A Guide to Visiting Kigali Genocide Memorial Rwanda
I may be forgiven for not knowing more about the Holocaust or the genocides in Armenia and Cambodia because they all happened long before I was born.
But I am ashamed to say that I had absolutely no idea about the one that took place in Rwanda although it happened when I was old enough to understand. In fact, I don’t think I had even heard of Rwanda until I visited the region for my first African safari.
My trip to Rwanda wasn’t planned, so I didn’t have much time to read up on the country, apart from interesting things to do in its capital city.
It was only when I heard about the Kigali Genocide Memorial that I realized a massacre had taken place there not too long ago. Almost a million innocent people were brutally killed in one of the worst genocides in history, and yet I’m sure there are many more people like me who are blissfully ignorant.
In the country’s journey of healing and rebuilding itself as a unified nation, it has built a memorial to pay tribute to the victims, and to spread awareness to the public, in the hope that history doesn’t repeat itself — in Rwanda or anywhere else in the world.
The true origin of the genocide can be traced all the way back to the colonization era of Rwanda, during which an ideology of hatred had been planted against the Tutsis. This dragged on through the post-colonial period and the decades of oppressive leadership the country was put under.
Things finally came to a head in 1994, when a devastating mass slaughter of the Tutsi people took place in Rwanda, lasting from 7th April to mid-July. Within three months, more than a million Tutsis were killed, many at the hands of their own friends and neighbors.
In 1999, the City of Kigali provided land, on which to build a place of remembrance and to give the victims a proper burial. Construction of the memorial began the same year while the burial process began two years later.
The Kigali Genocide Memorial officially opened in 2004 and is one of Rwanda’s six national genocide memorial sites. It serves as a final resting place for over 250,000 genocide victims.
The main objectives of the Kigali Genocide Memorial are:
- To provide a dignified burial site for the 250,000 victims of the genocide.
- To inform and educate the public on everything they should know about the genocide, including its causes, execution, and consequences.
- To spread awareness about genocides and how we can prevent them in the future.
- To document evidence of the genocide, details of the victims, and testimonies of the survivors.
- To provide closure and support for survivors, especially orphans and widows.
What to Expect at Kigali Genocide Memorial
The Kigali Genocide Memorial is a large, white terraced building surrounded by landscaped gardens and burial grounds for the dead.
Before entering the main gate, you’ll be subjected to a security check by officers of the Rwanda National Police. You and your vehicle may be checked for dangerous items, including weapons and sharp objects.
Lighters and alcohol are also not allowed on the premises. These items will be kept at the entrance and returned to you when exiting.
The entrance is free if you wish to tour the memorial on your own. Otherwise, you can choose to be guided by one of the staff members, or rent the digital audio-visual guide.
I chose to go on my own, so after making some donation at the reception counter, I proceeded to the next section, which was a video room.
Here, visitors are shown a documentary to give them an idea of the severity of the genocide that took place in the country not too long ago. Included are interviews with survivors and first-hand witnesses.
The Kigali Genocide Memorial is made up of three permanent exhibitions:
EXHIBITION 1: The 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi
The first exhibition is the largest of the three. It gives an outline of Rwandan society before colonization, its ethnic makeup, and how the harmony between the different races eventually turned to hatred.
The information is displayed in textual and pictorial forms. Occasionally, you will find a small screen where you can play film footage of the genocide and its aftermath.
EXHIBITION 2: Wasted Lives
The second exhibition shows the history of genocidal violence around the world, including the ones that took place in Cambodia, Namibia, Armenia, and the Balkans, not forgetting the Holocaust.
This section is called “Wasted Lives” because despite the number of lives lost, some of the massacres documented here have not been recognized as genocides by international law.
EXHIBITION 3: Children’s Room
Particularly heartbreaking is the third exhibition. Dedicated to the memory of thousands of children and infants who lost their lives in the genocide, it features photos of each child, along with a description of what they were like as a person and a description of how they were killed.
Also featured are their personal items. Some even include the blood-stained clothes they were found in.
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Apart from exhibitions, the memorial also houses:
- a library with hundreds of titles, from academic journals to memoirs, poetry, children’s books, and graphic novels related to the genocide,
- a cafe, and
- a gift shop selling souvenirs such as books on the genocide, jewelry, and handmade crafts made by widows of the genocide victims.
Both the cafe and gift shop are social enterprises that employ young Rwandans. All proceeds will go toward the memorial, as well as the survivors.
To mark the 20th year since the genocide, an amphitheater with a capacity of 1,200 seats was constructed to host events, workshops, screenings, and performances.
Most of these events are organized during the annual commemoration period beginning on 7th April and ending with Liberation Day on 4th July.
Gardens & Burial Site
The memorial is surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens and graves of more than 250,000 victims.
The spacious area exudes a sense of peace and solitude, giving the victims the dignified burial they deserve, the survivors a place to mourn and find solace, and the visitors a place for reflection.
The burial grounds also features a wall displaying the victims’ names. Even after all these years, the list is still a work in progress, as many victims remain unidentified.
Personal Thoughts on Kigali Genocide Memorial
Visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial is an emotionally-taxing experience. For those like me who barely had a clue about the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda, prepare to be shocked out of your mind.
Once you’ve got over your initial shock, you will be taken on a distressing tour through photos and personal effects of the victims donated to the memorial by their loved ones. Suddenly they’re no longer just a statistic, but a real person with quirks and hobbies and hopes and dreams.
It is difficult to reconcile the idea of the gentle Rwandan people with the atrocious acts that some of them once committed.
What makes it scarier is that — as shown in the second part of the exhibition — this is an international issue, not just a phenomenon that’s exclusive to Rwanda. It really makes us think about what we, as human beings, are capable of. It makes us wonder how much (or how little) it takes for us to start killing our own neighbors.
In almost three decades since the tragedy, Rwanda has stoically gathered its broken pieces and transformed itself into one of the safest, cleanest, and most modern countries in Africa.
But it’s still important to understand and remember what happened. To all international visitors, let’s make it our social responsibility to pay a visit to this memorial when we’re in Rwanda.
It will give you a better understanding of the country and its people than you can get elsewhere. It will make you appreciate the efforts they have made to become what they are today.
And most importantly, the Kigali Genocide Memorial carries a powerful reminder of what could happen if we let hatred and prejudice take over, lest we forget.
How to Get to Kigali Genocide Memorial
The Kigali Genocide Memorial is located in the Gisozi neighborhood, about ten minutes’ drive from the city center. The easiest way to reach the memorial is by car, taxi, or boda boda (motorcycle taxi).
I took bus number 105 from my accommodation in Kimironko, got off at the nearest bus stop, and walked the rest of the way.
Kigali Genocide Memorial Opening Hours
The Kigali Genocide Memorial is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., 7 days a week, except on Christmas, New Year, and on the last Saturday of each month.
Please note that the last entrance is at 4 p.m. A tour of the memorial typically takes around an hour and a half.
On the last Saturday of each month, the memorial is open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. due to Umuganda (a national holiday that calls for mandatory community work around the country for 3 hours in the morning).
There may be other circumstances that require temporary closures of the memorial, e.g. VIP visitors. In such an event, all visitors who have made advanced bookings will be informed ahead of time to arrange for an alternative date.
Please check their official website for latest updates.
Kigali Genocide Memorial Entrance Fee
The Kigali Genocide Memorial is free to enter, but donations are greatly appreciated. The donation will go towards the upkeep of the memorial, preservation of archives, as well as educational programs.
To enhance your overall experience, you can opt for the Ubumuntu package, which includes the following:
- An audio guide to give you a more detailed explanation at every section of the memorial.
- A rose to lay at the burial site to pay respect to the genocide victims.
- A “Champion Humanity” pin.
- WiFi coupon to use the Museum Cafe.
Filming & Photography
To take photos and videos inside the memorial, you have to obtain a permit at the registration counter, which costs $20 for international visitors or $15 for East Africans. It’s free to take photos and videos outside the building.
Professionals and media must first get accreditation from the Rwandan government and contact the memorial team to discuss fees.
- $100 for 1 – 10 people
- $125 for 11 – 15 people
- $150 for 16 – 25 people
- East Africans get 50% off
Additional Tips & Info
- As the memorial is the final resting place of over 250,000 victims, guests are expected to behave and dress respectfully.
- Do not step or walk on the mass graves.
- Eating or drinking is not allowed in the gardens or memorial exhibitions. However, you are invited to dine in the memorial cafe.
- Please be considerate of other visitors when you take photos or videos.
- Children under the age of 12 are not permitted to enter.
- Pets are not allowed except service animals.
- The memorial cannot guarantee entry to groups that arrive more than 30 minutes past their scheduled slot.
Have you been to the Kigali Genocide Memorial or anything similar elsewhere? Share your experience in the comment section below.