Through our eyes

Over the past few weeks, we have been discussing our trip to Rwanda.  As we return to live here in Moshi, we continue to be struck by many things that we saw and learned in Rwanda.  In this section, we will talk about the Genocide Memorial in Kigali.

We spent a lot of time researching the Rwandan Genocide before our trip.  The research and the few books we read did not prepare us for the memorial, what we learned, and what we experienced while in Rwanda.

The memorial starts off with a guided tour of the grounds surrounding the memorial building.  There are a few gardens, a fountain, a little forest, and a mass grave surrounding the Genocide Memorial.  Each space was well kept and represented something that reminds Rwandans of the genocide, life before the genocide, and the work they all have to do in order to heal from the genocide.

The most humbling part of the outside tour was the mass grave.  In a section smaller than a football field, there are over 250,000 people buried.  They are not sure exactly how many people are buried there because of how brutally the people were killed.  They are also not sure who is buried there.  Located behind the mass grave is a wall of names that they have identified as people who are buried in the mass grave.  There are not even 1,000 names on the wall.  People suspect that their relatives are buried there, but many people are not certain.

After visiting the outside of the memorial, we went inside.  There was an extensive three-part section about the Rwandan Genocide.  Part one was about Rwanda before the genocide.  Part two was about the genocide.  Part three was about the aftermath of the genocide.  All of the sections provided extensive information.

The section about Rwanda before the genocide was very interesting.  It confirmed that there was no tribal history of violence between the Hutu and the Tutsi.  The tribes lived peacefully together for thousands of years.  Upon colonization, divisions began.  The Belgians, who originally colonized Rwanda, thought that the Tutsi were the superior race.  They liked their facial futures better than those of the Hutu.  Even though the Tutsi represented less than 20% of the population, they were given most of the representation, education, and power in the colony.

The favoritism became so large that separation began to occur.  Birth certificates and passports began to label individuals as Hutu and Tutsi.  The Belgians distributed an identification card that had tribal origins on it.  The Tutsi would receive favoritism and the Hutu would be oppressed.

Naturally the Hutu did not appreciate becoming the inferior race, especially since they were the majority.  The first act of violence between the Hutu and the Tutsi occurred in the mid 1900’s.  The Hutu attacked the Tutsi and many Tutsi fled to neighboring Burundi, and Uganda.  With many of the Tutsi out of the country, the Hutu assumed power.  They created laws that Tutsi could have 15% of the representation in the government and 15% of all formal jobs.  They continued to label passports and identification cards with tribal identities while they were in power.

This is the point where the memorial started to discuss the Rwandan Genocide.  We will not re-discuss this information, but please feel free to review our “Inspirational Tid-Bits” on 7.28.11 and 8.4.11 for reference.

The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which was initially formed to unite the Tutsi people who had been displaced from Rwanda so that they could return to their rightful place in Rwanda, became the liberators during the genocide.  No United Nations, European, or United States support was offered or delivered.  The French tried to help, but, through ignorance, they ended up supplying the Hutu – who were carrying out the genocide – with ammunition and a safe haven once the RPF began liberating the country. 

It took 100 days for the RPF to end the genocide.  Mass systematic killings of Tutsi and moderate Hutu were carried out by the government and trained Hutu soldiers.  The preparation for the event on behalf of the Hutu was mind blowing.  They would circulate trainings of Hutu civilians in rural areas in order to teach them what to do during the genocide and the importance of eliminating the Tutsi.

There were popular singers who would sing about killing the Tutsi, fliers and radio advertisements dehumanizing the Tutsi were everywhere, the Hutu-lead churches even adopted the Ten Commandments for the Hutu.  For us, it was difficult to believe that someone could have so much hatred toward another person.  It was also difficult to understand how little the international community helped before, during, and after the genocide.

Even though 750,000 people are counted as dead, over 1,000,000 people are assumed to be dead, and over 2,000,000 Rwandans have been lost, killed, or suffered unknown fates.  Even with these numbers, and with the reality of most of the dead being Tutsi, much of the international community still considers the genocide a civil war.  We learned that most genocides end with many people believing that it was a “civil war.”  The international legal definition of genocide is the intent to destroy, completely or partially, a national, ethnical, religious, or racial group.  The Tutsi were unarmed and were strategically targeted as an ethnic group.  Tutsi women were systematically raped by Hutu men who had AIDS.  The women are now infected with AIDS and no international aid is being offered to them; medication is scarce and expensive.  It is feared that even though the genocide ended 17 years ago, their inevitable death will result from the genocide.  This is mainly due to the lack of support for their disease that they did nothing to contract.

The Genocide Memorial also explained about five other genocides that occurred throughout history.  Some, such as the Holocaust, are recognized by most people as genocide.  Others were not recognized as genocides, but with the information we were provided, they were clearly genocides.  It was interesting to learn about these points in history.

The Genocide Memorial’s final exhibit was about some of the children who were killed in the Rwandan Genocide.  This section was very powerful … in fact, after finishing the exhibit we did not talk for quite some time.  The exhibit was simple:  An enlarged picture of a child who was killed in the genocide was hung above a plaque indicating the child’s age, favorite food, favorite activities, last words, and how they were killed.  Some children were hit with a machete, some were shot, some were thrown against the wall and the impact killed them.  While we could not understand it, this exhibit gave us an idea of the hate of the Hutu and the fear of the Tutsi throughout this time. 

Overall, the Genocide Memorial was a phenomenal experience.  It reminded us of the Holocaust Museum in the United States, which we have both visited.  Anyone who is considering visiting the Genocide Memorial should.  Anyone who is considering visiting eastern Africa should try to visit the memorial.  Anyone who respects human life and appreciates peace should learn more about genocide and its history.  We learned how nearly all genocide is preventable. We, as members of the international community, can prevent these atrocities.  

The Genocide Memorial was powerful and invoked many feelings that we still are not completely sure about.  In college, most of our studies were based on peace and social justice.  It was difficult for us to visit a memorial that was based on the exact opposite:  hate, fear, and violence.  While we will never understand the horrors of any genocide, we feel that it is important to learn about it.  Understanding what leads to genocides and how action or inaction can either support or prevent the genocide is something that we will continue to research and ponder as we move forward.

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