The entrance to Nyamata Church in Rwanda

The Rwandan Genocide

Author’s Note: This is blog #4 of nine detailing my trip to Rwanda and Italy in 2020. Links below if you want to start from the beginning. “Winning A Trip to Rwanda” features a more comprehensive introduction. The music reviews continue as scheduled.


If the devil exists, God exists.

And, I have seen the devil.

Not many Americans understand the horrific crimes committed during the Rwandan Genocide in April 1994 that lasted 100 days killing nearly 1 million people. Arguably, not many people in the world outside of Africa really know either.

Here. Take this machete. Now go hack up your neighbor. You know, the one you enjoyed a beer and BBQ with last week. I won’t get into the who/what/where/when/why and how of the Rwandan Genocide, plenty of well-informed websites exist on that front. However, I can provide a first-timers account of hearing the bloody details on the genocide in-country.

I visited two Rwandan Genocide memorials during my stay here: the more formal museum found at the Kilgali Genocide Memorial and the Nyamata Genocide Memorial Church south of Kilgali where you can see bullet holes, the effects of grenades and piles of clothing from the victims laid out on the pews. So people never forget. Most of the blood is gone but the darkness remains, even for a foreigner.  You feel a heaviness, an unusual presence. Both sites display the bones of victims.

Skulls feature cracks and even missing pieces of bone. The result of a club hammered into the side of the head.

Grendades used at Nyamata Church in Rwanda during genocide shows ripped concrete
The ground entrance to Nyamata Church in Rwanda shows the effects of grenades

What struck me most about the Rwandan Genocide was the randomness of it all. Most everyone has some familiarity with Adolph Hitler, the poster child of genocidal maniacs. He targeted Jews.  Sadly, he had a method or reasoning to his madness. Conversely, I have yet to comprehend the method to the madness of the Rwandan Genocide.

It all started decades before in a very complicated explanation featuring the arrival of colonists, a population separation by groups, and at least one outbreak of mass murder before the ceiling collapsed in 1994. One group, the Tutsis, were slaughtered by the Hutus, but determining who was who seemed arbitrary. One placard in the museum indicated if someone had more than 10 cows they were designated Tutsi and those with under 10 cows became Hutus. Some facial features were also incorporated in determining who was who but otherwise nothing specific about one group of people set the other people off.

Rwandans were given identification cards that indicated their group designation. Eventually, you could not escape your government sponsored identification as Tutsi or Hutu. People knew.

Testimony after testimony of surviving Tutsis detailed mass slaughter of family members by family members and friends by friends. Nowhere was safe – not even a church. People who cared for one another and who celebrated together suddenly turned on the other. As if a light was switched on.

Epic brutality. Women raped then killed. Victims offered money to be shot – just to get it over with – rather than face their fate by the slashing of a machete or painful, torturous death. Babies picked up by their feet and smashed against a wall.  One woman, raped by her two killers, her mummified body was on public display at the Nyamata Genocide Memorial Church until a few years ago, that graphically showed the long stick inserted into her vagina up to her shoulder.

These memorials do not sanitize the genocide. You see real bones from victims. Bones with living flesh wrapped around them just 25 years ago. Bones that lay witness to the worst of what humans can do to one another.

Just 25 years ago.

Today, Rwandans have a tremendous testimony of grace, forgiveness and resolve. Rwanda has a thriving economy, the people are friendly and the country has a high record of safety for tourists and natives. Rwandans consider themselves Rwandans now. Not Hutu or Tutsi. I met many born in Uganda, I assume a result of fleeing refugee parents, who say emphatically “I am Rwandan.

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The Rwandan Genocide and America

But, how did a country ever turn on itself in such a horrific manner?

As I read through the history of the museum I couldn’t help but realize the United States sits at Level 2 and I don’t know how many levels remain. A country divided against itself cannot stand. Outside influences, both spiritual and physical, have infiltrated the American way of life. If you don’t think the citizens of America won’t turn on one another in a similar fashion, think again.

Because we already have.

And it’s only going to get worse.

Something has to give.

And the devil will make sure of it.

Start from the beginning:

5 thoughts on “The Rwandan Genocide

  1. Thanks for the history lesson. I am sure our news covered this back in the day, but I don’t remember a lot about it. It is a great reminder of what can happen when evil sets in.

  2. The genocide is fairly well known here in Canada with our peacekeepers being in the thick of it at the time. One of them, Romeo Dallaire wrote a book about it that is pretty much required reading. Then, of course, there is the film Hotel Rwanda. So scary. It is one thing to shoot each other humans, but machetes are a whole other level of brutal. It shows you the power of propaganda.

    1. It sure does. Glad Canada is teaching on it. When I was in that church all I wanted to do was leave. Horrible heaviness.

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