Rwanda is not far from one of the places we stayed in Uganda, so we did a day trip to visit the capital, Kigali. The city looked quite modern compared to other African cities. A lot of foreign aid donor money came into Rwanda after the war. We went to the Rwanda Genocide Memorial, which as you can imagine is a sad place. There were exhibits with testimony from survivors and rooms full of bones. During 3 months in 1994, around 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda. The Children’s Room is particularly hard to take – it has photos of children with details about their lives and hopes (favorite food, what they wanted to be when they grew up) and then how they were killed.
Philip Gourevitch’s book, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families is one of the saddest I’ve ever read and outlines some of the events of the genocide. As usual, a lot of the blame for how things turned out in Africa can be put on the Europeans – in this case the Belgians and French. The Belgians created social divisions in colonial Rwanda, encouraging hatred between the Hutus and Tutsis. When the Belgians left, the rivalries intensified. The French helped train and continued to supply arms to those committing the genocide. After the Hutu president’s plane was shot down (most likely by Hutu military leaders who wanted to spark the genocide) Hutu forces executed as many Tutsis as they could find, along with Hutus opposed to the genocide. This led to Tutsi rebels in Uganda invading Rwanda, taking power and then invading the Congo in pursuit of fleeing Hutu forces. This led to the downfall of Mobutu’s dictatorship and the fracturing of the Congo state.
We also visited the Hôtel des Mille Collines (Hotel of 1000 Hills), better known as Hotel Rwanda. This is the hotel where the manager hid more than 1200 people, saving their lives. The story is featured in the movie Hotel Rwanda. (The actual hotel looks nothing like the one shown in the movie). As far as I could see, at the hotel now, there are no monuments or mentions of what happened during the war. It seems the hotel doesn’t want to be remembered for those events. We had a buffet lunch at the hotel (which was the best meal I’d had for a couple of months). It is an odd experience to enjoy such a lavish meal at such a sad place.
We also visited the memorial to the Belgian peacekeepers who were killed protecting the Rwandan prime minister (a woman who was assassinated because she was a moderate Hutu and opposed the genocide). Again, it’s something I have mixed feelings about. While of course, it’s good to remember people who died during their job, it does seem unbalanced to single out the 10 foreigners when so many other people died.