Kigali, Nyamata and Ntarama Rwanda

October 10, 2008 - Kigali, Rwanda

As the bus made it's way to Kigali we weaved between rolling hills and small homesteads where the brown brick walls and thatched roofs seemed to mould perfectly with the surroundings. Once at Kigali I booked myself into an overpriced hotel, Auberge La Caverne, and took a stroll around the capital city. Spread across several hills, Kigali has a modern lively feel and a strong French influence with patisseries selling croissants and restaurants with Chaz at the beginning of the name. At the point where three hills converge forming an elegant valley, Place de l'Unite National stands proud, a large fountain in the center of a flowered and manicured roundabout. Kigali is having a building boom presently where office blocks seem to be sprouting up before my very eyes.


On the afternoon of Tuesday 7th I took a minibus to Nyamata, about 25km south of the city. This small dusty town with it's stone shops in an American west saloon style design would seem a strange place to visit but like so many towns in Rwanda behind these shops and mudded streets a dark injustice is on full display to those that wish to venture inside. As I walked into the large soft red brick building with it's glass panelled doors that had an inviting feel I felt apprehensive of what I would see inside. It was the smell that hit me first. A pungent musty odour, that lingered in the air. The large room with it's many rows of wooded benches, where people once would have sat during church services now had piles of rotting clothes sprawled across them. I could make out the greys and browns of men’s trouser, the brightly coloured shawls that once were rapped around women's wastes which had turned pale over the years and small doll like clothes once warn by children. A single bouquet of white lily's in a plastic rapper, tied with a shining purple bow sat on the floor of a raised platform at the back of the hall. To my left where two coffins also raised on wooden benches. I made my way down some steps into a small white tiled room that sat below the main hall. In a large glass cabinet on shelves sat human bones. On the bottom shelf rows of skulls so precisely positioned that the display almost looked unreal. On the top shelf shoulder bones and other body parts lay. I made my way outside to compose myself as I breathed in fresh warm air. Around the back of the building two white tiled crypts lay with open doors inviting you to take a look at the contents. I peered down the steep concrete steps into the narrow room which was dimly lit, giving it another world feeling and once again I was apprehensive about entering. I could see the rows of coffins stacked on shelf’s with brightly coloured clothes covering them but it felt wrong to enter this sacred place. Children in there school uniforms on the other side of the white metal fence that marked the boundary of this place where encouraging me to enter. Against both walls stacked from floor to ceiling all I could see were coffins. There bright cloth covers hiding the rough wooden tombs seemed to dampen there harshness. I did not stay long in the crypt and received a cheer from the children as I re-emerged. I signed the guest book and left a donation. I hitched a ride to Ntarama where I walked up a gradually climbing dirt road for about 2km. On the way I passed the Nelson Mandela secondary school where thousands of people were congregated out front.

Uniformed Police and heavily armed army offices where stationed along the road and banners had been erected. The crowed looked restless. I reached the heavy gates of the church and tried to enter but they were locked. I tried the side gate but this two was bolted. I could see the rough bricked building with it's newly erected tin canopy protecting it from the elements and felt wrong for how eager I was to enter. A man approached and explained that the caretaker was at the presidents day celebrations down the road and would not be back for at least three hours. I decided to return another day. As I made my way back down the dirt road and I could here singing coming from the secondary school. As I walked past men and women in traditional dress where dancing and beating drums. The crowed no longer looked agitated as they sang and cheered. At the main road I eventually thumbed a lift with two young men in a black Suzuki jeep as the sun began to make it's decent. Two days later I made my way back up the dirt road, this time on the back of a bicycle. A young lady by the name of Dativa welcomed me at the gate. She was to be my guide.

In 1994 an estimated eight hundred thousand people were killed in just three months. Death squads, heavily armed with grenades, guns and machetes, supplied by the government slaughtered Tutsi and Hutu reformists, burned villages and set up road blocks preventing people from fleeing. The Nazis may have invented the turn genocide but the Rwandan Habyarimana Government was still fallowing it's bloodied rules. Peoples Christian faith was so strong at this time they believed that god would protect them so they took refuge in churches across the country where the grenades could not touch and the bullets could not enter. At the church at Ntarama on the 15th April the death squads locked the people inside and threw grenades through the windows. Those that survived the blasts here hacked down by machetes. The death squads where brutal in there killing sprees of five thousand men women and children as they looked to god for help.

As I walked into the small room of the church with it's metal door hanging off the hinges Dativa explained the events of that fateful day. As I stood there I could almost smell the explosions from the grenades as they crashed through the windows of the small building as men and women screamed in terror and children cried not understanding what was happening. Young men, almost boys tore through the doors once the explosions had ended and hacked down those that had survived the blasts. From the walls clothes palled from the remains of bodies hung and at the far end coffins stoop piled with bones from those they have not been able to identify. Skulls are on display on shelf’s and one had a rusted machete blade protruding from the top of it. Dativa takes me to a smaller brick outhouse behind the main building that was once used for Sunday school services. Some children had taken refuge here as the death squads entered and cut them down as they called for there parents. Dativa explains the large black mark on the back wall is dried blood. On a newly erected wall to the right of the main building about four hundred known names of the five thousand people that lost there lives on the 15th April 1994 in the church at Ntarama are scribed into it's concrete. As we walked back to the gate I asked Dativa where she was on this horrid day. With a tremble to her voice she says she was five years old and her and her family hid in the swaps nearby where they could hear the screams coming from the church and surrounding area.

The UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) was in Rwanda during the genocide but was powerless to prevent the killings due to an ineffective mandate. The international community watched on as so many innocent lives were taken in the name of ethnic cleansing. In Arusha, Tanzania the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was set-up in November 1994 to bring to justice former government and military officials for acts of genocide. Prime Minister Jean Kambanda filed a guilty plea and provided the trial with inside information on other architects of the genocide. His was the first-ever conviction of a head of state for the crime of genocide. The United Nations has said the trial of other ministers and officials must come to a close by the end of this year. It is almost certain they will be found guilty for the acts of genocide because the evidence against them is to great. The sentence they will receive it still under hot debate.

1 Comment

October 21, 2008
KELVIN! Hi. Been trying to follow your journey - but we' ve been kinda busy ourselves here with the film. Reading what you' ve posted is sobering+ we can only imagine what it was like to stand in that 'killing field'+ hear the stories of butchery. We' ll try to follow you a little closer from now on+ who knows we may even meet again someday. Simon+ Daniel - VOICES.
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