The people below look like they are working on the road right? No, they are actually burying a Optical Fibre Cable, for super fast broadband Internet. It was taken in remote western Rwanda on the shores of lake Kivu, in an area where 90% of the Tutsi population was wiped out during the 100days of genocide. Things have changed here – very quickly, it was such a surprise of my memories of 1994.
It was Thursday morning assembly in 1994 – I was 13 and probably concerned about how annoying it was to have to wear a blazer jacket. The headmaster (Mr Coles) then pulled out a map of Africa and pointed to two small countries in the middle. “Rwanda and Burundi are here” he boomed – does anyone know what is going on here now? I actually did, having heard the news on the Radio in morning, but hadn’t really understood the scale of it. Mr Coles went on to explain what was happening. I remember thinking this is wrong, and that the world should do something about it. It was the start of my interest in international politics. Fast forward 8 years, I was writing my University dissertation on how the Rwandan genocide was (and still is) going on, in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in the Kivu provinces. I didn’t ever imagine to be swimming in Lake Kivu another 8 years later! Reading and researching for my dissertation gave me lots of nightmares, the last thing I expected was this area to be one of the most beautiful and tranquil of the whole trip. In Rwanda you often look at people and start to wonder what there lives have been like over the last 16 years; On the shores of lake Kivu we found a great little milk bar, the guy there (who must have been about my age) served us pints (in proper pint glass with handles!) of sour milk and cakes. He was a well built chap and quite regimented, my mind wondered to what his life may have been like – had he lost family in 1994? Was he a returning Rwandan soldier from DRC, and then decided that serving milk was a much better way of life? Unfortunately his English (and our Rwandan) was not good enough to find out his true story.
Coming out of Uganda into Rwanda was probably the easiest boarder crossing we have had so far and free! (apart from Heidi who had to buy a $50 visa – what has Norway done to Rwanda?!). And then it was back to driving on the right and attempting to speak French. Very different from Uganda where the vast majority of the population spoke perfect English.
Rwanda is small and the drive to Kigali from the boarder was simple – the road surface was good with little traffic. Kigali was bright and cheerful with a real European air to it, clean and orderly (probably the cleanest capital we have been in so far). It had a great feel to it, cool, up in the mountains and nice and relaxed. We were hoping we could stay with some couchsurfers, but it turned out that the four of us would be too many for his small flat. At the local mazungu (local term for white people) hang out we bumped into a German on a motorbike called Gerd – obviously him and Stephan were off in another German/Motorbike world of conversation. Gerd invited us to stay at his house – which worked out perfectly.
So what did we know about Gerd when we decided to stay at his? He was ex German army and worked in Security, he had worked in DRC, former Yugoslavia and a number of other “hotspots” over the last 20 years. He had obviously seen things that the rest of us would not want to dream about.
The Genocide museum in Kigali is a place that you must visit to understand what has happened to this country and why the genocide happened. Even though I had come across much of the information before, it is still profoundly heart-breaking. We happened to be there at the same time as a local school, the children, though too young to actually remember the genocide themselves, still seamed to be personally affected by the stories and accounts they where reading about. It was as if the memories of their parents where somehow being given to them first hand. The museum is split onto 2 floors, the ground floor explains the lead up to the genocide; how in the 1900s the first seeds were sown when the Belgium colonials introduced ID cards, stating which people where Hutu or Tutsi, often decided upon by the number of cows they owned rather than anything ethnic. Then the 100 days of genocide; the rivers of blood, the road blocks, the role of the church in aiding the militias, how the world didn’t react, but also stories of bravery where people looked after complete strangers. And then the aftermath; how the country rebuilt it self, the so-called “guilt dollars” from the rest of the world. The second floor investigated other Genocides including; Nambia, Nazi Germany, Yugoslavia, Cambodia but interesting didn’t mention anything about DRC.
The final section was to me the most moving of all; large pictures of Children with Key facts below them; Date of Birth, some were late 1980’s,most in the 1990’s, one was even born in 1994. Favourite food; Fruit, Chips beans (all the usual things that children like). Favourite past time; playing on his bike, playing tag with his sister. How they were killed; Hacked to death in her mothers arms with a machete, pushed into a latrine then stoned, dragged from a car at a road block. After the museum it was difficult to look at Rwandans without wondering about their past, and their families past. The few that I did managed to speak to about the Genocide all had lost somebody close in their family. To me, this makes Rwanda today even more remarkable.
Rwanda is a stunning country, from the fresh air of Kigali, to the volcanoes towards the DRC boarder. The shores and coves of Lake Kivu (which it always fun to swim across and and ask the locals where the boarder post is, claiming we have swam from DRC!) then the thick rain forests of the south and the tea plantations heading towards Tanzania. Rwandans are also very friendly and keen to keep there country moving forward, though there is the beginnings of one of the major downsides of foreign aid on tourism; the repetitive asking for money, which often was mildly amusing in the accuracy of how much some of the kids wanted “give me my 1000francs” was screamed at us…A few older people (20something) also showed a worrying characteristic of not really wanting to help themselves, but to just rely on foreign hand outs. Others were busy study information technology and working for large mobile telecommunications networks. Hopefully the diversity of the small nation will not once again try and pull itself apart.
Helmets are a legal requirement in Rwanda!
Volcanoes of western Rwanda, Ruhengeri.
Cut out boats on Lake Kivu
Gisenyi, on Lake Kivu – close to the DRC boarder.
Rwanda has a growing name in the world of Tea – we stayed a night on a tea farm.
Fuel is expensive in Rwanda, so we didn’t buy any! The beauty of a small country and a large long range fuel tank. Little motorbike had to fill up a few times though!
To go to Congo or not?
Martina, the NTV presenter I met in Nairobi who filmed the Sunny Money project in Kibera, had talked to me about Goma and her visits to DRC in 2005. She talked about the atmosphere that crackled – when the sirens go, is it the Volcano (Goma is next to the most active volcano in Africa) or is it the militia. We contemplated visiting DRC, potentially for the day to Goma, or driving on the west bank of lake Kivu to (Gisenyi). However talking to locals, Gerd and reading between the lines of FCO advise it didn’t sound particularly safe to take are own car. Perhaps in a couple of years time it would be. Goma, sounded a bit like a NGO town now, with only the volcano as the real attraction – and at the moment the lava was very low so we decided to leave DRC for another time in our lives. To note, you can get a Congo visa for 5 days for $50 USD on the boarder. Some say you can get it for $30 – but there is a fair amount of extra costs that the boarder officials like to add…