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Rwandan mist

  • 31 May 2006

On a late February morning a mist blanketing the hills and valleys of Rwandan capital Kigali, refuses to lift.

Below the mist is one of the smallest, poorest and most densely populated countries in Africa. It is also a country still coming to terms with its past—the 1994 genocide of Tutsis and the massacre of moderate Hutus in which an estimated 800,000 to one million people were killed.

Images of the exodus of millions of refugees across the Rwandan border and hundreds of thousands in makeshift camps captured the international media’s attention. What was often overlooked at the time, however, was the failure of the international community—including the UN who had a small mission deployed in the country—to intervene and stop the genocide.

In Rwanda these days there are many reminders of the past—mass graves, a high number of widows, child heads of households and orphans. According to Ministry of Justice sources, something like 600,000 accused of crimes during the genocide, still await trial. Furthermore, tens of thousands of Rwandans remain in exile.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial in Gisozi, a short drive from the capital, serves as one further reminder and the government intends this one to be permanent.

Partly modelled on a holocaust museum, it will serve as a memorial—the surrounding gardens are the burial place of 250,000 victims—and an education centre.

Although construction began in 2000, in February 2004 it still looked like a construction site. Hundreds are working to complete it by 7 April—the date earmarked as the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. In the week leading up to this anniversary, survivors will gather from all over Kigali to remember and plant roses in the bare garden beds. Other commemorations will take place throughout the country. It’s hard to get your head around genocide. Even Rwandan government ministers and officials echo this sentiment. Yet Busingye Johnston, Secretary General of the Rwandan Ministry of Justice, is certain of this, ‘… across Rwanda there is a determination never to return to the killing, to get out of the past.

‘If we lost one million people in 100 days, then a lot of people are implicated as killers, looters, rapists, planners and financiers.’  He adds, ‘Genocide is not just about criminal killers, nor is it just about criminal justice issues ... The seeds of this genocide come from decades of irresponsible governance.’

That irresponsible governance resulted in ethnic discrimination, a culture of impunity, and