Kigali Memorial Centre

Looking out over the mass graves at the memorial gardens, towards the Wall of Names, which lists victims of the genocide.

Despite the fact that we’ve been back from Rwanda for nearly two weeks, it’s only now that I’ve managed to get my head around writing about our visit to the Kigali Memorial Centre. Since Kristen had gone there during her first trip to Rwanda earlier in the year, and Sune had already boarded a bus to Tanzania, it was just Ido, Jessica, and I who took bodas to the genocide memorial on Monday morning. The three of us ended up purchasing the audio tour, which provided more information about each area and exhibit that we travelled through. The tour began with the memorial gardens outside the main building, each designed to represent particular elements of Rwandan society prior to, during, and following the genocide. It was quite jarring to be confronted by the contrast between the blooming flowers and greenery of the gardens and then the mass graves and wall of names located in the same area. All told, the gardens hold the remains of more than 250,000 victims. The scale of loss that the country suffered in 100 days is practically incomprehensible, especially considering that the bodies located at the Kigali site account for only a quarter of the total estimated Tutsis and moderate Hutus that were killed in 1994.

One of the gardens at the Memorial Centre, designed to represent Rwanda after the genocide.

After spending time in the gardens outside, we headed into the indoor portion of the tour, beginning with the downstairs area. This part is divided into three sections, describing Rwanda before, during, and after the genocide. Using a mix of video clips, photographs, and written descriptions, the exhibits describe Rwanda’s colonial experience, the build-up to the genocide, and what the country has done in the aftermath to attempt to start down the road towards healing. At the end of that, you end up in a room full of photographs of victims of the genocide and recovered remains and possessions of those that were killed. The emotions elicited on this floor really ran the gamut: utter sadness for all of the lives lost and the horrible ways that people were massacred, regret and anger for the failure of the international community to do anything, admiration for the people whose heroic actions managed to save the lives of some of those in danger, and hope for the future, considering what Rwanda has managed to do to rebuild itself in the sixteen years since the tragedy.

The upstairs portion of the Centre has a very moving section that talks about other genocides that have taken place around the world, including¬†Cambodia in the 1970s, Bosnia in the 1990s, Germany during WW2, and Turkey in the 1910s. From there, the last exhibit we visited was a tribute to the children who were lost during the genocide. It was a pretty gut-wrenching way to finish, since the names of children discussed here were accompanied by life-size photographs and details about their favourite toys, last words, and the manner in which they were killed. Needless to say, the three of us were all pretty shook up by the experience when we emerged back outside some hours later. While it was certainly one of the toughest things I’ve seen during my time in Africa, the Centre is really a fitting memorial to the events that took place in Rwanda in ’94.