We spent yesterday afternoon at the Kigali National Genocide Memorial. The visit was strikingly similar to what I had experienced at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa. As in each of these cases, the Kigali memorial employs a combination of images, quotes, text, stories, multimedia, and material from the period to create a powerful experience, one that is meant to shock, awe, educate, and ultimately inspire visitors to join the genocide prevention movement. (gen-preven for short).
I was appalled by what I saw, and the genocide here was certainly one of the most tragic events in recent history. Yet I managed to stay relatively stoic while walking through the exhibit. Perhaps this was the result of having studied genocide in general and Rwanda in particular at some length. Or maybe the research I am conducting on the aftermath of the genocide allowed me to distance myself emotionally and focus on data collection. I did, however, have a difficult time walking through the final section of the indoor exhibit, the Children’s Room. Dedicated to the thousands of children who were killed during the genocide, this section humanized the staggering numbers; it showed the faces behind the figures.
One recurring theme throughout the memorial was the urgency of learning about the past in order to prevent future atrocities. Here’s a few excerpts:
“a terrible and unavoidable warning for our future if we do not take active steps to avoid it all over again”
“we need to learn about the past…we also need to learn from it”
“education became our way forward”