A Travellerspoint blog



“When they said 'never again' after the holocaust, was it meant for some people an not for others?” [Apollon Katahizi]

In a way, it all comes down to a point of Belgian administration.

Bl**dy paperwork.

Sadly though, I must admit that my local knowledge is not as good as it should be. I had long laboured under the idea that the Hutus and Tutsi's were ancient tribes, possibly bearing a timeworn grudge. Though there is some grain of truth in that – they were 2 of 18 smaller groups, and date back to the 10th or 11th century at least – it never really mean't anything on the grand scheme of things. It was only later that the groups become formalised that things go messy. The Hutu and Tutsi divide which caused so much pain, grief, suffering and death in Rwanda – and Burundi as well – was basically an invention of colonial Belgian administration: when the Belgians brought in identity cards in 1931 for exact reasons that i am unsure of, they decided to split the population into different groups: Tutsi's (or those that owned more than 10 cows) and Hutu's. The seeds were sown. And In neighbouring Burundi - once part of the same Belgian colonial system and with a similar ethnic breakdown, over 200,000 Hutu's died in a 1972 genocide and civil war between Tutsi's and Hutu's in Burundi has been on and off for over 60years.

The Rwandan National Genocide Memorial in Kigali

I am too depressed to write too much about the Rwandan genocide or it's memorial here: Besides, there are plenty of other much better sources of information out there. But I feel that I have to comment a little on the National Genocide Memorial in Kigali. If you ignore the complete lack of signposting from anywhere in town and even nearby, it was very well done. In basic terms, in under 100 days (it was that quick) over 1million people were dead, and millions more displaced. The UN commander in Rwanda was denied a mandate to intervene and had no force to speak of and the French force that did arrive at one point are horribly implicated in many atrocities, at least as accomplices. And the propaganda machine was at its most horrifically efficient: what most observers note as the single most horrific aspect of the whole horrible episode was the fervor in which ordinary Rwandans – men women and children – seemed to happily hack up and kill other Rwandans, often former neighbors, friends or even family members.

Each of these simple – but large- concrete blocks covers a mass grave, the names of majority of whom will forever remain unknown

All i will do here is just mention a couple of 'small' snippets that particularly affected me. I think that one small paragraph and photo on a side wall was the single most devastating memory to me. It described a Christian priest who ordered the bulldozing of a church with 2000 people inside. He destroyed his own church and massacred his own congregation out of some perverse 'tribal' loyalty. In the children's gallery, large pictures of children were notated with how they died: two siblings of 2years and 6months ere killed when a grenade was thrown into their bathroom. And outside amongst the mass graves – this is not just a memorial site – there was a black wall, maybe 100metres long. A section was filled with small type of the names of dead Rwandans. The rest of it was eerily blank: so many of the bodies remain unidentified. Other people might be more moved by some of the heroic personal tales , or the room of skulls, or personal items and clothing found in mass graves. Everybody is different. But everybody agrees that it was a horrific episode of the very worst of human kind.

That evening I did pretty much nothing at all, except sadly sit with images and thoughts constantly playing on my mind, getting more and more depressed with how, well, everything, human nature can be sometimes.

A section of the names of Rwandans buried at the memorial wall

We must not forget. And we must not allow such atrocities to take place again. And that means anywhere in the world, and not just the areas which happen to be resource rich and thus the Western world actually cares about.

Posted by Gelli 02:21 Archived in Rwanda Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Rwandan beauty

Rwanda is beautiful. There is no doubt about it. And whilst so far i would say that Burundi has the upper hand, Rwanda is not far behind at all, something that might come a a surprise to all those whose only knowledge of Rwanda is solely its horrific civil war fought in the early 1990's, and particularly the genocide atrocities of 1994. Paul Kagale seems to have done a very good job in rebuilding, reuniting and modernising this small country that suffered so much, and the people seem to be very positive for the future: Rwanda certainly seems very well placed. Interestingly though, Burundians that i talked to were a lot more pessimistic about Rwanda's future (expecting another civil war, probably sooner rather than later) than there own, despite the fact that their own horrific civil war – which receive significantly less attention in the west - lasted longer and ended much more recently

Kigali as a city is also quite pretty and forward thinking: I've already mentioned small touches like the plastic bag ban and the motorcycle helmet law, and the city itself feels very un-African like (eg: much of the friendly chaos is missing) and more European in a way.

The central point of Kigali, Plcae de l'Unité Nationale

Though I had spent a day here before my unexpected side trip to Burundi, I had cunningly arrived just before the 'Peace and National Unity Day' holiday, meaning everything was shut. I hadn't realised this beforehand (and the only guidebook I managed to glance at has it the following day anyway) and it was only wandering around the almost spooky deserted ghost town that Kigali, happily refreshed and ready for the world on that Saturday morning that I made this discovery. Thus it was that I hadn't been able to do either of the 2 things that I actually wanted to do it Kigali before i left. So i was glad to come back and try again. Even though i knew it would be horrific.

Sometimes you just have to do things that you really know you will not enjoy.

Central Kigali, perched on on one the many hills in the city, and showing some of the redevelopment and construction that is ongoing, as seen from the Genocide memorial

Posted by Gelli 01:57 Archived in Rwanda Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

It was like being in a foreign country

It was like I was in another country. Ok, so i was in another country, but in this part of Africa, you kind of expect certain things which are pretty much constant regardless of where you actually are. Wandering around Kigali that first afternoon (admittedly after I had slogged up a huge hill in obscene heat in search of a hotel that wasn't there) was a huge revelation.

Such curiosities as well tended green verges, freshly painted road markings, an absence of car horns, traffic lights that people actually pay attention to (!!), buses with timetables which are actually adhered to and are not a complete pack of lies and, perhaps most astonishingly, helmets. Boda-Bodas (yes, the thing that i came flying off in Kampala) are a part of life in most towns and cities in Africa, and Kigali is no different. Except that, amazingly, every rider was wearing a helmet. Even more amazingly, they all carried extra helmets for passengers they pick up. Thus it was routine to see more people on a single motorcycle (two) wearing helmets than the total number of helmets that I had seen being worn in Kampala, a city with ten times the number motorcycles. True, i am sure that it is a legal requirement to wear a helmet in Rwanda, but in much of Africa such things mean absolutely nothing at all.

Take, for example, plastic bags. They are banned in Rwanda, and consequently any shopping is presented to you in brown paper bags or, if you have them, reusable shopping bags. The only polythene bags I have seen in the entire country are ones that I brought in with me. In Uganda, they are also banned. But every store - without exception - still uses them freely. The law is there and people are happy about it, but nobody would actually consider obeying it. That would just be silly.

Posted by Gelli 06:25 Archived in Rwanda Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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