The country has made a miraculous recovery since the genocide 16 years ago. But is there a darker side to the success story?by Mary Fitzgerald / July 20, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
A nation rebuilding itself: children living in the foothills of Volcanoes National Park, where visitors flock to see wild gorillas. Tourism is now Rwanda’s leading foreign exchange earner
Half an hour’s drive south of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, there is a church that houses the remains of 45,000 people, all of whom died in the 1994 genocide. The roof, walls and windows are dappled with bullet holes and bloodstains. On the floor lie heaps of dusty, torn garments; clothes worn by the 10,000 men, women and children who sought refuge here. Their bones—along with those of another 35,000 butchered in the surrounding Bugesera district—are piled in a vault underneath the church, in mass graves surrounding it, and in tarpaulin bags stacked up next to the chapel walls. When the Hutu militiamen finally broke into the church after a sustained barrage of bullets and grenades, they spared only one person, a pregnant woman. She was allowed to live because she was a Hutu; the Tutsi “cockroach” child she was carrying was cut out of her stomach and killed in front of her.
Between April and July of that year, massacres like this one left an estimated 800,000 people dead, the bloody culmination of a four-year civil war between the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and forces loyal to the Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana. Thanks to (belated) international news coverage of the carnage, and later the award-winning Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda, the genocide has been etched into popular memory as one of the 20th century’s worst atrocities.
Today, the country is dotted with memorials like the church in Nyamata. Yet the government is also determined to sever links with the past, and promote a new image; one found in Fortune magazine (“Why CEOs love Rwanda”), or in Time, where President Paul Kagame was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2009. According to the American evangelist, Rick Warren, the tall, thin, ascetic Kagame—the military leader of the RPF whose victory ended the genocide—is “the face of emerging African leadership”; a man who is “transforming a failed state into one with a bright future.”