A Guide to Visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda

The Kigali Genocide Memorial is the final resting place for more than 250,000 victims of the genocide against the Tutsi
The Kigali Genocide Memorial is the final resting place for more than 250,000 victims of the genocide against the Tutsi | | Courtesy of Kigali Genocide Memorial
Mandi Keighran

The Kigali Genocide Memorial is an important site for any visitor to Rwanda. It not only offers a place for remembrance and reflection, but also the opportunity to better understand this tragedy and the impact it had – and continues to have – on the country and its people.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial is the final resting place for more than 250,000 victims of the genocide against the Tutsi. This important and moving site in the capital preserves the memory of the victims and offers support to survivors. It also gives insights into the causes and consequences of genocide to educate future generations about how to keep history from repeating itself. Read on to discover more about the history behind this tragic event, the role the Kigali Genocide Memorial plays in helping the country to heal and how a visit to this landmark puts Rwanda’s recent history into context.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial is surrounded by gardens and a burial ground that serves as a final, dignified resting place for more than 250,000 victims of the genocide

The history

In 1994, a devastating mass slaughter of the Tutsi people of Rwanda took place. The Rwandan Genocide lasted from 7 April to mid-July, and more than 1 million Tutsis were killed, many of them in their own towns by neighbours and fellow villagers.

“The genocide against the Tutsi was an effect of the seeds of hatred sown in colonial times and the three decades that Rwanda was under very oppressive leadership,” says Honoré Gatera, Director of the Kigali Genocide Memorial. “There was an ideology of hatred spread against the Tutsis, and people were learning to hate rather than to love one another. If you teach people this hatred, this is the result.”

In the nearly three decades since this tragedy, Rwanda has transformed into one of the safest and most eco-aware countries in Africa. It’s capital, Kigali, is a creative hub home to a vibrant art scene and a thriving fashion industry – but it’s just as important that visitors engage with the devastating events in the country’s recent history to understand how they have shaped Rwanda and ensure that they don’t happen again.

“It is important to take the time to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial to learn about the background of the country – you will understand Rwanda much better than you would if you had not been,” says Gatera. “You will also understand the efforts the country has made to bring people together, and to educate people not to hate but to love. Today, we are not divided. We have one identity – to be Rwandan.”

The Kigali Genocide Memorial serves as a beacon of hope and the source of a unifying message, “Today, we are not divided. We have one identity – to be Rwandan.”

The Memorial

One of Rwanda’s six National Genocide Memorial Sites commemorating the devastating 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the Kigali Genocide Memorial opened in 2004 on land provided by the City of Kigali to build a place of mourning and remembrance. The Memorial is a large, white terraced building surrounded by peaceful landscaped gardens and a burial ground that serves as a final, dignified resting place for more than 250,000 of the victims of the genocide. The burial area also features a wall of the victim’s names – a list that is still a work in progress, as many victims remain unknown.

To mark the 20th commemoration of the genocide, a 1,200-seat amphitheatre was built at the memorial. The space is used to host remembrance ceremonies, cultural events, workshops, performances and screenings. Most of these events take place during the annual commemoration period, which begins with the International Day of Reflection on 7 April and concludes with Liberation Day on 4 July.

A 1,200-seat amphitheatre was built at the memorial to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide

A place for learning

“For the international community, the Kigali Genocide Memorial is a crucial place to see when they visit Rwanda,” says Gatera. “If you come to Rwanda to travel through the ‘land of a thousand hills’, explore the beauty of our nation and meet its people, it is important to understand where they are coming from. If you don’t understand the genocide then you won’t understand the population.”

The Kigali Genocide Memorial museum includes three permanent exhibitions, the largest documents the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. There is also a children’s memorial, dedicated to the children who were killed during the genocide and an exhibition on the history of genocidal violence around the world. “This part of the exhibition shows that this kind of tragedy is not a phenomenon only in Rwanda,” says Gatera. “It is an international issue – and this is a place for humanity to think deeply about who we are as human beings.”

Learn more about the genocide at the Genocide Archive of Rwanda Library, also found at the memorial. The library holds hundreds of titles, from scholarly nonfiction to literature, poetry, children’s books and graphic novels.

“The Kigali Genocide Memorial is undeniably a sad place to visit but it is important to understand this chapter of Rwandan history as it lights up the future we want to achieve together,” says Gatera. “It is a place that will help you to understand what happened and how we pay our respects to the victims of the genocide.”

A memorial dedicated to the memory of the children whose lives were cut short cruelly and intentionally during the genocide

Tips for visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial

The Kigali Genocide Memorial is located in the Gisozi neighbourhood, a 10-minute drive from the centre of town. The memorial is open from 8am to 5pm, seven days a week, except for Christmas and New Year’s Day. The only other exception is the last Saturday of each month, when the memorial is only open from 1pm to 5pm for Umuganda – a national holiday based on the Rwandan culture of cooperation that calls for mandatory community volunteer work around the country monthly from 8am to 11am. A visit to the memorial will take generally around two hours, and it’s worth noting that last entrance is at 4pm.

Entrance is free, but donations – which go toward the upkeep of the memorial, preservation of archives and running education programmes – are gratefully received. The Ubumuntu Package offers a good way to give back to the memorial while also making the most of your visit. For $25 (£20) (or $15 (£12) for East African Community (EAC) visitors) you’ll receive an audio guide device, – which is essential for a real understanding of the exhibits – a rose to lay at the burial site to pay respect to victims of the genocide, a “Champion Humanity” pin and wifi access in the Memorial Café.

Also available are guided tours with staff members, many of whom are survivors of the genocide and can offer moving personal insights. Guided tours start at $100 (£80), with a 50 percent discount for visitors from EAC countries.

It’s also important to note that while taking photographs and filming is permitted freely in outdoor areas, it costs $20 (£16) or $10 (£8) for EAC visitors to take photographs inside the memorial.

Understanding the country’s history reveals how it endeavoured to become one of Africa’s most peaceful, creative and forward-thinking countries

After Your Visit

“Visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial is an exhausting experience, both psychologically and emotionally,” says Gatera. “You will need a place to sit and reflect on what you have seen, and so we created the café as a space where people can do this and talk amongst themselves.” As a social enterprise, income generated at the café is reinvested in the memorial and also goes towards supporting survivors in the community.

For socially conscious souvenirs, make a stop at the gift shop. History books focusing on the events as well as jewellery and woven baskets, crafted by a local cooperative of widows of the Genocide are for sale.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial gift shop and café employ and support survivors

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