Rwanda: Genocide and an Amazing Recovery

Monday 6 August: Sylvia

Today was pretty much a travel day. We spent a leisurely morning at the Sheraton in Addis, finishing the blog to date, catching up on some much needed rest and enjoying having hot water for the shower.

Our original itinerary showed a direct flight from Addis to Kigali in Rwanda but somewhere along the way there was a schedule change and we ended up flying through Bujumbura in Burundi, which meant a bit over an hour sitting on the tarmac while the plane refueled and passengers for Bujumbura disembarked and those for Kigali embarked. We were not allowed off the plane at all.

Eventually we arrived in Kigali and were met and escorted through immigration by our guide for this part of the trip. Today was a simple transfer to the hotel. I was impressed by the wide, tree-lined streets with their broad, spotless footpaths. Many motorbike taxis swarm the roads, the drivers in their visible red vests with spare helmets sling over their arms. I am happy to see every driver and passenger wearing a helmet. The buildings are all clean and tidy and even the people look better dressed and fed than those we met in Ethiopia. From the air looking down, even in the areas with red dirt roads, the houses are large, tidily laid out and mostly fenced. 

After checking in to the Marriott,  Roger and our guide, Bridge, headed out on a mission to buy some cigars. Three shops and $4 later he returned with a box of about 100 small Rwandan cigars! Apparently Bridge would not take no for an answer. Based on the look on Roger’s face when he tried the cigar this evening I am guessing he wished Bridges had been less insistent.

Tuesday 6 August 2018: Roger

Around 10am Bridge picked us up for a tour of Kigali. We drove around this neat and tidy city, which if we haven’t known better could have been a Southern European city. Everything is clean and tidy – even the labourers are in clean, well-presented overalls, and the traffic flows with an unusual politeness, there are no honking horns, people stop and let people cross the heavy traffic. The streets are swept and police are spaced regularly on the footpaths, some with long guns, others with pistols, always replying to a wave with a smile and a wave. Government buildings and banks are surrounded by armed soldiers. Entering carparks and buildings guards run a mirror under the car, check boots, glove-boxes and under the bonnet.

Our first stop was at a memorial to ten Belgian commandos who were tasked with guarding the prime minister’s palace. After the shooting down of his plane they were taken under guard to a local military barracks. They had managed to smuggle out some side arms. Realising they were to to be executed they put up a hell of a fight as the building they were in was strafed with heavy machine gun fire – the bullet holes remain to this day. Finally they were tortured and then executed in a corner of a room where hundreds of submachine gun bullets still mark the walls today. There is a very moving memorial in the garden to them with each stone having slots cut out depicting their age.

Our second main stop was the Genocide Museum. A little history as best we could interpret:
Rwanda was settled by the Tutsis, a pastoral people, in the 15th century. From the late 1800’s Germany ruled until the end of WWI. It then became a Belgium protectorate until independance was gained in 1962. It was during their reign in 1936 that people were segregated into races. It’s complicated but as best we can interpret, prior to that if someone had more than 10 cows they were a Tutsi, less they were a Hutu; a person could rise from a Hutu by increasing his flock to 10 cows. The Belgium authority gave out identity cards defining people as Tutsi, Hutu or Twa (a group of pygmy hunter-gatherers who had been here for thousands of years) based on things like the size of their heads and noses.
Initially they supported and helped educate the Tutsis, who were the group of the original monarchy. After the king tried to claim independence they started to support the Hutus and educate them. In 1959 during a Hutu revolt against the Belgians large numbers of Tutsis fled to Uganda forming the RFP Rwandan Patriotic Front. Waves of Hutu violence against the RPF and Tutsi followed Rwandan independence in 1962. International pressure on the Hutu government of Juvénal Habyarimana resulted in a ceasefire in 1993. The Hutu led government ran a marketing campaign via print and radio to convince the people that the Tutsis should be eliminated. On 6 April 1994, an airplane carrying Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on its descent into Kigali. At the time, the plane was in the airspace above Habyarimana’s house. One person survived but died soon after en route to the hospital. This started the genocide killing of the Tutsis, which resulted in roughly one million (70% of the Tutsi, 30% of the Twa and a number of moderate Hutus) being killed in just one hundred days. It was only stopped by the troops of the RPF advancing from Uganda. They were halted by the French in the south who let the Hutu genocidists escape to Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. For some years conflict continued on the border with Zaire.

The museum is well set up with over 250,000 victiums buried in the gardens. The inside takes one in detail through the the history and the traumas that occurred during the 100 days, including neighbours exposing the Tutsis next door and in many cases assisting in their termination, Catholic priests taking Tutsis into their church as refuge then informing the Hutu and in many cases assisting with their termination. Woman were assigned to be raped by Hutu men with Aids hence after the war many children were born with Aids, an epidemic that lasted for years. The UN and the world stood by and watched this happen in spite of warnings and requests from the UN officer in charge on the ground at the time. Now we stand by again as the new ruler does the same thing with the Rohingya people in her newly named country Myanmar.

After leaving the museum Bridge drove us around new wealthy areas being developed in Kigali. We stopped at Hotel Rwanda for lunch. This visit was intriguing to say the least.
Bridge, as a 17 year old, had enough money on him to bribe the Hutu police to get in the gate here during the genocide. I had seen the movie “Hotel Rwanda” a couple of years ago. He said the movie was far from the truth. He recommended a movie “I shake the hand of the devil” as being more real. He went on to explain how the Bangladeshie UN troops were occupying the hotel and how a group of twelve of them went out on a couple of occasions and rescued some people by paying a bribe but on the third attempt were shot at and one of them killed. As they were under orders not to return fire they then remained at the hotel. The Hutu cut the water to the hotel but fortunately the hotel was well stocked with provisions and by using the water from the pool they were able to survive the next month. An agreement was reached with the Hutu that they would be taken out by truck. By this stage the hotel was taking heavy machine gun fire and they were sleeping in the grounds hoping to be able to escape if the compound was overrun. The trucks drove them some distance from the hotel where they were stopped, with Hutu troops on one side and RPF troops on the other. They sat for some time with people crying and thinking they were going to die. The trucks were then driven into the RPF area as other trucks loaded with the family members of the Hutu government were driven out in a prisoner exchange deal. His two brothers had sought refuge with many others at the local Catholic Church only a few hundred meters away. The priest there took part in their slaughter with a gun. He, the priest, is still a practicing priest in France. The French refuse to return him to stand trail. Bridge’s mother escaped to the countryside and survived. To this day she is still bitter for the loss of her husband and children.

Paul Kagame, who led the RPF invasion to quell the genocide, became Vice President and in 2000 the president, which he still is today. To all accounts he has done a marvellous job; even today he goes out once a month and helps clean the streets with the rest of the Kigali people. He has decreed there will be no animosity amongst people here today and all citizens now have their race shown only as Rwandan on their ID cards.

After leaving the hotel we visited some local craft markets before returning to our hotel.

Bridge, our guide from a Thousand Hills Safari’s, although at times a little hard to understand was excellent with a passion for both his country and his job. To have survived the genocide and moved on with his life bearing no grudge is a truly outstanding achievement.


5 thoughts on “Rwanda: Genocide and an Amazing Recovery

  1. Jo Hitchcock says:

    Really interesting

  2. daniela says:

    I’m so glad you had this time in Kigali, so important to put the rest of the experience into context. Today is your last day there,I hope you are enoying your last track!

  3. Jenny smith says:

    Thanks so much. Both fascinating and horrifying. Good to learn these things

  4. Rosie says:

    Wow! So much I did not know. Thank you.

  5. Molly and Murray says:

    What Another Wonderful Amazing journal…and a superb thumbnail sketch of the history.

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