RWANDA GENOCIDE MEMORIAL
October 4, 2015
In 1994, I remember covering stories about the Rwanda genocide while reporting at KCBS Radio. Specifically, there was a company on the Peninsula headed by a man named Frank Blackburn that took miles of hoses to pump fresh water from a far away river to one of the many refugee camps.
After attending the Southern Arican Broadcast Association (SABA) Annual General Meeting, delegates were taken on a tour of the Genocide Memorial. A riveting history exhibit explains in great detail that when Europeans “colonized” Rwanda in the late 1800’s, they favored the minority Tutsi, leading to discontent among the more populace Hutu. The Europeans said they had scientific evidence that proved the Tutsi were more intelligent.
The Tutsi, Hutu and Twa had co-existed peacefully for centuries but this favoritism led the Hutu to resent the Tutsi. The Hutu revolted in 1959, just three years before country won its independence, forcing several hundred thousand Tutsi to leave for neighboring countries.
The Tutsi eventually returned – mostly as rebels fighting the Hutu government. The violence exploded in genocide in 1994 when Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana died when his plane was shot down over Kigali.
The Hutu — 85% of the population — began a brutal, 4-month campaign to kill every Tutsi and moderate Hutu. Government officials and radio stations exhorted Hutus to kill their Tutsi neighbors. A estimated 800,000 people were massacred. Another 2,000,000 fled to refugee camps like the one referenced above.
The exhibit includes photos, videos of actual murders, weapons used in the slaughter, cracked skulls, stacks of bones, jewelry, clothing worn by victims and baby shoes.
The museum’s second floor has exhibits of other 20th century genocides, including the 1904 massacre of the Herero and Nama tribes in Namibia, Armenia, the Holocaust, Cambodia and Serbia. The last exhibit is a 14-minute video of Rwanda genocide survivors telling their stores. It is heartbreaking and very emotional. I was glad to leave but do not regret the experience.
Rwanda approved a new constitution in 2003 eliminating all references to ethnicity. Now everyone is simply Rwandan. The country has come a long way. They are now in the midst of building capacity to improve the economy and move Rwanda forward.