Blog: The Kigali Genocide Memorial

By: Marina von Stackelberg
It’s the reason why I chose to come to Rwanda. It’s why I always wanted to come here. But I’ve been avoiding it, knowing that it will be one of the most difficult things I’ve seen in my life.

The Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo by Marina von Stackelberg

By: MARINA VON STACKELBERG

Marina von Stackelberg is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University. She writes from Kigali, Rwanda where she is working as an intern with the country’s first private television station, TV10.

I’ve put it off for over a month.

It’s the reason why I chose to come to Rwanda. It’s why I always wanted to come here. But I’ve been avoiding it, knowing that it will be one of the most difficult things I’ve seen in my life.

It’s a dusty, sunny afternoon and I’m riding on the back of a moto to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, trying to prepare myself as we approach the large white arch marking the entranceway.

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The Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo by Marina von Stackelberg

The memorial serves several purposes. It’s a museum that documents and presents the events before, during, and after the 1994 genocide that saw 800,000 Rwandans killed within 100 days. The memorial is a place of education on worldwide genocides. And most importantly, it is the resting place of 250,000 Rwandans who were killed.

The outside of the centre features mass graves for those killed, surrounded by several memorial gardens. Huge, long flat blocks of unmarked cement are the final resting spot of a quarter of a million Tutsi and moderate Hutus. The graves have nothing written on them—anonymous— just like so many who died in the genocide. Many people who are buried here are unknown victims—with so many murdered, there was sometimes no one left to identify remains.

Mass graves at the memorial

Mass graves at the memorial. Photo by Marina von Stackelberg

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The inside of the memorial features the museum. It begins with a history of Rwanda’s early Belgian colonialization. This is an important precursor to the genocide that many people in the west are unaware of. It was the Belgians who were the ones who introduced the concept of Hutu and Tutsi as unique ethnic groups. It was the Belgians who created the identity cards identifying Rwandans as Hutu and Tutsi. Many of these identifications were done arbitrarily. For example, people who owned more than 10 cows were automatically deemed Tutsi, those with less than 10 cows were deemed Hutu. Sometimes being a Hutu or Tutsi was determined by the shape of people’s noses. Violence between the two groups was practically non-existent before the Belgian’s arrived.

There are several other exhibits on the events leading up to and following the genocide. There is an important section on how propaganda and media were used to spread the genocidal message. Along with print, radio played an important role in reaching the masses.

Portions of the museum talk about international involvement (or lack thereof). The display says that the number of forces that were used to evacuate people from other countries would have been enough to stop the genocide from happening.

Portions of the museum talk about how the international community failed to stop the genocide. The display says that the number of forces that were used to evacuate people from other countries out of Rwanda would have been enough to stop the genocide from happening altogether. Photo by Marina von Stackelberg

I next enter the children’s room, a place specifically dedicated to the kids who died in the genocide. This is particularly hard, because along with a wall of photographs of those who died, there are several profiles that feature the stories of specific children. David was 10 years old. His favourite sport was football. He loved making people laugh. His dream was to become a doctor. His last words were “UNAMIR will come for us.” Cause of death: Tortured to death.

I come to three final rooms. I enter the first room and looking back at me are the faces of thousands of murdered Rwandans. The room is filled with personal photos of those killed, brought in by families and friends of victims. There is a photo of a couple cutting their wedding cake on their wedding day. Another photo is of a teenager making a funny face, dressed in a brightly coloured tracksuit, just like everyone wore in the 90’s.

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Personal photos of genocide victims are hung in the memorial. Photo by Marina von Stackelberg

The next room is a display of bones. There are rows upon rows of skulls, many with giant cracks down the middle. Many people were killed violently with common farm tools like machetes.

The third and final room is a display of clothing and other items found buried with the victims. Scarves, pants, shoes. There is a dirty, tattered bedsheet. I can tell its from a child’s bed because it has superman printed all over it. There is a massive blood stain in the middle.

Then I see a children’s t-shirt. It says on it, “Ottawa, Canada.”

I break down.

I sit and stare at the bloody t-shirt. Ottawa, Canada, with a big maple leaf on it. I am so far from home. And yet Ottawa was there when this child was slaughtered in cold blood. My country, like the rest of the international community, turned its back and watched as nearly one million people were murdered by their very neighbours. My country, even my city, was there. And we did nothing.

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