Rwanda's Genocide memorial sites are vital life lessons

The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda happened when I was just completing my primary school education in Uganda. There was no internet then but it soon affected us as Ugandans in ways we had never anticipated. Being a neighbour to Rwanda and with deep social links, the deaths across the border were allocated sometime during prime news and the front pages of the main newspapers.

The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda happened when I was just completing my primary school education in Uganda. There was no internet then but it soon affected us as Ugandans in ways we had never anticipated. Being a neighbour to Rwanda and with deep social links, the deaths across the border were allocated sometime during prime news and the front pages of the main newspapers.

Even those who rarely pay attention to the news on TV or those who could afford a copy of the day’s newspaper couldn’t ignore the sad tales coming from Rwanda when bodies started washing up on the shores of Lake Victoria after being dumped in rivers that feed into the giant lake. In an instant the price of Nile Perch fish dropped as word went round that these carnivorous fish were now feeding on the decomposing bodies. 

 

I also recall how my class teacher always walked into class with a copy of The New Vision showing the death toll rising each day. We were a bit young to clearly understand why people were being killed at such a worrying rate or even killed at all. We had a clue of what happened but not a clear understanding of the same. 

 

The forces led by Paul Kagame that stopped the Genocide soon embarked on rebuilding a society that had been grossly abused. This rebuilding process included the establishment of genocide memorial sites to dignify the lives of all the innocent people who perished in the orgy of deaths at the hands of the Interahamwe militia and their collaborators. 

 

These sites have gone a long way in educating many people about what really went wrong in Rwanda and what can be done to ensure that such inhumane situations don’t happen ever again in Rwanda or elsewhere in the world. These sites are incredible stores of vital education on how a society can explode on hatred. 

My first visit to the Genocide Memorial at Gisozi was such an awakening experience for me. In the first place, all my Rwandan friends refused to take me to the place because of the bitter memories it evoked. They were too connected to the stories therein and were still hurting a lot. 

I eventually decided to go and visit all by myself and as I walked through the place reading the stories and watching the short video clips I would often just sit on the floor for a moment to compose myself before continuing. By the time you are done visiting the entire facility you are a changed person. 

In subsequent years I have guided visiting friends from Uganda, Kenya, US and UK around the same facility at Gisozi and also visited a few others outside Kigali. Many times as I escort a visitor from Uganda or Kenya I often hear them lamenting about, “our politicians.” Many are quick to point out that their politicians are often reckless not knowing how bad things can get. 

Kenyans have seen flashes of such madness often after contested elections like in 1992 and 2007 or over land disputes between different ethnic communities. Ugandans, Burundians and even South Sudanese can all relate to the lessons Rwanda has to offer. 

However it is not just the politicians, because from the memorial sites one learns about how the roles played by the colonialists, the media, religious bodies and even the western powers in fermenting the situation from the beginning to the end. 

These are lessons that everyone needs to know about and visiting a genocide memorial site should be on the itinerary of all those who visit Rwanda. There are memorial sites in different parts of the country and you don’t pay to visit them so there shouldn’t be much of an excuse for one not to visit. 

As a region, we should be according as much importance to the history of Rwanda as we do to the history of far off places. I find a bit disturbing that children in East Africa learn so much about World Wars, Crimean War, French revolutions than the history of Rwanda. 

Schools in the region should be organising school trips for students to visit the genocide memorial in Rwanda so that future generations can be armed with the necessary information on how to fight against such deadly ideologies. 

1994 may seem like so many years ago but hatred is a human reality that we need to constantly deal with. Let us seek and take the lessons.

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