rwandan government with the assistance of Aegis trust has created a place for the commemoration of the past with the hope that it will ensure a better future.
“This place is not just for survivors. It’s not just important for survivors. Their dead family members may be here, but history concerns more than just survivors, history concerns the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. The history written here is important to every Rwandan, survivor or not,” says Harriet Mutegwaraba, a guide at the memorial.
The memorial has two sections. Bodies of those who died in Rwanda ‘s capital are buried in specially-constructed concrete bunkers. Plaques on the wall indicate the names of known victims. Some bodies were collected on streets and toilets. Many names remain unknown.
But this place is more than a cemetery. In the memorial garden, flowing water represents hope for a peaceful future. In the middle of a small pool, a torch shines its light 100 days each year, to symbolize the tragedy of genocide, and remind every visitor, to help prevent it happening again.
The Kigali Genocide Memorial was renovated by AEGIS, an international organization working to prevent genocide. AEGIS is also renovating the Murambi memorial site, situated in Gikongoro, central Rwanda , but this is not the work of one international organization only, according to the country director Appolon Kabahizi.
“ Even before we found the money to do it, Rwandans had already done a lot. There was already a Gisozi memorial including the house and Murambi was already in place. All we did was to change the buildings when the money became available,” he explains.
Some documents and photographs on display at Gisozi Memorial show a disturbing part of Rwanda ‘s past which can never be forgotten. Other sections show positive aspects which all Rwandans can be proud of according to AEGIS employee Potrin Kabahizi.
There is a section that ‘ shows Rwanda and its culture, how people used to live in the earlier days and the homogeneity of its people.’
As the visitor moves through the memorial, pictures and writing on the wall relates and explains Rwanda ‘s gradual descent into genocide. For example, the section on colonialism outlines both the benefits of external rule, such as schools and health centres, and the drawbacks, such as the introduction of ethnic identity cards.
A short film shows Rwanda ‘s pre-colonial and colonial history, the introduction of racial theories, how the Tutsi were at first specially favored, then how political patronage swung against them, in favor the Hutu. The visitor then learns about the violence which ensued against Tutsis
Another display shows how media incited genocide, including a list of ’10 Hutu Commandments’ and anti-Tutsi cartoons, as published in Kangura newspaper. These sought to forbid social relations with Tutsis, and mocked them with an ominous tone.
The visitor can examine various warnings, sent in vain to the outside world as mass murder loomed over Rwanda . One such message was sent by Jean Pierre, a presidential guard.
“He told a colonel called Luk Marchal of the UN Army that there were 1,700 Interahamwe ( armed militia) who had already been trained by the military and 300 being trained each week. According to Jean Pierre, the plan was to be able to kill 1,000 people every twenty minutes. They didn’t protect him, he disappeared, he was murdered but nobody knows where he is buried.’
The memorial also displays a more sinister, coded warning that came from Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, who was part of the Rwandan delegation at the Arusha Peace Talks which tried and failed to stabilize Rwanda ‘s fragile political situation. Unhappy with the results of those discussions, Bagasora said he was going back to Rwanda to prepare for the ‘apocalypse’.
“When you enter here what you see are e atrocities, what Bagosora had referred to as the apocalypse,” Potrin says as he indicates images and stories of what happened during the genocide. George Muhigana and Epiphany Mujawamariya were two lovers, found murdered. The chain used to bind them is also on display, alongside weapons used in the genocide.
Also on display are the stories of those who tried to save others during the genocide.. There is not enough space to highlight all those who died trying to help others, but the museum provides an idea of who resisted, and how.
For example, Yahaya Nsengiyumva saved over 30 people, Sula Karuhimbi, a traditional healer in her seventies who saved 17 lives, Frodouald Karuhije, Dismas Gisimba, and Mama Sifa are all people who risked their lives to save others during the genocide.
There is a section that outlines the difficulties after genocide. “Her e we see the problems with refugees leaving the country, and many returning after years in exile. There were people in camps near the borders. There was political activity in those camps, with some people terrorizing the refugees so that they do not return. There were also attacks by Hutu militia infiltrating from the Congo in 1997 which made people fear that the genocide was returning,” he says.
The memorial pays tribute to thousands of children killed in the genocide. AEGIS has collected photos and information about these youngsters, about, what they liked, about their friends, and about how they died. For example, Thierry, Chanelle and Francine were hacked to death with machetes. David was tortured, Ariane aged 4, was stabbed in the eyes and head. Fidele was shot, Fillette was smashed against a wall.
Space has been left for visitors to put up pictures of any other children who died. Potrin hopes the memorials will have a positive impact.
“The importance of these memorials is that they make someone reflect on this from their heart, when they see the evil of genocide; they can hopefully be convinced within themselves that this should never happen again,” he says.
In a separate part of the museum, one can learn about the history of other genocides, such as those which happened in Nazi Germany, Bosnia , Namibia , Russia and Armenia .
The Murambi memorial is largely similar. In pictures, sounds and writing it narrates the situation in the colonial, post colonial and the period immediately after the invasion by the Rwandan Patriotic Front.
The memorial has a special section on the international community, UN soldiers, and in particular, the controversial role of French military towards the end of the genocide, in the so-called humanitarian ‘Zone Turquoise’, which covered a geographical area including Murambi.
But why is it important to build memorials?
“If we do not remember what happened, how will we avoid repeating it? Sometimes we think that we know these things, but even for me, a Rwandan who was here during the genocide, there is a lot that I only learnt after I started working here,” Appollon Kabahizi says. Emelie Rutangonya has visited the Murambi site. He thinks it makes a difference.
“What I would tell those who have never come here, and they are many, is that it is important to visit these memorials; they represent part of our history. To acknowledge that at a point in our history some of us became predators and attacked people who had never done anything wrong to them and then take time to reflect on it,” he says.
At the entrance of the Murambi genocide memorial is a statement made by Felicien Ntagegwa, a Tutsi, during the genocide.
It says ‘If you had known yourself, and known me well, you would not have killed me.’