My first impressions of Rwanda were – wow this place is clean. No dirt or rubbish anywhere, tree lined boulevards, proper pavements, concrete/metal transmission poles. Turns out that there is one day a month where everyone has the day off work to clean up. And it is working – in Kigali (the capital) I couldn’t believe I was still in Africa. The buildings too are very modern clean and new looking. This place has had some major capital investment and looks good on it. Rwanda is apparently regularly voted top in the easiest African country to do business with which I guess has a lot to do with it and maybe less corruption than in other countries (still so see about that last point!).
I stayed at the Hotel Mille Collines – the hotel that the movie Hotel Rwanda was based on. The story about how the local manager risked his and his family’s lives to protect the Tutsis hiding there. I would really like to see the movie. The real hotel on the other hand was a bit of a disappointment to me. Don’t get me wrong it is a lovely hotel and totally earns its 4*s but for such an historic past you would think they would make something of it at least have a memorial, pictures of the guys, details of the story but there was nothing. It was a nice place to stay with good food, nice views and lovely pool but that was about it – it could have been just any hotel, which was why I was a bit disappointed.
My driver for the next 2 days picked me up from my hotel at 9am. Because of where the chimps are the only way to get to see them is through a private tour – there is no public transport there and they are a long way away. On the way there we stopped at Butare for the National Museum. It was empty but was really good – I was quite surprised. This evening I read the lonely planet about it which says it’s the best museum in the East Africa Region and was donated by the Belgium’s after 25 years of independence.
Bit of history for those unfamiliar with Rwanda. At the end of the 1st world war when the British had kicked out the Germans out of East Africa the British took over Tanzania and the Belgium’s took over Rwanda (as it bordered their colony in the Congo). Rwanda at that time had a king (he was a Tutsi). The Belgium’s tried to reduce the power of the king telling the Hutus how much the Tutsis hated them (mistake number 1). Rwanda finally got its independence from both Belgium and the King in 1961. This was when the genocide of the Tutsis actually began. The president stood back as Tutsis were killed in the run up to independence and then afterwards. As far as I can tell they were hated because they symbolised the king.
The first president only lasted 3 months and was succeeded. Again more propaganda was spread against the Tutsis and many were told to leave the country as was no place for them here. Many did. This president lasted a few years before being forced out by a military coup and a general took over. The civil war started in 1990 with the RPF based out of Uganda started attacking. This was seem as trying to reinstall the Tutsis in power. After a few years of fighting the general met the head of the RPF in Arusha to sign a peace deal in early 1994. His plane was shot down on his way back to Kigali by people who didn’t want peace and he was killed. This was when the genocide really began.
We visited a genocide memorial on the way too. Now after saying I didn’t want to go to the churches because I thought it would be too harrowing I accidentally ended up at the place the lonely planet describes as the most graphic of all memorial sites! It was originally a technical college built up on a hill. When the killing started, the Tutsis when to the local governor for help, the mayor told them to go to this college as they could protect them there. This was not chosen by accident and had been carefully planned. There were about 50,000 people (men woman and children) at this school. The water supply was cut off to make them weak and they were killed if they tried to venture into the valley for water. Then one day the death squad arrived and in a matter of hours killed all 50,000 of them! Then arrived the caterpillars and mass graves were dug.
In the museum there are stories of the few survivors and also the accounts of the perpetrators but that wasn’t the worst. The worst thing about it was the outside – there were many buildings at the back where inside 1800 bodies had been excavated and many had decomposed. One thousand of these have been coated in limestone and placed in the rooms where the massacre happened. The smell in these rooms was horrible – I couldn’t bear it for more than a few seconds. Some of the bodies still had hair and clothes on. There were rooms dedicated just to children and babies.
After the massacre solders were billeted at the college – including some French soldiers who built a volley ball court on the mass graves! The French really don’t come out of this well. Firstly they were the ones who in the time leading up to the genocide trained the death squads and apparently their conduct during the genocide was more supportive of the Hutu than the persecuted Tutsis. The UN don’t come out well either – rather than using the troops they had in the country at the time to help prevent the genocide – they actually left the country and left it all to happen. It was the RPF who eventually stopped it and told the world what was going on. Many people involved have still not been caught. Many responsible for the genocide are hiding out in France where they can’t be extradited. It is actually quite sickening how the people who planned and organised this mass killing to try to wipe out the Tutsis all together are living an untouchable life in a country that especially after the 2nd world war should know better! Doesn’t make me like the French anymore!
The good news though is that the country seems to have recovered from its tempestuous past – let’s hope it stays that way.
Anyway on a happier note tomorrow I am going to go tracking the chimpanzees!