Visit to Kigali Memorial Centre

On my fourth and last day in Rwanda I have organized to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center. On the drive back to Kigali, Nsubuga (the guide) stops to buy some eggs from the side of the road, packaged in a neat banana- skin parcels, and we call in at a truck stop for a snack of barbequed
beef skewers and potatoes.

There are a quarter of a million genocide casualties buried in the terraced grounds encompassing the stark, angular Kigali Genocide Memorial Center, set high on a hill for all to see. The centre opened in 2004, the 10th anniversary of the genocide; in the first week, more than 1,500 survivors visited it every day. From that point forward it has found its way onto most worldwide tourists’ itineraries, and with good reason: it is both splendidly conceived and documented and deeply affecting.

The genocide centre is encompassed by gardens, every one freighted with symbolism: an audio guide clarifies the significance of the elephant sculptures (always remember what happened) and the clay monkey on a phone (tell the outside world what is happening). Inside, the exhibition tries to put the genocide in setting by highlighting the role of the Belgian colonial powers in promoting ethnic differences and making ruling elite; the passive complicity of France in the build up to the slaughter; the tragic indifference of the United Nations. Behind glass in the last, dimly lit show room are the melancholy, blood-stained clothes of casualties, spot-lit like religious relics.

I choose to have lunch at Hotel des Mille Collines before my flight back to London (the hotel takes its name from the fact that Rwanda is known as ‘pays des mille collines’, or ‘nation of a thousand hills’). I have read in Paul Rusesabagina’s book An Ordinary Man, the true story behind the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, that the tables around the hotel’s swimming pool were the place to do business in Kigali before the genocide. The book describes events during those 100 days in terrifying detail, how Rusesabagina managed to save 1,200 lives at the Hotel des Mille Collines, where he was general director, and how those holed up at the hotel drank the swimming-pool water to survive.

After lunch the Hotel des Milles Collines, the tour guide transferred me to Kigali International Airport to board ma flight back home.