Monday, September 14, 2009
On Sunday afternoon, Simone and I went to visit the Genocide Memorial of Kigali. We took moto-taxis across town, up hills and down to an altogether new district for me. The memorial site is on a hill overlooking part of the city, with ever more hills in the distance. There are cultivated fields between the site and the city. Further up the hill, beyond the memorial site, there is clearly another neighbourhood, as there were many people walking in both directions, dressed in their Sunday best it seemed. Some were also no doubt bound for the memorial.
The site itself is guarded as apparently there have been bomb attacks and scares on it as recently as two months ago. So we were scanned and searched before entering. Also, no photos were allowed inside and cell phones had to be turned off.
The main building is white and very modern. I am not sure what year this was built, but the funder is the Aegis Foundation. It is very beautifully laid out, full of air and light. This was not a site with piles of bones, but a history of Rwanda and the years leading up to, during and following the genocide. There are many photos, very carefully described events in as few words as possible, memorabilia and several videos of various Rwandans telling parts of their story in three languages (you select the one you want). It is a very peaceful place and everyone I saw who toured it that day was very quiet and respectful.
I found it quite heartbreaking, especially the areas where children were featured. Such innocents. Such wasted lives. And of course, it tapped into my shame and guilt about my/the world’s lack of response to this awful slaughter. The situation was so complex and was described to us in the news as civil war. And indeed, it was very confusing as there were at least half a dozen political groups with official names. Even Rwandans were confused. However, I/we watched, doing nothing to stop this genocide. I felt their blood on my own soul and shed tears for this terrible suffering that afflicts the country now and likely will for generations.
One of the areas of the memorial is a series of rooms describing a few other genocides around the world, such as the Armenians, the Bosnians and the Jews. The point seemed to be that predictable signs are always there ahead of time and that, in future, we can be more alert and better prepared to avert such disasters.
Outside the main building are some beautiful gardens and fountains as well as over a dozen mass graves that commemorate thousands of the dead. Several fresh bouquets of flowers had been placed on some of the graves, so clearly locals come to remember their slain family members. One wall is dedicated to the names of the dead who are known to be there. It is very peaceful and was a good place for me to process a bit of what I had seen inside. I found myself thinking as I walked, “Here, you can rest in peace.”
I feel very hopeful for the Rwanda of today. Yes, many people are scarred and it is not easy to let go of the past. Yes, some of the perpetrators actually live among the victims. Yes, there are thousands of prisoners who have yet to be tried. But there is a justice process in place, Gaccaca courts, albeit one that is very new and quite an experiment. The accused must face their victims in their villages and neighbourhoods and describe exactly what they did. Then the justice system takes over and applies sentences.
The president here, Paul Kagame, is trying to break the cycle of violence the country has lived with for two generations, so that Rwanda can move on. He has outlawed identity cards that caused such problems and indeed, has outlawed anyone identifying as anything but Rwandan. You are either Rwandan or not. The economy is growing, as is tourism. Small businesses line all the main streets. Just outside Tubahumurize centre itself are probably twelve shops directly across the street and as many more on either side, with all manner of things for sale. And the president has placed much emphasis on education.
My hope is mostly for the generation that is now coming of age and those who are younger. It is hardest for the older generation, which witnessed and experienced far too much. But even they have shown great resilience, just in continuing to live. That said, for them it will always be hardest. But if the young can be kept free of hatred, in school all together, learning. If the economy can offer hope for the future of everyone. And if the laws of the land are fair and just, I believe that Rwandans can leave the past behind, not forgetting, but healing and flourishing all the same.