MAINSTORY: Former president’s home thrown open for all to see

Former President Juvénal Habyarimana’s residence is being turned into a museum discovers IGNATIUS SSUUNA
Habyarimana’s home to become a museum
Habyarimana’s home to become a museum

Former President Juvénal Habyarimana’s residence is being turned into a museum discovers IGNATIUS SSUUNA

There could be nothing more pleasant than waking up in the morning to the sweet sounds of the chirping birds.

Birds are playing in the backyard. Their delicate sounds seem like music to me. Eastern Bluebirds are found mainly in gardens or orchards. But this is not a garden or an orchard.

It is the residence of the former Rwandan president, Juvénal Habyarimana. In the backyard, I watch a small bird chasing an insect.

The insect dashes and takes cover under the wreckage of the plane in which Habyarimana died. Neither the bird nor the insect can relate to what happened when the plane was shot down.

Habyarimana’s Falcon 50, which had on board 12 people, was shot down on April 6, 1994. A commission of inquiry investigating the cause of the crash will release its findings before the end of November this year.

It is very difficult to write a history of Habyarimana’s residence without mentioning the kind of luxury which used to hang in his palace. Outside in the backyard, there is a huge swimming pool.

There is a snake house. “Snakes in the residence of President?” I wonder quietly. Many people love dogs or parrots as pets but snakes!

There is an aquarium, a tennis club, a bar area and nightclub. Most has remained as it was in 1994.

On the opposite side, stands a small house where Habyarimana used to live before he assumed power in military coup 1973 against Gregoire Kayibanda.

“Many people here come to see the plane wreckage. We hope that when a house is turned into a museum early next year, visitors will be interested to visit the place,” says John Butoto, who is overseeing the museum conversion project.

Inside the house
As you enter the main house, an eerie of silence descends on you. There are lots of rooms; I lose count.

Butoto leads me to an out-of-the-way room from which Habyarimana had allegedly forbidden all visitors. It is a small room. It’s a shrine to be more exact. Again fear swirls through my nerves. “A shrine for what?” I ask. God only knows.

The irony here is that the shrine is just opposite the church on the top floor of the building. It’s said that Habyarimana would pray to God but if he did not intervene quickly; he would turn to his gods! Were his gods asleep? Why couldn’t the gods warn him about the impending danger? Shooting down the plane.

Another room is also terrifying. It’s a tiny room with two chairs facing each other across a table. This is where Habyarimana would reportedly summon those considered big-headed and ‘discipline’ them. Everything is left untouched.

Next the torture chamber; there is a bathroom and a mirror.
He did not tolerate dissent and anyone who disagreed with him was either imprisoned or ‘removed’.

His bedroom is an epitome of lavish lifestyle. In the sitting room, there are big leather couches, gold-plated French-style chandeliers and expensive carpets.

According to Culture Minister, Joseph Habineza, exhibits will include the wreckage. He says the former presidential palace will showcase Rwanda’s history in its entirety.

People will come here and see the wreckage of the plane and learn also our turbulent history. “It will make sense,” adds Minister Habineza in an interview at his offices in Remera.

“Our children will grow up knowing that what happened was very bad and should never be repeated,” says Butoto.

The wreckage of Habyarimana’s plane will be displayed in the museum as well.

The museum will be an overview of public and private Rwandan museums. It will help visitors and others who don’t have enough time or money to visit all the museums of Rwanda.

It will be also a centre for documentation, education and research related to Rwanda.

“This museum will promote and bring to life different aspects of Rwandese culture. It will offer to visitors different sorts of attractions, such as handcrafts, art and entertainment,” explains Butoto.

Alongside entertainment activities, a training center for museum studies will be created. This will contribute to the development of museum activities in Rwanda.

As a part of the National Museum, the training center will contribute to the development and maintenance of museums in Rwanda.

The museum is located in Kigali about four kilometers from the Kanombe Airport. Visitors to Rwanda will be able to visit the former state house and there receive an overview of the other museums of Rwanda and experience aspects of the vibrant Rwandan culture.

Butoto explains that the government plans to develop a small zoological park, gardens, and grounds for different games. In addition, there will be an office for visitor assistance and reception, a cafeteria, handcraft workshops, gift shop, places for entertainment and a structure and viewing area for the wreckage of the presidential airplane.

The rich insights about Rwanda’s traditional life and culture and the subsequent development during history will contribute to a better understanding of African history.

“After rehabilitation and setting up all infrastructures, we shall put up an exhibition within which each Rwandan museum will be repsented by its artifacts. In order to make this museum more appealing to visitors, a cultural group will be created to perform regularly.”

For this reason, a big space will be developed in order to accommodate artistic and cultural events.

In their quest to preserve cultural history and open the richness of the Rwandan culture to visitors, the curators of the national museum are creating new facilities around the country.

Photos and graphics which provide geographic and linguistic information about Rwanda. Presents prehistoric information and shows the chronology of the kings based on written and oral tradition. Also there will exhibits on metallurgy, traditional religious practices, marriage and music.

And display items used in various economic activities such as agriculture, cattle-breeding, bee-keeping, hunting, fishing, basketry, pottery and wood carving. Depicts various types of Rwandan architecture, past ways of living and social organisation

Fact file: Juvénal Habyarimana

Born August 3, 1937, in Gisenyi, Rwanda
Died in plane crash, April 6, 1994, in Kigali.
Born to Jean-Baptiste Ntibazilikana and
Suzanne Nyirazuba.
Married Agathe Kanziga in 1963.
Had eight children.