Run 33 : Rwanda – Kigali


RTW Rwanda 1


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Date : 19th November, 2014

Time :  56’30” (includes some walking around the Genocide Memorial)

Total Distance Run to date : 330 km

Run map and details : ;

As I flew into Kigali – capital of Rwanda – I couldn’t help but think how nice it looked from the air spread out, as it is, over several rolling hills and covered in lush vegetation. The expression ‘green and pleasant land’ popped into my head.

The impression of greenness remained as we drove to my guest house. But I was quickly reminded that things hadn’t always been pleasant. I asked my taxi driver what I should see in Kigali and his top recommendation was the Genocide Memorial. When I checked in, I discovered that the Memorial was about 5k away so it seemed obvious that my Rwandan 10k run should be a return loop to the Memorial.

I expect many of you remember that there were horrific massacres of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda in the 1990s – but you may not remember the details of the genocide.

I’d always imagined that the Hutus and the Tutsis were distinct ethnic groups. However the Memorial Museum states that, originally, ‘Hutu’ and ‘Tutsi’ were socio-economic terms used to describe levels of wealth and status.

Belgium, as the colonial power, then formalised the distinction issuing everyone with identity cards that divided them into Hutus and Tutsis (and one or two other much smaller categories.) The Belgians, initially at least, favoured the minority Tutsis and resentment inevitably grew.

When Rwanda gained independence in 1962, the Hutus formed the government and, over the next 3 decades, the situation worsened with hundreds of thousands of Tutsi refugees leaving the country. The Rwandan Patriotic Force (RPF) was formed from amongst these Tutsi exiles and Paul Kagame eventually became its leader.

Fighting continued sporadically and by the early 1990s, small scale massacres of Tutsis were taking place. In April 1994, a plane carrying Juvenal Habyarimana – the relatively moderate Hutu President of Rwanda – was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali. Everyone on board – including the Hutu President of Burundi – was killed.

Responsibility for the attack is disputed with some blaming Hutu extremists and some blaming Kagame’s RPF. What is not disputed is that it was the spark that set off the genocide.

It’s estimated that c. 1 million were killed in the genocide – the vast majority of them Tutsi. The scale and cruelty of the killing was incomprehensibly awful.

To put that in some sort of context, there were approximately 7 million people in Rwanda at the time with about a million of them (14%) being Tutsi. If the estimate of the numbers killed is correct then almost every Tutsi living in Rwanda was slaughtered.

The killing triggered an invasion by the RPF and, a mere three months later, they’d taken the whole country and Paul Kagame was in charge. Given that that the Hutus were in complete control of Rwanda at the time (with almost all the Tutsis dead) this was an extraordinary achievement. Perhaps even more extraordinarily, Kagame has stayed in power ever since.  (In the interest of balance, I should note that the BBC recently aired a documentary that focussed on Kagame with a number of people implicating him in Habyarimana’s assassination and stating that the PDF massacred huge numbers of Hutus.)

Whatever the rights or wrongs of it all there is no doubt that wide scale genocide took place in Rwanda and that the Genocide Memorial does an excellent job of documenting it. Displays, video testimony and a chilling collection of skulls and bones – picture below – leave you reeling. As is right and proper, the horror of it all will remain with you.

Back to the mundane. Eagle eyed readers will have spotted that there are two run maps above and that I’d only run 5k when I got to the Memorial. I wouldn’t normally take a break in the middle of a run. However, while it felt a little like I was breaking the ‘rules’, I didn’t feel the Memorial could be missed.

The run back from the Memorial was inevitably sober and fairly exhausting as it involved a 4k climb up one of Kigali”s many hills. While running, I decided to further research the genocide and try to produce a digestible summary for this blog. I hope I succeeded – it’s one of those passages of history that should never be forgotten.

But while the genocide was one of the most appalling examples ever of man’s inhumanity to man, it was 20 years ago and a lot has changed in that time. Rwanda is now relatively peaceful and politically stable (especially away from the border with the DRC) and tourism and the economy generally have been growing strongly. I was only there for a short time but everyone was very friendly and I’d have gladly stayed longer and seen more of the country and its famous mountain gorillas. In short, don’t let the genocide put you off going there!

RTW Rwanda 2

About Run the World

I'm running 10 km in every country in the world - a total of 205 countries - by the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. I'm doing the Run the World challenge to promote the benefits of sport and physical activity and to raise money for cancer research following the death of my mother from cancer. If you'd like to donate to Cancer Research - - then I know they'd be very grateful.
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