For the past decade, the second week of April has always been sad in Rwanda. "Normally I feel so sad and alone," says Faustin Kagame, a Rwandan exile who returned to Rwanda days before the genocide began on 7 April 1994. "This year, though, we felt as if others were with us and that made a big difference."
Indeed seven African heads of state, and delegates from 50 countries attended the commemoration which culminated in the opening of a poignant memorial centre in Kigali on 8 April. Led by an orphan of the genocide, President Paul Kagame lit an eternal flame outside the permanent exhibition. "We cannot turn the clock back nor can we undo the harm caused," Kagame said, "but we have the power to determine the future and to ensure that what happened never happens again ... come what may."
The Aegis Trust, the leading authority on genocide and genocide prevention, worked with the Kigali City Council to create the memorial centre, set in gardens that give dignity to the victims and provide a place for survivors to remember their loved ones--among victims of over 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus who were killed in April 1994.
A wall of names lines one of the paths in the garden. The exhibition shows the history of the genocide, with large graphic panels and films. One part of the memorial, displays thousands of photographs provided by surviving family members of the victims. In a rather subdued sanctuary lie some of the remains of the victims, as their names are softly recited on loudspeakers.
On the top floor of the memorial is a gallery portraying genocide and mass killing across the globe in the past 100 years, showing very clearly this is not just an African, Rwandan, Hutu or Tutsi problem. It includes the Herero genocide in Namibia in 1904, the Armenian genocide of 1915-17, the Jewish Holocaust during World War II, the killing fields of Cambodia in the 1970s and 80s, and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans in the 1990s.
Survivors of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 were the first to visit the memorial centre in Kigali. "It makes you so sad at one moment. But it also makes you happy, because you feel that now, at last, there is a place that remembers the people you loved so dearly," said Yves Kamuronsi, a survivor orphaned by the 1994 genocide when he was only 13 years old.
Publicly remembering the genocide is an important part of rebuilding Rwanda's future. People need space and time to grieve after such a massive tragedy and the new memorial is expected to do just that. The directors of the memorial centre hope it will prevent harmful grief being passed down to the children and grandchildren of survivors as it has happened in Armenia where bitterness, three to four generations later, is still tangible, largely because the experience of their genocide in Turkey between 1915-17 has been swept to one side, even denied. …