The tour starts with a brief history of pre-Colonial Rwanda, using large display boards, old film footage and audio, to depict a unified Rwandan society with Hutus and Tutsis living in harmony. Moving through the rooms, the Belgian colonial power enters the scene and you're on on your way to following the historic events that led to the 1994 Genocide.
The exhibit gets frightening as it leads up to those fateful three months where over a million people were killed. The exhibit illustrating the propaganda aimed at vilifying Tutsis, sets the tone. After this, you see rooms filled with human bones, lots of heart wrenching piles of small skulls and femurs. There's video footage of rape and slaughter, personal accounts of horrific loss. Glass cases house machetes, clubs and knives used to kill thousands within a mile radius of where you are standing. Just when you think you can't take anymore, you are shown accounts of heroes who risked their lives to hide people and saved women from getting raped. Phew.
But, the audio tour continues to deliver bad news. After the genocide, the refugee camps where half the population had fled to, were repeatedly attacked. Tutsi's were still being hacked to death in Rwanda years later, by the Interahamwe from bases in DRC refugee camps.
I tried to leave the exhibit at this point, but friendly staff said "you haven't been upstairs". I took a deep breath and figured it couldn't get worse. I was greeted by photos of beautiful children with text recounting favorite foods, toys, friends and how they were clubbed to death. The next room displayed information about other genocides that had taken place around the world. With my faith in humanity totally depleted, I headed outside.
The dozen gardens around the Center represent different themes explained in the audio tour. The mass graves are large slabs of concrete with some bouquets of flowers dotted around. It's worth taking your time here to just reflect.
As I stood by the memorial flame, I could see numerous cranes working on new office buildings springing up in the center of Kigali. School kids were laughing and skipping by the Center gates, on their way home for lunch. It's a truly remarkable country and I'd urge everyone to visit and help it succeed, Rwandans deserve no less.
Getting There: Taxi, Motorbike Taxi
Website: Kigali Memorial Center