You do not simply VISIT Rwanda so much as EXPERIENCE it… I feel a bit stupid having not even considered Rwanda when I “signed up” to travel to the Congo with my classmate Danny, but it’s hard to not fixate on the mere idea of a proposal with the words “Congo” and “volcano” in the same sentence. As it turns out our bus journey would take us through Southern Uganda, most of Northern Rwanda, and the Rwandan capital Kigali with a final destination of Gisenyi along the Congo border near Lake Kivu. The 11 hour Google trip estimate certainly does not take into account the “Africa” correction factor of between 1.5x-5x. It ended up being about 12 hours to Kigali and another 4 to Gisenyi…thank God for Ambien.
The thing about Rwanda is that we have all heard about the genocide but we don’t really KNOW much about it. Sure Cheadle captivated us in Hotel Rwanda and we probably know about the Hutus/Tutsis, but that’s usually about it. Fortunately the people of Rwanda have chosen to document and remember the tragedy rather than simply forget and move on. There is a concerted effort to understand what happened in order to prevent it from ever happening again. During our short stay in Kigali we made sure to visit the genocide museum. As we neared the city it occurred to me that most any adult age individual was likely either a victim or perpetrator of atrocities during the genocide period which ranged from April to July of 1994 and during which nearly 1 million Rwandans were slaughtered. This is unsettling as a visitor, but I can’t even imagine what it must feel like for the victims.
The “Kigali experience” offers a stark contrast to Kampala. The country has for all intents and purposes been run by Paul Kagame for the last 22 years, a tenure almost as impressive as that of his old friend Museveni is Uganda. The only difference being that he is actually pretty good at his job. Kagame has been a fierce protector of Rwanda, doing whatever it takes to pull Rwanda up toward becoming a middle-income country. The roads are clean with minimal traffic and motorcycle taxis show none of the Ugandan disdain for safety as they all don safety visits and carry two helmets. The infrastructure even feels impressive by East African standards with smooth roads throughout the capital. Though we only stayed in Kigali for but a few mere hours the people seemed open, friendly, and helpful. This is a place I could image spending more time, especially when you add the beautiful lush green hills that surround.
The genocide museum itself seems to have been an impressive undertaking for such a small and impoverished country. It is not a museum dedicated entirely to the Rwandan genocide so much as a museum for all of the major genocides in history. There is a concerted effort to understand why genocides happen anywhere. In addition it serves as a final resting spot for over 250,000 victims of the genocide. When you hear this last statistic it is a bit hard to comprehend. The museum is a burial site for somewhere between 1/4 to 1/2 of ALL the victims. As you can imagine it is thus a very important site for family and friends of victims to be able to visit and grieve the loss of their loved ones. I can hardly picture 250,000 people amassed in any setting let alone something as moving as an entire tomb of genocide victims.
More often than not the genocides described in the museum exhibits gained early momentum from white power brokers attempting to court favor with certain populations and alienate others. I was surprised to find that the Hutu/Tutu distinction was not one of hundreds of years of tribal warring as one might presume, so much as an ethnic distinction promoted by ruling Belgians in order to establish a class system and empower the Tutsi’s based on their taller height and lighter skin tone. There are simply no historical, archeological, or linguistic traces to support this distinction. Regardless all citizens were measured on various criteria and given racial identity cards which legally stated them to be of one ethnicity. This clearly parallels the racial criteria and approach later used by the Nazi’s.
“I am a sinner…who’s probably gonna sin again.
Lord forgive me…lord forgive me.
Things I don’t understand…sometimes I need to be alone
Bitch don’t kill my vibe…bitch don’t kill my vibe”
– Kendrick Lamar