The Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre was opened on the 10th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, in April 2004. The Centre is built on a site where 250,000 people are buried. The Centre is a permanent memorial to those who fell victim to the genocide and serves as a place where people can grieve those that they have lost. The Memorial Centre was built by a joint partnership between Kigali City Council and the UK based Aegis Trust. The Aegis Trust is an organisation that actively helps in the prevention of Genocide worldwide. The Centre is maintained by good will donations from all over the world. Since July 2010, there is also a $10 contribution required by each visitor to assist in the maintenance of the Centre. This $10 also gives the guest access to an educational audio device that explains each section of the Centre and the stories involved. One of the principle reasons for the Centres existence is to provide an educational facility. Rwandans believe that it is extremely important for the younger generations of Rwandans who will not have lived through the genocide but whose lives will still be affected by it, to be able to have access to a place where they can learn about the reasons and affects of the genocide. The Centre includes three permanent exhibitions, the largest of which documents the genocide in 1994. There is also a children’s memorial, and an exhibition on the history of genocidal violence around the world. The Education Centre, Memorial Gardens and National Documentation Centre of the Genocide all contribute to a meaningful tribute to those who perished, and form a powerful educational tool for the next generation. The exhibition at the Kigali Memorial Centre introduces several genocides and genocidal-type situations. It does not give examples of all genocidal massacres because of limited space. It can only illustrate a few examples, representing a tragic cross-section of a century of genocide.
Valentine Iribagiza Gives Her Story: “When Habyarimana’s aeroplane was shot down on 6 April 1994, we were all at home. We saw many people running in all directions. When the perpetrators started burning people’s houses, we ran to the parish church. On Friday 15 April, the Interahamwe surrounded it. Mayor Gacumbitsi was with the soldiers. He told them, “Take your tools and get to work. You hit snakes on the head to kill them.” They started killing. At night, they went home, but they came back next day and the day after that. I lay among the corpses and tried to hold my breath. They would throw rocks in or pick up kids and throw them in the air. They threw a stone at me and I screamed. They took me outside beating me, along with the others who were only wounded. I asked for mercy, but one of our neighbours, Pascal, said, “I recognise that brat. Isn’t she from Bikoramuki’s family? All the rest of her family is dead, so what’s so tough about her that we can’t manage her?” He kicked me and spat on the ground saying that he wouldn’t splash my blood onto him. He passed me over to another one called Antoine saying, “You kill that one.” Antoine took a club and hit my fingers until the bones were all smashed. Then he cut my head with a machete. I don’t know what happened after that. When I woke up, it was night. There was a strong wind, it had rained and it was cold. I had dirt and sand all over me. I looked at all the people lying next to me. They were all dead. I started moving towards a place where there were more bodies so they would think I was dead as well. By dawn, I was very hungry. I couldn’t walk so I crawled on my bottom and whenever I came across a dead body, I rolled over it. I reached a place where there was a water tap, but I couldn’t reach to drink the water. I carried on as far as the room where I had been before and I lay down again among the dead bodies. It was three days after the killings, so the bodies stank. The Interahamwe would pass by without entering the room, and dogs would come to eat the bodies. I lived there for 43 days. On the 43rd day, an Interahamwe found me. He told me to hang in there, and left. 45 minutes later, some RPF soldiers came with a Frenchman. I was in a terrible state: my fingers were going bad and my head wounds were full of maggots. They took me to Kibungo, where I spent six months in hospital. After I was healed, I found out that my younger brother Gahini had also survived. Since the end of the genocide, I’ve seen some kids really traumatised, but it hasn’t happened to me. I had to get used to having the scars and having lost my fingers; at first I had complexes and would hide my hand, but now it’s okay. My brother and I are lucky to be able to live with my cousin. He’s like a brother to us; he’s our father and mother. We share all our problems with him. He pays our school fees and looks after us when we are sick. Reconciliation is happening, and we hope that Rwanda can return to the way it used to be. But I’ll never forget, and I’ll definitely tell my children about it. At first I didn’t want to give my testimony because testimony is like a secret. You can’t just tell it to anyone. But it’s a way of fighting those who deny what happened, and it’s important because of that.”
A visit to this memorial is important if your visiting Rwanda. Education is one of the most important gifts we can give ourselves and others.