Rwanda: Day 3

In the morning I packed up as we were leaving Kigali and heading to Huye (formerly Butare) the old colonial capital of Rwanda, about a two hour drive south of Kigali, but first we had more museums to see in Kigali.

Alphonse and Viviane bravely decided they would take me to the Kigali Memorial Genocide Centre which is run by the Aegis Trust.  This museum is the main site in Rwanda that tells the story of the genocide, giving a graphic account of how it was carefully planned and efficiently implemented resulting in over a million deaths in a three month period.  The UN force was aware of atrocities but did not act quickly enough to prevent this appalling loss of life.  The story of the genocide unfolds as you progress through the museum and is told in a chilling but respectful way.  The history of other genocides is also given which helps to underline how the Rwandan genocide follows this same formula for mass murder.  The final room is devoted to telling you about some of the child victims of the genocide.  There are photos with little biographies of their favourite food, toys, who they loved and how they were murdered.  The gardens of the memorial are the site of a mass grave and there are floral tributes everywhere.  This visit must have been particularly hard for Vivienne a survivor herself.  Vivienne was only seven at the time of the genocide and lost her father and brother and I was extremely grateful that she shared the opportunity to visit the museum with me.

At this site the Aegis Trust have also recently opened the Genocide Archives and I was given a behind the scenes tour by a young manager Claver Irakoze.  They have a team of 15 people working on an outreach basis actively collecting stories, photographs and objects from all over the country. Stories and photographs are transcribed and digitised and objects stored in the new small new store on site. It was very impressive; the Aegis Trust is a vital future partner for the INMR.

We then went onto visit the Natural History museum which is housed in the first house in Kigali built in 1907 by a German Richard Kandt, the first colonial governor of Rwanda.  The museum had been ffitted out by some well meaning museum supporters from Germany, but the case of plastic model dinosaurs was a good example of how misguided philanthropy can sometimes be hard to live with.  The museum has little in the way of collections but it occupies a prime site in Kigali with spectacular views and has development potential if it can be repurposed.

We left Kigali and headed south to the Living history Museum at Nyanza, the site of the former Kings of Rwanda residency.  I had a guided tour from a talented young guide Bashana Medari.  The king’s house was built in the 1930s, but was ransacked in the genocide; some furniture survives but much was replicated.  The interpretation in the house outlines the colonial history of Rwanda and the German and Belgium occupation.  In the grounds of the house a network of huts including a King’s residence have been reconstructed allowing visitors to get a flavour of the what life before colonialism would have been like.

Alphonse had taken me to visit the site to see the preparations for the next day’s event when Nyanza would host the first Cultural Tourism event.  We had passed several large advertisements inviting all to attend and it was clear this was an important milestone for the museum. The climax of the show would be a milking ceremony of the king’s cows. Alphonse explained to me that the cow is central to Rwandan cultural life and that he had managed to develop a small herd of a breed of cow that had been reserved only for kings.  The cultural tourism day would be the first time these cows would be seen by the public but I got a sneak preview.

We left Nyanza for the evening as we were staying in Butare the old Belgian colonial capital of Rwanda.

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