The Nyamata and Ntarama Genocide Memorials are situated in Bugesera region approximately 35km from Kigali City. Bugesera is about an hour’s drive south of Kigali. After visiting the memorials, we spend time with a small community which became a symbol of a unity, reconciliation and development. In this community, the survivors now live in harmony with the former genocide convicts; this tour provides an opportunity to hear their testimonies, the reconciliation journey and their perspectives on the peace building initiatives.
Nyamata was one of the worst sites of the unfolding of the genocide – the numbers of victims alone are staggering. 10,000 people were murdered inside the church building alone – yet more outside. The figures given vary, but it could have been as many as 24,000.
Like Ntarama, Nyamata lies in a region that had a particularly high proportion of Tutsis amongst the population. This was partly due to the fact that after the first genocidal developments in 1959 and the early 1960s (when Rwanda gained its independence and Hutu majority rule was installed), Tutsis were forcibly resettled here, as it was considered an unfavourable part of the land (drought, famine).
It was also there, on the other hand, that churches did serve as safe havens during the earlier genocidal outbreaks before 1994. This is why so many people crammed into churches all over the country to seek shelter, not knowing that these buildings would turn into death traps this time around. Nyamata became one of the starkest examples of this. The frightened Tutsis who had locked themselves in the church were not to be spared by the Hutu killer hordes.