Day Two point Five: The Elephant in the Room.
“When they said ‘never again’ after the Holocaust, was it meant for some people and not others?”
– Apollon Kabahizi.
We visited Kigali’s Genocide Museum on the afternoon of day two but I’ve decided to go into more detail about it here, under a separate header, because the genocide is so important in understanding Rwanda today… and, out of respect for those who died and those who survived, I feel that topic needs more room to breathe.
Some important facts, before we get started:
1) Rwanda’s Genocide took place in 1994, due to an ‘ethnic’ difference between the Tutsis and Hutus, two tribes that Rwandans fall into by birth.
2) The Hutu and Tutsi are two peoples who share a common past. When Rwanda was first settled, the people who lived there raised cattle. Soon, the people who owned the most cattle were called “Tutsi” and everyone else was called “Hutu.”
3) It wasn’t until the Germans colonized the area in 1894 that “Tutsi” and “Hutu” took on a racial role. They looked at the Rwandan people and thought the Tutsi had more European characteristics, such as lighter skin and a taller build. Thus they put Tutsis in roles of responsibility.
4) When the Germans lost their colonies following World War I, the Belgians took control over Rwanda. In 1933, they solidified the categories of Tutsi and Hutu by mandating that every person was to have an identity card that labelled them Tutsi, Hutu, or Twa. (Twa are a very small group of hunter-gatherers who also live in Rwanda.)
5) Although the Tutsi constituted only about ten percent of Rwanda’s population and the Hutu nearly 90 percent, the Belgians gave the Tutsi all the leadership positions. This upset the Hutu.
6) When Rwanda struggled for independence from Belgium, the Belgians switched the status of the two groups. Facing a revolution instigated by the Hutu, the Belgians let the Hutus, who constituted the majority of Rwanda’s population, be in charge of the new government. This upset the Tutsi.
7) The animosity between the two groups continued for decades.
8) The resulting genocide saw 1.1 million Rwandans slaughtered over the course of a hundred days – the current population of Kigali.
9) The world stood by and did nothing.
[WARNING: there are descriptions of mass murder, mentions of rape, etc, below. Please skip over the next section if you are easily upset, or if you think you could be triggered.]
Kigali’s genocide museum was about a 20-minute drive from Moucecore. They search you very thoroughly on the way in – the lady checking my rucksack went through every zip compartment and then passed a scanner over my body, just to be on the safe side. Going in, I won’t say that I was excited to learn more about the genocide but I was looking forward to understanding Rwanda a bit better. I’d been told by a few people that the country is still haunted by the atrocities committed during those 100 days, but, as no one is really allowed to talk about it apart from on specific remembrance days, the genocide is a giant pink elephant, floating in the middle of the room.
The first few exhibits in the museum focus on the build-up to the genocide: in 1959 the King of Rwanda died in mysterious circumstances, then, in 1961, the Tutsi monarchy was abolished, leading to the start of Tutsi discrimination. 1963 saw the beginnings of a massacre – 100,000 Tutsis over the course of the next four years. The information on the boards steadily worsens. Propaganda began to circulate, dehumanising the Tutsi, calling them ‘cockroaches’ – pests to be crushed, exterminated. A list of Ten Commandments for good Hutus had my stomach churning: don’t marry a Tutsi woman – they are less attractive and make bad mothers, don’t do business with the Tutsi – they will cheat you, if you are a Hutu married into a Tutsi family the respectful thing is to disown them, etc, etc.
After this gradual build-up, the genocide actually happened very quickly. Tutsi death lists had already been collated before the Interahawmwe (“those who strike as one”), an anti-Tutsi youth organisation, moved in and the killing in Kigali began. Escape was practically impossible for a Tutsi, unless you wanted to be beaten, raped, or murdered at the nearest road block.
Families were lined up outside their homes and shot.
500,000 Tutsi women were raped, often by HIV positive men. Due to a lack of resources, there was no medical or psychological treatment available for survivors who developed the disease.
People were thrown into mass graves, either trampling each other to death or dying when boulders were dropped on them from above.
Hutu children were often encouraged to take part in Tutsi killing.
To further degrade the Tutsi, Hutu extremists would not allow the Tutsi dead to be buried. Their bodies were left where they were slaughtered, exposed to the elements, eaten by rats and dogs.
Many Tutsi bodies were thrown into rivers, lakes, and streams in order to send the Tutsis “back to Ethiopia” – a reference to the myth that the Tutsi were foreigners and originally came from Ethiopia.
There are several cutting quotes spaced about the museum that really hammer home the horror of the genocide:
“If you knew me and you really knew yourself, you would not have killed me.”
– Felicien Ntagengwa
“Genocide is never spontaneous. It is an intentional act of multiple murder, aimed at destroying the presence of the victim group.”
– Kigali Genocide Museum
I saw images in Rwanda’s Genocide Museum that I don’t think will ever leave me; hundreds of skeletons bleached white by the sun; bodies littering church courtyards like cheap rolls of carpet; families chained and clinging to each other even in death. And then, in a darkened room at the centre of the museum, carefully laid out behind a pane of glass, was row after row of jawless skulls, some cracked, some whole, some barely recognisable as human.
It struck me then, as I stared into the empty eye sockets of Rwanda’s genocide victims, that this happened here, in Kigali, only twenty years ago. Claude and Isaie, our team’s in-country volunteers, are both in their early twenties… It’s feasible that they lived through this, that the genocide is part of their past, their childhood.
It may seem hard to believe after reading about this awful event but a new Rwanda was born out of the genocide, a country where identity cards that state which tribe you belong to are no longer needed, a Rwanda where citizens’ worth is no longer dictated by tribe. Today, the government is a good mix of Tutsi and Hutus, and the genocide is remembered – memorialized – every year. You only have to look around the museum in Kigali to see just how far Rwanda has come in twenty years.
Rwanda is no longer a country of discrimination, bloodshed, and crippling loss. It looks to the future, towards improving things for its people. And that’s a future that ICS and Tearfund are honoured to be a part of.
[Endnote: As my memory is far for photographic, I’ve used some information from this website to supplement this post: http://history1900s.about.com/od/rwandangenocide/a/Rwanda-Genocide.htm If you’re interested in knowing more of the specifics about the Rwandan Genocide, I suggest you start there.]
Day Three: Kigali ‘town’ centre
After an intense morning of seminars that focused on the research side of our placement – things like monitoring and evaluation, program objectives, case study info, etc. – the teams took time out to visit the centre of Kigali in the afternoon. Locals call this area Kigali town centre (even though Kigali is Rwanda’s capital city) and I’m not quite sure why… I’ll have to ask Claude and Isaie later.
Our inter-city ride was very cheap- only 200 francs, which is about 20p! Team Muhanga, along with another ICS team, and several Rwandan passengers, were crammed into a public mini-bus like members of a very long-running game of ‘Sardines’. Personal space may be highly regarded in British culture but it is certainly not a concept that Rwandans follow. Even though I was a bit uncomfortable brushing elbows (and goodness knows what else) with my fellow passengers, I couldn’t help but admire the efficient use of space. There were even seats that folded down into the aisle, once the row behind was full, so that more passengers could board! Who knew that a minibus could hold so many. (NB: It’s rare to see cars on the roads here because they are expensive to run and hold a limited number of passengers, so the main methods of public transport are mototaxi -a motorbike taxi for one- or minibus. Mototaxi’s look like fun, but we’re not allowed to use them because they have a habit of weaving perilously close to other traffic…).
I’m not sure what I expected the centre of Kigali to look like – maybe a bit more polished and familiar – similar to home, and much more built up than the rest of the city. And, while the scattered hi-rise buildings were certainly the tallest structures I’d seen since arriving in Rwanda, Kigali town centre felt like a beginning and not an end; the city is a fledgling still peppered with twigs from the nest, slowly spreading its wings outwards and upwards, unsure of its own strength.
We stopped for drinks in Simba Café (complete with lion logo), which was tucked away in the corner of a small supermarket about the size of a Tesco Metro. Our bags and persons were checked by security staff on the way in, but other than that it was exactly like a British supermarket… well in all the ways that count anyway. As we settled into our hand-woven wicker seats, the news channel on the tv behind us was reporting on Ebola. Claude and Isaie said that no one was concerned about Ebola spreading to Rwanda, and it showed – the people in the café were enjoying platters of thick-cut fruit, probably picked less than a week ago – pineapple and banana and papaya – and bright yellow omelettes (one of the cheapest sources of protein here), and just generally getting on with life. No one seemed to be paying much attention to the news report.
2,000 francs (£2) bought me a tall, cool glass of apple and mango juice. It took a while to arrive (can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this already but the Rwandan concept of time is much more relaxed and fluid than the strict punctuality of the British) but this juice was worth the wait. The mango juice was so thick that it floated on top of the apple juice like a strange orange iceberg.
Mango and apple juice!
Mya. Beth, and the tree tomato juice.
Debs ordered the same, apple and mango, but Mya had an avocado juice. Though I only had a sip, I kid you not, it was so satisfying – thick and creamy and cooling, and miles better than any of the avocados I’ve ever tasted at home. Claude’s Fanta Lemon was served in a tall, narrow bottle, the kind that you could peel off the label and use as a flower vase or ornament. I’m told it was very refreshing. Isaie had milk. It sounds simple but in Rwandan culture cows are respected animals, so much so that you should only drink milk if you are sitting down. Milk is something to take your time over, to be savoured. Last but not least, Beth ordered a tree tomato juice (aka: Tamerillo). It tasted really sweet to start and then dissolved into a flavour that reminded me of green-tomatoes with a lingering sourness. Sounds odd but it was quite nice. Beth certainly enjoyed it anyway.
That evening we had to say our goodbyes to the other teams because everyone was travelling to their specific districts/projects in the morning. This was much more emotional than I anticipated, probably because it felt like we’d been through so much together – interviews, the training weekend in London, a full day of travelling, and now three days of orientation in Kigali. I remember looking around the room, taking in all the faces, some British, some Rwandan, all Tearfund ICS volunteers, and wondering what the next two months would bring for all of us. Positive challenges and personal change, I hope.
After all, the ICS motto is ‘challenge yourself to change your world’.