“In the heart of Central Africa, so high up that you shiver more than you sweat,” wrote the eminent primatologist Dian Fossey, “are great, old volcanoes towering up almost 15,000 feet, and nearly covered with rich, green rainforest – the Virungas”.Situated in the far northwest of Rwanda, the Parc des Volcans protects the steep slopes of this magnificent mountain range – home of the rare mountain gorilla – and the rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp and heath.
An exhilarating trek through the cultivated foothills of the Virungas offers stirring views in all directions. Then, abruptly, the trail enters the national park, immersing trekkers in the mysterious intimacy of the rainforest, alive with the calls of colourful birds and chattering of the rare golden monkey, and littered with fresh spoor of the mountains’ elusive populations of buffalo and elephant. Through gaps in the forest canopy, the magnificent peaks are glimpsed, easily accessible and among the highest in Africa, beckoning an ascent.
The bustling market town of Ruhengeri has a memorable setting at the base of the Virungas. On the outskirts of town, the natural bridge at Musanze – a solidified lava flow – is a fascinating relic of the volcanic activity that shaped this scenic area. Also within easy day tripping distance of Ruhengeri are the seldom visited but lovely Lakes Burera, Ruhondo and Karago. Ruhengeri offers a good selection of reasonably-priced small hotels and guest houses, including the newly renovated hotel Gorilla’s Nest. Visitors could also base themselves in Gisenyi or Kigali and – with an early start – head to the Parc des Volcans and Ruhengeri as a day trip.
The Kigali Memorial Centre at Gisozi was opened on the 10th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, in April 2004. The Centre in Kigali was created by a joint partnership of the Kigali City Council and the UK-based Aegis Trust. The creation of the Kigali Memorial Centre was funded by a number of donors worldwide
It contains a permanent exhibition of the Rwandan genocide and an exhibition of other genocides around the world. The Aegis Trust actively seeks the prevention of Genocide worldwide. The Centre includes three permanent exhibitions, the largest of which documents the genocide in 1994. There is also a children’s memorial, and an exhibition on the history of genocidal violence around the world. The Education Centre, Memorial Gardens and National Documentation Centre of the Genocide all contribute to a meaningful tribute to those who perished, and form a powerful educational tool for the next generation. In 2000, the Kigali City Council began to construct the shell of a building, which was eventually to become the Memorial Centre.
Aegis was invited to turn the aspiration for a centre into a reality. The Aegis Trust then began to collect data from across the world to create the three graphical exhibits. The text for all three exhibitions was printed in three languages, designed in the UK at the Aegis head office by their design team, and shipped to Rwanda to be installed.
The Kigali Memorial Centre is an international centre. It deals with a topic of international importance, with far-reaching significance, and is designed to engage and challenge an international visitor base. The response from genocide survivors to the creation of the Centre was unpredicted. In the first week, over 1,500 survivors visited each day. In the first three months of the Centre’s opening, around 60,000 people from a variety of backgrounds visited it. Over 7,000 of these visitors were from the International Community.
Murambi Memorial Centre: A school where 27,000 people were killed. A stark, shocking monument, hundreds of corpses are temporarily preserved and currently displayed in the school. The memorial has been developed as a permanent exhibition to the genocide. It documents from pre-colonial times to the more recent history of the 1994 genocide. The design focuses on developing a memorial from which the school children and local community can benefit. With the construction of the centre at Murambi in its final stages of completion, it is currently planned that its official opening will take place later this year.
Nyamata Memorial Site: This site is a church where around 2,500 people were killed and it has become emblematic of the barbaric treatment of women during the genocide. In the church at Nyamata, there will be graphic and audio-visual displays that will focus particularly on the mass rape, brutalisation of women and the use of HIV as a deliberate weapon of genocide
Ntarama Memorial Site: Ntarama is a town in the rural Kigali Province, situated in an area known as Bugesera. The association of Bugesera with genocidal development is a long one. For decades, there have been forced population movements and frequent massacres. About an hour’s drive southwards from Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali, the red-brick church at Ntarama are peacefully situated, shadowed by acacia trees. Ntarama Church, however, is the site where some of the most brutal killings of the 1994 Rwandan genocide took place. The church at Ntarama was seen as a safe place by almost 5000 people, many of whom were women and children and who went there for sanctuary. But Ntarama was not a safe place. The victims of the genocide remain there, their bones still strewn with lifeless chaos where they fell nearly ten years ago. Their belongings cover the floor; clothes, suitcases, a child’s white sock – the last remnants of a desperate flight for life.
Bisesero Memorial Site:
Bisesero is set in the hills of the Kibuye province of West Rwanda where some 30,000 people were killed. The region around Bisesero has become known for the acts of resistance from Tutsis who tried to organise themselves against the massacre. This was mostly unsuccessfulas they were fighting with sticks against well-armed and trained soldiers.
Nyanza Memorial Site:
At the start of the genocide in April 1994, over 2,000 Tutsis took refuge in ETO school on the outskirts of Kigali, protected by the United Nations Peace Keeping force. Following the withdrawal of the UN, refugees were marched up the road to Nyanza where they were all butchered. Today, this site, marked by simple wooden crosses, is symbolic of the abandonment of Rwanda by the International Community. Each year on April 11th, a memorial ceremony takes place on the site where the deserted refugees were murdered in cold blood