Staying at the Hotel des Mille Collines, you won’t find a single indication of what took place in Kigali in 1994 — no plaque, memorial or scrap of paper alluding to that darkest of periods in the compound’s past. The ownership and management of Mille Collines have gone to great lengths to erase all remnants of those dark days — a move which seems by and large to have made good business sense, but which has also created an incredibly surreal atmosphere, particularly if one sits in the lobby a while and allows their mind to wander for more than a few moments.
I understand the need to forget and move on. And in fact I feel in many ways that [we] Americans spend too much time memorializing the atrocities of the past and not enough time learning from them — not dwelling on them, not reliving them, but learning from them; as a result it seems we have a propensity for denial and repetition. But I digress…
In many ways, the Genocide, the Mille Collines, and all the rest of it was as much of a Rwandan tragedy as it was an American tragedy. We seem to have a hard time coming to grips with it, even though are all connected now. That’s not some kum ba yah hippie BS, it’s absolutely true. Where are your electronic gadgets and clothing made? Where do the bananas you eat come from? How about the car you drive or the gasoline you consume? We do not and cannot live in isolation. Yet, when certain events happen, policy and agendas seem to conveniently find a way out…always. But Rwanda, that’s ancient history, right? How about Darfur or Congo? How about all of the other genocides you’ve never even heard about. Not mass killings, genocides.
So, here we are at the Rwanda Genocide Memorial Centre. Above and below, you are looking at a concrete crypt, 3 meters deep and filled, width and breadth, floor to ceiling with coffins.
Each coffin, however, does not necessarily contain the remains of just one deceased individual (this is rarely the case) — no, in fact, each coffin may contain the remains of up to 50 different individuals.
So now, looking at the size of this space, do the math. There are ten more crypts just like this one on this quiet hillside overlooking the nation’s capital. And yet, this accounts for but a fraction of the remains of the victims of the genocide. The final resting place of many others might not be so dignified.
Above is the Wall of Names, which will serve as the permanent memorial for the victims of the Genocide. The wall currently contains 940 names — few in comparison to the estimated 250,000 victims buried on the grounds.
The Wall of Names is an ongoing project, to say the least. The idea may seem a lot like the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Unlike that site, however, very few of these names are associated with a grave stone in a cemetery somewhere. The hope is that, for loved ones of the victims, it will serve a purpose akin to a grave site and head stone. There are just over 58,000 names on the Vietnam memorial wall. When this wall is finished, it could easily contain 10 times that number. Needless to say it will be an immense task and a long journey yet to come.
The project is currently stalled for lack of funding to purchase an engraving machine and for other associated costs. If you would like to help, click here to find out how.
I thought about leaving the post at that, but then thought better of it. I don’t want to leave the impression that Rwanda is a dark and depressing place to visit these days because it most certainly is not.
However, the Genocide Memorial is certainly worth visiting and also has a very well done museum that leads you up to, through, and beyond the events of 1994. The whole thing is really a must for anyone visiting Rwanda for the first time. It’s impossible to really understand present-day Rwanda without understanding what took place here.