A Sobering Visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial

A few weeks ago I wrote about my recent trip to Kigali, and briefly mentioned my visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. I didn’t have the space then to describe the memorial in detail, and it’s a place that certainly deserves more attention.

It has been over two decades since the genocide, and Rwanda has done well in that time to move on from the darkest year of its history. But its an event that hasn’t been forgotten. The emphasis instead has been on understanding and reconciliation, in an effort to prevent such an atrocity from ever happening again.

At the time of my visit in April – the month when the killing started in 1994 – Kigali’s buildings were draped with white banners commemorating the 24th year since the genocide. Earlier in April, President Paul Kagame lit the ‘Flame of Remembrance’ at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, marking 100 days of mourning.

The memorial is in Kigali’s Gisozi district, just a 10 minute drive from the centre of town. We met our guide, D’Artagnan, at the entrance, who led us into the first room for an introductory film, centred on the personal accounts of three survivors. About halfway through the film, a very distraught man at the back of the room suddenly wailed in anguish. This happened a number of times throughout our visit, providing a stark reminder of just how recent, and how horrific, the events of 1994 were.

We then made our way down through the ‘Gardens of Reflection’ to the mass graves, where an inconceivable 250,000 victims of the genocide have been buried. Every year, more people are brought to the memorial for a dignified burial, as the remains of victims continue to be uncovered in unmarked graves across the country. While the identities of many of the victims are still unknown, those that have been identified are listed in their hundreds of thousands on the ‘Wall of Names’.

There are three permanent exhibitions at the memorial, the largest of which documents the events of the genocide in great detail. Here we were reminded how the seeds of violence were sown long before Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down on 6 April 1994.

While ethnic tension between the majority Hutus and minority Tutsis was nothing new when the Belgians arrived in 1916, the animosity between them grew substantially from the start of the colonial period. This culminated in the slaughter of 800,000 Rwandans between April and June 1994 – an event which wasn’t acted on by the international community.

The second exhibition documents the history of genocidal violence around the world, while the third – and undoubtedly the most harrowing – is dedicated to a selection of children brutally killed in the genocide. Each child is profiled beneath a large illuminated photo, with blurbs describing their last words, and their cause of death.

While these exhibitions are immensely disturbing, they are also very powerful, and crucial in recognising how far Rwanda has come in recent years. I highly recommend a visit. For more information about the memorial, go to www.kgm.rw.

In a pensive mood, we made the short trip to the Park Inn by Radisson, where we would spend the final night of the trip. There are plenty of hills in Kigali, and the Park Inn is perched right at the top of one of them, in the Kiyovu district. The views of the city from the hotel are fantastic, including from the Live-Inn restaurant terrace, where we had lunch.

We were joined by the General Manager, Rakesh Hurrychurn, who told us a little bit about the hotel. It’s a fairly new establishment, having opened in May 2017, and like most Park Inns is bold in its design. Those who have stayed at its sister hotel in Nairobi’s Westlands will be familiar with its colourful interior, as well as the fact that it looks like a giant iPad. The beige, blue and red exterior of Kigali’s Park Inn is more conventional, but the furnishings are typically playful.

An afternoon rain shower scuppered my plans of a swim and drink by the pool, so I decided to distract myself from the experience at the memorial by making use of the hotel’s gym. Emmanuel Buregeya, the trainer and Rwanda’s former Muay Thai champion, really put me through my paces. That evening, we enjoyed a nice BBQ spread at JJ’s nightclub, within the hotel grounds. It would have been a perfect night had Liverpool not robbed Roma of a spot in the Champions League final.

I should also tell you about the Park Inn’s conference facilities, because they have a unique feature that I haven’t come across before. Each room includes a floor-to-ceiling chalkboard wall, which I thought provided a creative means of note-taking.

Have a look at their website for rates, www.parkinn.com/hotel-kigali, or check out their Facebook page for more information.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation