25 April 2014

Rwanda: Why Are Some Memorial Sites in Bad Shape?

Recently, while speaking to National Consultative Forum of Political Organizations, Protais Mitali, the Minister of Sports and Culture, had to explain the causes "of bad status" of some of the 1994 Genocide memorial sites across the country.

While the minister agreed some memorial sites are in a poor condition and promises a new law that is meant to reverse the case, in meantime, pleas are coming to find immediate solutions to the problem.

"Us, whose relative's remains lie in the Rukumberi memorial site, we are really sad. We would be delighted if this site was upgraded and put up to required standards," said Callixte Kabandana, the president of Rukumberi survivors' association in Ngoma, Eastern Province.

Rukumberi memorial site, where remains of at least 35,000 killed in the Genocide lie, is described by Kabandana a "historical site", considering how the Genocide perpetrators used copters to chase Tutsis who attempted to find refuge in swamps surrounding the area.

Furthermore, he tells how in 2011, the Ngoma District officials and Rukumberi survivors managed to fundraise the necessary budget to build a respectable memorial site in memory of the loss of their loved ones. But three years later, the memorial is in terrible shape.

Rukumberi is not the only memorial site in the Eastern province that needs special attention, as Samson Gihana, the Ibuka representative in Ngoma District, Eastern Province estimates.

Gihana, who is also a vice president of the East Provincial league of Ibuka at the district level, thinks the province is far behind in taking care of Genocide memorials compared to other parts of the country.

"I congratulate the Southern Province, because they have shown the courage to prioritize taking care of Genocide memorials in their province. But that can't be said of our province. We are far behind compared to South, North and Provinces and Kigali City," said Gihana.

According to him, though there are promises of changing attitudes in this regard, budget constraints, a reason forwarded by districts as a cause, is not the main issue, but rather a lack of initiative to engage in caretaking.

"I think there is a lack of will in the Eastern Province. It is clear that wherever there is a good will, there is no such problem. Let's take Southern Province case. They don't have the same problem at an extent we do. If they are better off, why not us? This is where the problem lies... the will," said Gihana.

Gihana describes various memorial sites in the Eastern Province as "not up to standards", or lacking clear maintenance plans. Some are not well cleaned, others have remains damaged or are not rehabilitated and in obvious need.

While Gatsibo memorial site is "not up to standards", in Ngoma district, construction works are yet to start at Kibungo and Rukumberi sites. At Kirehe, Nyarubuye, Rwamagana and Bugesera memorial sites, despite talks of rehabilitation, works are yet to be finished.

Special attention

The recent report of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), documented memorial sites across the country that needs special attention.

In its 2012 annual report, CNLG said at least 30 memorial sites, including Murambi and Bisesero, needed support for rehabilitation. The organization provided funds close to Rwf 1 million to maintain memorial sites.

Prof. Jean Pierre Dusingizemungu, the Ibuka president and also a CNLG commissioner, admits several memorial sites are in a really bad status, but adamant that all cannot be said to be in a deplorable situation. The CNLG commissioner says district officials are at fault.

"When District Officials are committed and understands what it takes to maintain memorial sites, there are no problems. The main problem is the officials' attitude," he explains.

The commissioner gives the Huye district memorial sites as example to stress that officials' attitude at district level is a determinant to this problem.

To support this claim, he indicates several of southern province districts that put the rehabilitation of memorial sites in their performance contracts; that resulted in the current "acceptable" status of memorial sites across the province.

Prof. Dusingizemungu urges District official to cooperate with CNLG in preserving memorial sites in their respective areas, and disagrees with talks of budget constraints at district level as the main cause of the issue.

Of budgets constraints claims from districts, CNLG says that district officials should work hand in hands with the private sector to raise necessary money to maintain memorial sites, because the government is not in a position to find budget for all the sites.

The to-be-promulgated revised law governing memorial sites and cemeteries of victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda will provide some solutions to budget constraints, according to the Ministry of sports and culture.

Because it is difficult to get budget for all the memorial sites, CNLG say they adopted a strategy of rehabilitation them in different phases, with priority given to the most damaged.

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