Visiting Camp Kigali Memorial Centre in Rwanda: The Camp Kigali Memorial honours the ten Belgian soldiers who were killed on April 7, 1994, while guarding Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana at the onset of the Rwanda Genocide. Camp Kigali is located in Kigali City, 22 minutes from Kigali International Airport. Camp Kigali is also known as Kigali Conference and exhibition Village which at present is being used as a COVID-19 testing centre for visitors in Kigali.
Brief Background on Camp Kigali Memorial Centre in Rwanda.
The United Nations Mission in Rwanda was established in 1993, with Belgium serving as the sole foreign state to supply professional and highly trained soldiers as a peacekeeping force in Rwanda. Soldiers from Ghana, Tunisia, Bangladesh, and other poor nations made up the remainder of the peacekeeping operation.
Belgium’s role as a peacekeeping force in Rwanda posed a significant risk to its soldiers because there was still bad blood between Rwandans, particularly those from the Hutu tribe, and Belgian forces.
There was an informant who went by the code name ‘Jean-Pierre’ for the UN. He informed his superiors at the UN base of a plot by Hutu extremists to assassinate ten Belgian peacekeeping soldiers. This was done in an attempt to disrupt Belgium’s peacekeeping deployment and force it to withdraw from UNAMIR [United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda.
The context for this murder plot was the instance of Somalia, when American soldiers were assassinated and their remains were carried through the streets of the capital city, Mogadishu, in 1993. This was done in order to compel the US to withdraw its military from Somalia. Hutu extremists in Rwanda utilised this as a foundation, or rather inspiration, to launch a full-fledged genocide.
On April 7, 1994, 10 Belgian troops were encircled by FAR [Forces Armees Rwandese] militants while ensuring the protection of Rwandan Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana.
In return for safe transit to a UN base, the ten Belgian troops were told to surrender and disarm. However, after surrendering, they were transferred to a military camp, where they were ambushed by a hundred camp troops.
Despite the overwhelming assault, the 10 Belgian soldiers took cover in a structure at the encampment and fought for many hours. They battled till they died, expecting for relief that never came.
Before being executed, the ten Belgian soldiers were tormented, ridiculed, and terrorised to the point that their willpower was destroyed to the core by their executioner. In a nutshell, they were at the mercy of Hutu forces until they were slain.
Shortly after the death of the ten Belgian troops, the Belgian government withdrew its military from Rwanda, while other Western nations evacuated their citizens. The remains of these gallant Belgian soldiers were dissected and thrown in a mound at a local hospital mortuary.
The murder of the ten Belgian troops at Camp Kigali, as well as the genocide massacres in Rwanda in general, shocked millions of people across the world, who couldn’t help but watch as thousands of people died for an immoral cause.
What to see when visiting Camp Kigali Memorial Centre in Rwanda.
Tourists visiting Camp Kigali will observe the ten granite stone columns, each commemorating a Belgian soldier killed on that sad day. Each granite stone has the initials of each of the ten Belgian soldiers remembered.
In addition, each stone has horizontal slashes bent into it that represent the soldier’s age at the time of their death. Camp Kigali also includes the structure where ten Belgian troops sought sanctuary and fought till their deaths.
The structure is distinguished by bullet-ridden walls that identify the location where they were gunned down. There is also a memorial with the names of each soldier who was killed on the premises.
Getting to Camp Kigali Memorial Centre in Rwanda.
Camp Kigali is around 8 miles from Kigali International Airport and is located in Kigali City. The road trip from the airport to the camp location takes roughly 25- 22 minutes.