The Kigali Genocide Memorial has launched its Learning and Remembrance tours in Rwanda’s west. On the inaugural trip, participants visited different memorials to remember the victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi and to learn about what happened in 1994. The tour focused on the Western Province, precisely former Kibuye prefecture, now known as Karongi District.
During the journey, the group first stopped at Nyabarongo bridge where they were told by Emmanuel, a survivor and tour guide, about the history of Nyabarongo in the Genocide.
“Interahamwe, the Hutu militia, killed many and threw their bodies into Nyabarongo River as a way of sending Tutsi back to their supposed origin country – Ethiopia,” Emmanuel said, explaining the racist and false ideology that promoted the idea that Tutsi were foreigners. “For survivors who live in places around the bridge like Nyange and Nyarusenge, Nyabarongo reminds them of the horrible times in the Genocide against the Tutsi,”
At Nyange Memorial, where thousands of Tutsi had fled to seek protection because the church was considered a holy place, more 2,000 people were slaughtered.
Aloys Rwamasirabo, a survivor, shared his story with sorrow.
“The killers first used guns, grenades and machetes to kill Tutsi who had taken refuge at the church. But after many days of resistance, Priest Athanase Seromba ordered killers to use a more efficient way and destroy the church along with the thousands Tutsi inside. An earth remover was brought from a neighbouring town after Seromba assured killers that a new church will be built after,” Aloys said.
Aloys added that it was difficult to find the bodies of some of those killed at the church as Priest Seromba had instructed the killers to dig deep pits and hide the bodies so that foreigners would not see them.
Aloys is the only survivor who still lives in the Nyange area. As the head of the still in construction Nyange Memorial, he believes that safeguarding and sharing the memory of the Genocide against The Tutsi is his duty.
“I am happy that a memorial is being built here after a long struggle with the Catholic Church, which wanted to rebuild a church where my family was killed. Now, we will be able to provide a dignified resting place to the victims,” he said.
Among the tour group were some who survived in the neighbouring region including Freddy Mutanguha, Aegis Trust Regional Director. Freddy led the group at Mabango Memorial where his grandparents are buried and described the harrowing journey he took with his sister for two and a half months to try to survive the Genocide. His grandmother had six children but only one survived.
Emmanuel, a facilitator in the Rwanda Peace Education Programme, was only ten during the Genocide and spoke to tour participants about the death march that he and thousands of other Tutsi were forced to make from Mabanza Commune to Gatwaro Stadium in Kibuye.
“We were marched for five hours on foot. Along the road, killers had machetes and clubs, they were screaming to scare us. They didn’t try to kill us immediately as we were many and they knew the plan was to kill us once we reached Gatwaro stadium,” Emmanuel said.
Thousands of people were killed at Gatwaro Stadium with machetes, grenades and bullets and many bodies were thrown into Lake Kivu.
“A memorial should have been built at the site of Gatwaro Stadium itself where the killings took place. For now, a big pit dug by the killers where victims’ bodies were thrown remains at a section of the former Gatwaro Stadium, next to the new public hospital,” Emmanuel said.
The tour concluded at Bisesero Genocide Memorial, located high on a hill that overlooks Lake Kivu. Bisesero is known for its resistance as Tutsi tried to defend themselves for over two months during the Genocide. More than 50,000 were killed, with only around 1,300 surviving.
Illuminee Dusabe, a guide at the memorial, explained.
“Due to their organisation and the hilly geography of Bisesero, Tutsi were able to defend themselves with bows and arrows and stones for two months. After being promised to be protected by the French army through Operation Turquoise, Tutsi come out of their hiding places. But the French soldiers abandoned them. Left alone, weak and vulnerable for three days by the French army, Interahamwe from neighbouring regions, the army and police attacked, killing thousands.”
The tour concluded with a discussion about what had been learned and the importance of memorial sites for remembering the past and ensuring that Genocide never happens again.
About the Kigali Genocide Memorial Remembrance and Learning Tours
The Kigali Genocide Memorial Remembrance and Learning Tours take guests across Rwanda to visit important historical sites and memorials and meet with communities and policy leaders to learn about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The tours also visit post-genocide recovery initiatives and show how these are contributing to the development of the country. They provide visitors, students and teachers with a sense of the hope, peace and unity that exists in Rwanda today.
If you are interesting in attending a tour, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.