Sunday 04 December 2017. Photos
Highlights: The Kigali Genocide Memorial, Hotel Rwanda, Belgian Solider Memorial
Today was the unexpected journey to another new country in Rwanda. This wasn’t an option I was aware of but one I’m glad I was able to undertake as I got a chance to visit are previously war torn country that in very recent history, 1994 in fact, experience a genocide. We must all attempt to learn something from the dark points of our shared history and try to honour the victims.
This day visit option to Rwanda cost $50 USD which was money well spent. We left our campsite around 6 am, I was once again glad I bought the upgrade to a cabin from a tent for the Lake Bunyoni stay as it meant a few more minutes sleeping and no concerns about security of my gear.
The ride to the border was uneventful and took around 45 minutes. This border crossing reminded me more of Central America, unpredictable roads and little infrastructure. I thought at the time, incorrectly it turned out, that Rwanda must lack good infrastructure and be very poor. Only a few minutes in Rwanda and I was proven wrong as the best paved roads of the trip, and even rarer paths next to the road coupled with picturesque green landscape made it hard to believe that only 23 years earlier this country was in turmoil.
The most important stop of this trip was to the Kigali Genocide Memorial (KGM). The KGM is burial place for over 250,000 victims of the 1994 genocide out of the well over 1 million who died when the Hutu majority turned on their neighbours and friends the Tutsi or as they were called by the Government in 1994 ‘the cockroaches’. While the difference between the Tutsi and Hutu is now considered racial the original terms and grouping were determined by Europeans with Tutsi being those with 10 or more cattle and the Hutu with less, so in other words more economic category but obviously with some racial profiling.
The memorial outlined what happened including the lead up of the previous 100 years and tried very hard to be even handed with events especially pointing out how Tutsi members who had been forced out of Rwanda had previously undertaken some attacks which feed into the propaganda of the Hutu government that their were going to be attacked and must strike first.
The testimonies of the surging victims was chilling. Telling our neighbours turned in neighbours or even killed their Tutsi friends by machete attacks. The purpose of the attacks was more then just to kill it was to humiliate and injury their victims before death. Very few clean quick deaths occurred. Their were stories of priests burning churches with Tutsi inside, and counter stories like a young boy who stood up to his father saying he could not kill the family that had helped them and that his dad will have to kill him as well. Many Hutu were killed for protecting Tutsi, even Tutsi they didn’t know. One Muslim quoted ‘to save one life is to save the world’ a saying that I thought was only Jewish but is also actually Muslim.
I learnt a lot during this visit. I learnt about their local court setup to deal with the outcomes of the genocide and how many Hutu were allow to halve their sentences for killing Tutsi if they apologised and undertook community service for th reminder of the sentence. I learned that this is why the capital is so very clean. I thought this wasn’t really justice but based on what I saw and heard for survivors about needing to forgive and break the cycle it gave me great heart to know their were people so much stronger and compassionate then I could ever be.
The next stop was a Memorial for the Belgian soldiers killed during the genocide. The genocide started when the Presidents plane was shout down, mostly likely by the Rwandan military and the next day they execute the Premier Minister who was being protected by Belgian soldiers under United Nations protection. I had no idea of a lot of what happened in Rwanda and whose lives were lost.
Next up was a visit to Hotel Rwanda actual name Hôtel des Mille Collines, which was the sight of Hutu acting manager who protected many Tutsi in what was before the genocide started an upscale hotel for Europeans, UN personal and western tourist. We had a buffet lunch their which was actually very expensive for African standards (around $32 AUD).
After lunch we visited a couple of stores in the CBD but since almost no one changed money into the local currency this was just a look and see local products visit. It took approximately 2 hours to get back to the Rwandan / Ugandan border during which time we experienced some rain, I hoped my clothes hanging outside back at LAke Bunyoni was okay as wet clothes in a bag is a big problem. Luckily they turned out to be fine but it’s a consistent issue trying to get your clothes clean while on the road.
The day trip to Rwanda was an unexpected benefit of this trip. I learned so much about the conflict and that our beautiful this county actually is. I’ve seen genocide memorials in many places over the world, it’s true people can be very dark but there is also some amazing light and goodness as well during the horror.