Rwanda is rich with tourist attractions such as volcanoes, gorillas, game parks, and so much more. Today when we visit Rwanda, we are thinking of gorilla trekking, and mountain climbing, and so many other exciting things, but it hasn’t always been that way. Rwanda has a
tragic history that has contributed greatly to how the country is today. The 1994 genocide was documented worldwide, and many across the world sympathized and prayed for Rwanda but only the people of Rwanda understand how tragic and scarring that period was.
Up to 1 million people were killed during the April rains if 1994 to late July of the same year. It was a tribal conflict that turned extremely bloody. The aim of was to wipe the land of Tutsi, in a bid to “purify” the land. 20 years later, the people of Rwanda have not forgotten, and the slogan “never again” is one that rings out everywhere in this small country.
All across the country there are genocide memorials which remind both the Rwanda people and visitors to the country of the evil that happened on their land. An evil that was not stopped by the UN or The USA or any international forces but by Rwandans led by the current president Paul Kagame in a movement that defeated the forces of the Nterahamwe who were doing he ethnic cleansing and the government then.
By the end of July 1994, Rwanda was a shadow of itself. There were dead bodies everywhere, some washed into Uganda with flowing rivers and as far as Lake Victoria. But Rwanda did rise from the ashes of hatred and destruction and has over the last twenty years been slowly but steadily rebuilt.
What are some of the genocide memorial sites in Rwanda?
The Kigali Genocide Memorial Center is one of the biggest memorial centers. It is sacred ground for both locals and foreigners alike. A visit to this genocide memorial is one that gives you a new perspective on life and the things that happen. It’s a reminder that good will always overcome evil. And it is a lesson in forgiveness and reconciliation. Lessons that Rwanda has taught the world.
The names of those who were killed in the genocide are written on the wall, there is the children’s section, the gardens with the children, the burial site which is covered over with concrete. Inside there are letters and pictures of victims. If you are visiting the memorial you get a guide to walk you through it, the guide is usually a genocide survivor with his own story to tell. It is a very moving and meaningful experience.
Gisenyi genocide Memorial Site:
The Gisenyi Memorial Site was one of the very first memorial sites to be built in Rwanda. It was built by the IBIKA survivor organization together with the Rwandan ministry of sports and culture. Gisenyi memorial is found on the outskirts of Gisenyi which borders the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. At first sight it appears to be a cemetery; however this memorial site contains the remains of 12,000 genocide victims that were killed during the 1994 Genocide.
Nearby is where one of the infamous Nterahamwe Roadblock was located. Between April and May of 1994, the area near the cemetery was called “Commune Rouge”. There was a roadblock called “Corniche ”which is where the Tutsi’s were identified by their national identity cards and appearance and taken near the cemetery and from the Nyando Community to be killed with crude machetes. There is no visitors’ center here yet.
Nyamata church genocide memorial site:
Nyamata Church Genocide Memorial is located in the Bugesera district, 35km from Kigali. Over 10,000 people were in and around the church from 14th-18th April 1994. This church has since then been silent, rather than a place to sing and rejoice, it became a place of remembrance. There are still bullet holes in the roof and blood spatters on the altar, all a reminders of dark times in Rwanda. In the back of the church you can access the basement which is now catacomb-filled with rows of skulls, bones and coffins – a reminder of the senselessness of hate.
Over the main entrance of the church is a banner that translates to “If you had known me, and you had really known yourself, you would not have killed me.”
Murambi Genocide Memorial Site is a very graphic display of the victims that were murdered. In the words of one government official “The Genocide must live on.”
It is quite easy to find people o the internet who deny or try to deny that the genocide ever happened but Murambi with its contorted corpses gives testimony that the Genocide did take place. An estimate of between 27,000 50,000 have their final resting place here as a reminder of what took place in the 100 days of darkness and hell that descended on the Land of a Thousands Hills – Rwanda.
History fact: When the Genocide reached the Murambi area, thousands of Tutsis fled their homes and sought refuge in the Catholic Church -the Bishop there insisted that they move from the church to a technical school in Murambi where the French would give them protection.
On April 21 1994, the Nterahamwe descended on the school at Murambi and butchered thousands of Tutsis who were there. The few policemen who were there fled before the massacre so th e Tutsis were left with no protection.
Other genocide memorial sites you can visit during your safaris in Rwanda include: The Nyarubuye Church Memorial Site, the Nyanza Genocide Memorial Site, Ntarama Church Genocide Memorial Site, Bisesero Genocide Memorial Site and the Genocide Memorial in Rwanda.
Everywhere you go in Rwanda, the memories still linger, you will meet at least one survivor. Some are willing to share their stories, others not so much.
There are actually many other genocide memorial sites, reminders of a time not so long ago when this country experienced 100 days of darkness and death and was in desperate need of help. It is history today, but it is history that has shaped the Rwanda of today, and of the future. So when you visit the land of a thousand hills for a gorilla trekking safari or volcano climbing adventure, take a little time and visit one or two of these sites.