Africa Day 8: Remembering the genocide

Posted in africa 2008, personal, photos, travel at 3:46 am by wingerz


Day 8, March 22, Kigali


The Kigali Memorial Center houses powerful exhibits about the Rwandan genocide, along with other genocides of the 20th centruy. We tour the outdoor gardens and mass graves first – they are still being constructed. The first two levels are finished. The remains of over 200,000 people (of an estimated 800,000-1,000,000) will rest here when all of the graves are complete. The mass graves contain coffins, which contain multiple bodies. They are covered by large stone slabs. Colorful flowers brighten the landscape, but do not lighten the heaviness of the atmosphere. There are a few bouquets left to mourn the dead, and a very large black wall with small print to remember the names of the deceased (still in progress).

A lot of the discussions today were about the ingredients for genocide – chief among these in Rwanda was a deep divide between the Hutus and Tutsis. When Belgians colonized the area they distinguished between the two, giving the Tutsis ID cards and preferred treatment. In modern-day history, the distinction is mainly a social one, not a racial one. There was marrying between the groups, and switching was possible. When it was unclear which group a person belonged to, the Belgians made the distinction on the basis of personal wealth, designating the rich as Tutsis. They were given cushy jobs in the government and were expected to control the Hutus, leading to widespread resentment.

The genocide was carefully orchestrated, with propaganda being distributed through print and radio channels in the years before. This was particularly effective due to the low literacy rate. Name lists were assembled to identify targets. When a plane carrying the president of Rwanda was shot down, events were set into motion. Death was dealt by a myriad of gruesome tools – machetes, clubs, spears, and rifles. No one was spared; women were raped and killed, and children were killed since they were the future of the Tutsis.

It’s still impossible to really understand the magnitude of the atrocity. The exhibits inside try to bridge this gap by presenting intensely personal views. They seek to de-desensitize people, who cannot comprehend the numbers because they are so large. Videos of survivor interviews play and color photographs document the events leading up to the genocide, the three-month descent into hell, and the aftermath. Articles of clothing found in mass graves have been retrieved and presented as outfits. Upstairs one orange room (filled with the profiles of children) led to another each with a brief description and horrifying cause of death. Another room featured skulls (some fractured) and bones from victims, along with dark, ghostly images of faces.

It didn’t make much sense to me in high school, and now that I’m more familiar with what happened, it’s still not clear to me how things escalated so quickly and how the world let it continue.


1 Comment »

  1. ~wingerz » Africa 2008: The complete journal said,

    November 29, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    […] Day 6: Descent into the crater Day 7: Waiting for school Day 7: End of safari Day 7: Off to Rwanda Day 8: Remembering the genocide Day 9: Gorillas in the mist Day 10: Shoping in Rwanda Day 10: Leaving Rwanda Day 10: Travel […]

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