Spanning several ridges and valleys, the Rwanda capital of Kigali is an attractive city of lush hillsides, flowing trees, winding boulevards and bustling streets. Compared to the chocking congestion of Kampala (Uganda) and the sinister edge of Nairobi (Kenya), Kigali is more a kin to a tranqui mountain hamlet, perched on the edge of an intensively cultivated and terraced countryside.
It wasn’t always like this. Kigali exists as a testament to the peace and order that has defined Rwanda’s trajectory for more than two decades, though it bore the brunt of the genocide in 1994. When the Rwandan patriotic front (RPF) finally captured Kigali after 100 days of systematic slaughter, dead and decaying bodies littered the streets. Dogs were shot en masse as they had developed a taste for human flesh.
In recent years, a massive amount of rehabilitation work has restored the city the city of former graces, while increasing waves of foriegh investiment have sparked a number of ambitious of building projects. Indeed, the rebirth of the capital has seen a surprising measure of cosmopolitanism take hold, and today Kigali is arguably one of the most pleasant cities in the whole of East Africa.
Kigali was founded in 1907 by German colonisers, but did not become the capital untill Rwanda independence in 1962. Although Rwandan power was traditionally centred in Huye (Butare), Kigali was located becouse of its central location. Walking Kigali’s streets today, it is hard to imagin the horrows that unfolded here during those 100 days of madness in1994. Roadblocks, manned by interahamwe militia, were set up at strategic points through out the city and thousands upon thousands of Rwandans were bludgeoned or hacked to death. People swarmed to the churches in search of sanctually, but the killers followed them there and showed them a complete lack of mercy or compassion.
While all of this horror took place for days and nights on end, the UN Assistant mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) stood by and watched, held back by the bureaucrats and politicians who failed to grasp the magnitude of what was unfolding. In its defence, UNAMIR was bound by a restrictive mandate that prevented it from taking preliminary action, though it has been argued that the tragedy is that more deliberate action could have saved untold lives.
After 10 Belbian peacekeepers were murdered at the start of the genocide, the Belgiun government withdrew its contingent, leaving UNAMIR to fend for itself with a minimal mandate and no muscle. There was little the 250 troops that remained could do but watch, and rescue or protect the few that they could.
Even more un believable is the fact that acontingent of the RPF was holed up in the parliamentary compound throughout this period, a legacy of the Arusha ‘peace’ process. Like the UNAMIR troops, there was little they could do to stop such widespread killing, though they did mount some spectacular rescue missions from churches and civic buildings around the city.
Throughout the massacre, the hotel des Mille Collines became a refuge for those fleeing the violence, and thousands of people were hold up there, living in the direst of conditions. The academy Award winning film Hotel Rwanda tells the story of a manager Paul Rusesabagina, who risked his life and the life of his family to selflessly help so many others
When the RPF finally swept the genocidaires from power in early July 1994, Kigali was wrecked, much of the city’s buildings were destroyed, and what little of the population remained alive were traumatised. As the Kigali Memorial centre so aptly puts it, Rwanda was dead.
Remarkably, there are few visible signs of this carnage today. Kigali is now a dynamic and forward-looking city, the local economy is booming, investment is a buzzword, and building are springing up like mushrooms
Kigali Memorial Centre
In the span of 100 days, an estimated one million Tusti and moderate Hutus were systematically butchered by the interahamwe is one of the most savage genocide in history. This memorial honours the 25,000 people buried here in mass graves and tries to explain how it was that the world watched as the genocide unfolded in this tiny, landlocked country.
This informative audio tour includes background on the divisive colonial experience In Rwanda and as the visit progresses; the exhibits became steadily more powerful, as you are confronted with the crimes that took place here and moving video testimony from survivors. If you have remained impassionate untill this point, you will find that it will all catch up with you at the section that remembers the children who fell victim to the killers’ machetes. Life-size photos are accompanied by intimate details about their favourite toys, their last words and the manner in which they were killed.
The memorial includes with sections on the refugee crisis in the aftermath of the genocide and the search for justice through the international tribunal in Arusha as well as the local gacaca courts (traditional tribunals headed by village elders)
Upstairs is a moving section dedicated to informing visitors about other genocides that have taken place around the world and helps to set Rwanda’s nightmare in a historic context. The Kigali memorial centre is located in the northern Kisozi district of the capital.
Camp Kigali memorial
The 10 stone colomns you find here mark the spot where Belgiun UN peacekeepers were murdered on the first day of the genocide. Originally deployed to protect the home of moderate Prime Minister Agatha Uwilingimana, the solidiers were captured, disarmed and brought here by the presidential guard before being killed. Each stone column represents one of the solidiers and the horizontal cuts in it represent the solidier’s age.
State house museum
This former presidential palace on the eastern outskirts of the city is slowly being restored and while it has few exibit it’s interesting to explore, with secrete rooms and an odd presidential nightclub. Wreckage from Juvenal Habyarimana’s presidential plane can still be seen where it was shot down-just over his garden wall. The perpetrators were never cought but this act proved to be a rallying call for Hutu extremists and helped trigger the genocide.
Hotel des Mille Collines
The inspiration for the film hotel Rwanda, this luxury hotel in centre of Kigali was owned by the Belgian airline sabena in 1994. At the tome of the genocide, the hotel’s European managers were evacuated, and contral of the Mille Collines was given to Paul Rusesabagina, manager of the smaller hotel des Diplomat.
As the situation in Kigali reached its boiling point, Paul opened the flood gates and allowed fleeing Tusti and moderate Hutus to take refugee in the hotel, bribing the interahamwe with money and alcohal in exchange for food and water. His heroic story is one of self-sacrifice in the most dire of situations.
Paul, his family and a few lucky survivors were eventually evacuated in a UN convoy as the interahamwe siezed the hotel. Today, Paul lives in Brussels and owns a small trucking company; he is an outspoken humanitarian and public hero.