Red Rocks campsite is in a small town 100km north of Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. We had crossed the border from Uganda earlier in the day, played a three-hour volleyball match amongst our tour group and had a delicious local feast of ugali, beans and beef. It had been a fun day – as usual. By the time the sun had made its way behind the mountains, the night became cool. The mood quickly changed amongst the group as we huddled around the campfire to keep warm. This is when we were introduced to Francis, a local man in his late thirties – a survivor of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
An eerie feeling had overcome me as Francis began to tell his story. Francis was the only surviving member of his family who were all Tutsi’s – a minority ethnic group in Rwanda. It was within hours after the President’s plane was shot down in April 1994, that the killings began. The kill lists had already been prepared by the Hutu’s who were in governing power at the time. A major local radio station called for all Hutu’s to murder their friends, neighbors and any Tutsi that they see. Punishments would be made to anyone who helped a Tutsi to escape or hide.
Houses were burnt, people were murdered in their homes and HIV positive males raped the women. Francis and his family fled, he witnessed the killing of his mother and brother. Francis explained how after fleeing his home, he moved from family to family, running with people he didn’t know – other Tutsi’s. Bodies were scattered in the street or thrown into latrines. In Uganda, corpses were washing up along the shores of the river Nile. This went on for months, masses of Tutsi fled into the neighboring countries of Tanzania, Uganda and the Republic of Congo.
Over one million Rwandans were murdered within four months, shockingly tortured and dismembered. Listening to Francis retell his accounts was horrifying. It gave us a strong understanding of the lead up to the genocide and how the country has managed to recover from such an incident. Nowadays the Tutsi and Hutu live side-by-side, victims and murderers. I find it astonishing how successfully the country has been able to regain itself, even with the trauma still alive within each and every one of them. . The country has rectified its mistakes from the past in order to pursue a brighter future, but the Genocide of 1994 will never be forgotten.
Rwanda is a very clean and environmentally conscious country. They put efforts into recycling and order. The capital city sits in a beautiful valley, and looking at it now, its hard to imagine how broken it was twenty three years ago. We drove to Kigali the day after hearing Francis’s story to visit the Genocide Memorial, which also acts as a mass grave for 250,000 victims. – An emotionally difficult experience. Many Rwandans use the Genocide memorial in Kigali as a place to come and reflect, and to remember their loved ones.
In order to move on, many Rwandans have had to forgive the murderers. Some have confessed and been ordered to do community service, those who have not, are spending the rest of their lives in prison. The government now puts a lot of emphasis on the importance of peace and unity into their education systems and a week in April is set aside each year for remembrance. During this time, widespread memorials are held across the country. Rwanda’s past, as horrific as it was has a lot of lessons to be learnt. Rwanda has managed to transform itself back into a peaceful society, as they once were. A country that is now proud, and very well should be.