Africa: The Genocide Memorial, From gory sights to tourist boom
It is impossible to really understand present-day Rwanda without understanding what took place in the East African country in 1994. Fortunately, the citizens have embraced peace, and reconciliation that has move the country to a growing tourists and conference destination. However, you need to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial to know what forgiveness means after the killing of almost one million people, writes OBINNA EMELIKE who visited the memorial recently.
When the taxi pulled off at the hotel foyer, a lanky young man opened the door with broad smiles and greeting me in both English and local languages. “My name is Dominique Karigirwa, but you can call me Dom Dom. I am at your service sir”, the taxi driver said even with broader smiles.
I smiled back and told him to take me to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. “Oh, that is my place; it is in Gisozi, just ten minutes drive from the city centre. It is just $10 for a drop and $25 if you want me to drive you back to the hotel”, he said.
I hopped in without saying a word, only smiling back and anxious of the gory pictures and tales, which the hotel’s guests’ manager said that await me at the genocide memorial. As if Dom Dom read my mind, he said, “Sir, the genocide museum is a beautiful place, it is more peaceful than your hotel. There you will learn to forgive and move on with life and also say never again to genocide”. I rhetorically asked how. Without asking, Dom Dom explained that he was a survivor of the genocide and that the taxi he drives was courtesy of a strategic programme by the government and donor agencies to assistance genocide survivors, reconcile and prevent a repeat of such gory experience in the country.
“I will wait to hear your testimony after visiting the museum, but you will ‘hate hatred’ when you come out”, Dom Dom said on opening the taxi door and showing me the way to the museum entrance. He almost drove off without collecting his $10. “What a peaceful soul”, I said rhetorically after calling and giving him the money.
However, from the entrance, there is nothing sorrowful in sight, rather tranquility, the museum edifice, which is an architectural wonder and the panoramic views of the city atop hill were very obvious and delighting.
Even the warm reception at the front desk and the pleasantries from the museum staff gave no indication one was in place of remembrance; a place were over 250 people were buried with more that are discovered from shallow graves across the country till today still being burial here.
While still listening to what seemed a preliminary talk, a beautiful young Rwandese lady interrupted the session saying, “Hello all. That is enough for now because there are more to see inside the museum. You are welcome, my name is Euginie Unijeni, and I am your tour guide for today”.
From that point, Euginie took over for real and asked us to open our minds, enlarge our hearts to take more and most importantly, ‘forgive’.
“There are three permanent exhibitions here; The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Wasted Lives and Children Room”, she said. Before she finished her explanations my five senses were already captured by the gory sights of pictures of dead bodies and explanations attached to them.
One of the explanations read: “From April7 until July 4, 1994 over one million people were killed in genocide against the Tutsi and moderate Hutus that last for three months. Here are scores of dead bodies slaughtered with machetes and clubs by the Hutu militia”.
The picture below the former one was gorier. It showed defenseless women watching as their innocent children were being killed with clubs, while awaiting their own turn to be killed. The explanation below the picture made me angry, but I remembered the warning by the taxi driver and tour guide ‘forgive’, ‘peace’. “Why forgive”? I asked in fury to the hearing of fellow visitors. It took the tears in the eyes of a woman behind me and the soft tapping on my shoulder by an elder man who looked German to bring me back to a calm state.
Looking at Wasted Lives exhibition, it unveiled genocides in other parts of the world, but because I was eager to see more of Rwanda, I skipped the session and went to the Children exhibition. It took courage to see how thousands of children and infants were slaughtered by Hutu genocidaires. The pictures were rightly captioned: ‘A generation’s dreams stolen by genocide’. Yet, another set of picture captured thousands of children that were missing since then, and probably dead. There were innocent smiles on their faces, some were in their very cheerful and playful mood but all that and great future ahead of them were cut short by the genocide. What a loss? I said while reclining in a pitiable mood. Of course, any of those dead children could have been anybody’s child.
We went on seeing more evidence of the mass killings. While I was still shocked to the nerves on the gory sights and how dead bodies littered the streets and were allowed to decay, I was more than shocked or rather dumbfounded when I read how the church aided the killings of those it once told to love their neighbors as themselves and not to kill.
At the wake of the genocide thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus ran to Ntarama Catholic Church for shelter, but over five thousand Tutsis were killed in the supposedly holy sanctuary and last hope of the hopeless. What a profanity.
On reading further, and seeing more pictures, the church killing was not only at the Ntarama church, Catholic parishes at Nyamata, Nyarubuye, Cyahinda, Nyange, and Saint Famille were slaughter slabs and sanctuaries of death for many catholic faithful and innocent Tutsis.
It is no feeble tales, the church priests watched as tens of thousands of people who thought they were running to God for safety were slaughtered right in the church. Oh, what a gory and sacrilege in the ‘holy places’.
Although the Catholic Church has finally apologized for the role of the church in aiding the killing of those who ran to the churches for safety, yet some of the priests who were involved are still not prosecuted till date as noted by one of the explanations on below a church massacre scene. According to the explanation, the likes of Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka indicted for murder and rape in the 1994 genocide, still walks the street of Paris today a free man. Father Athanase Seromba who led the Nyange parish massacre where over 2000 people were killed by luring the desperate Tutsis into his parish before he ordered a bulldozer to pull down the building and then allowed the Hutu Militia in to finish off the survivors and Archbishop Perraudin who was behind the hateful ideology of Hutu Power that gave rise to the use of Jeremiah 6: 23 as the Biblical base of the massacre of the northern invaders, are still free today.
Leaving the church sad roles, you move on to see a big mould filled with human bones, while a larger one holding hundreds of skulls is a testimony of man’s inhumanity to fellow man. Most visitors were not sacred on seeing the skulls in such quantity for the first time, they were rather sad that the world was wining and dining while Rwanda was on fire. One of visitors enthused that the genocide happened even when Kofi Anan, an African was United Nations secretary general.
There were audio visual forms that offered more insights on the 1994 mass killing in Rwanda, but I decided to see other things or probably get fresh air outside the memorial without knowing that outside the museum hosts the worst sights and documentations of the ugly and gory past.
The tour guide beckoned us to follow her, and we did. While standing on a large concrete ground, she started laughing and asked if we knew what we were standing on. We all said no. Behold, the concrete ground is named The Burial Place. Since 2001, over 250,000 victims of the genocide have been buried inside the concrete ground. So, we were standing on 250,000 skulls, millions of bones and most importantly, millions of dashed hopes and dreams.
While some of the visitors were crying, the tour guide, who is a Tutsi and a survivor of the genocide, said, “Every year, more people are brought to the memorial for dignified burials as the remains of victims in unmarked graves continue to be uncovered around the country”. “You mean after 22 years, bodies are still found, then the country is the largest graveyard in the world”, a visitor said, but that did not go down well with the tour guide who went dumb for a few minutes.
From the Burial Place, we went to see the Wall of Names. “It contains over 900 names and several times more than the Vietnam Wall of Names. It is dedicated to those who died in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The work is still in progress. Many of the victim’s names have yet to be gathered and documented and many of the victims who rest in the graves are unknown”, the tour guide said.
While we are set to leave, she said there was one more place to see; Garden of Reflection. On getting to the garden, the tranquility and beauty greet you. But the greeting is not warm enough because of what the garden represents. While at the garden, the tour guide asked us to take few minutes to contemplate about the history of the genocide against the Tutsi, reflect on how we all have the personal responsibility to prevent discrimination and mass atrocity. We all did that and hoped the lessons learnt last beyond the walls of the museum.
She also advised researchers among us to visit the Genocide Archive of Rwanda Library, which holds hundreds of titles on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
We were told that as at today, the Genocide Archive of Rwanda uses audio visual techniques to preserve testimonies and gather an archive of victims’ names which is being used to complete the wall of names.
On our way out, we saw a 1,200 seat amphitheater constructed to mark the 20th commemoration of the genocide. We were also told that the amphitheater hosts memorial events, educational workshops, dramatic performances, cultural and historical events and film screenings. The amphitheater is famous for hosting the International Day of Genocide Commemoration and Prevention on December 9th every year; the date also marks the anniversary of the signing of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.
Before saying goodbye, Euginie asked us to go grab snacks and cold drinks at the ‘Café du Memorial’ within the museum and most importantly, to visit the souvenir to get a souvenirs as testimony of our visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
But her requests were not granted as many of us have lost our appetite after seeing many gory sights and reading several inciting and murderous materials.
However, a few went to buy at least a souvenir on reading a signpost that said all the souvenirs were handmade by some small-scale social enterprises operated by survivors of the genocide and patronizing them would encourage their creativity, help in changing their livelihoods, support others and give meaning to their work. As well, the income generated from these social enterprises, we learnt, is invested back into the memorial to support the preservation of archives and to run education programmes at the memorial.
What a sad day at the memorial. Now I know why Dom Dom, the taxi driver, said Never again to genocide and I join him to say same, especially in Rwanda and hot spots of ethnic rivalries across the world.
I hated hatred as Dom Dom assured me on completing the memorial tour and I join all Rwandese to say, ‘Never again to genocide’.