Rwanda. State House Museum.

Rwanda State House Museum

Rwanda State House Museum

Situated about 4km from the Kigali International Airport is the whitewashed Rwanda State House Museum which was home to former President Juvenal Habyarimana until 1994, and his successor President Pasteur Bizimungu until 2000.

My guide Cretus Ruhumuriza tells me the express purpose of the museum is to educate people about Rwandan culture and more expressly the events leading up to the genocide after Habyarimana was killed in a plane crash in April 1994. Rules are specific. No photography of any sorts. The above pics I took on arrival and with special permission from Cretus after our tour.

Touring the state house, the ground floor has information boards describing various Rwandan cultural practices from jewellery to hairstyles and traditional dress from the early 1900’s. The rest of the house is left as it was in 2000, although much of the furniture and art has been removed.

My favourite item in here is the much loved threadbare sofa said to be where Agathe, wife of Habayarimana was sitting when her husband’s plane was shot down on 6 April 1994.

There are secret passages, a chapel, large bedrooms and colourful bathrooms, a gym, hairdressing salon, sauna, gun room, wrap around balcony and enormous banquet room.

It is not lavish, its African in every style and sense.

There’s a small room upstairs referred to as the place where the President ‘persuaded’ his visitors to offer up information. It has a separate outside entrance and a shower to freshen up after the ‘discussion’. The very idea made the hair on my arms stand on edge.

Outside in the expansive compound a large swimming pool, barbecue area and structure where an aquarium once stood. There is even a python pit where the President kept his pet python. I’m told that after the plane crash and the President’s death, the python was never found again.

Beyond a wall an extension where the scattered stark remains of the presidential plane lie. A powerful reminder of how Rwanda fell apart during these events of April 1994.

Cretus points out where the President’s body had landed in the garden near the house. The Burundi President Cyprien Ntayryamira’s body a little further off. Everybody onboard was killed that night. I’m intrigued that in a city this expansive, the President and his plane have come to land at home.

The museum is well worth a visit for anybody wanting a better understanding of the events leading up to the Genocide. I’d like to offer more details below:

The assassination of Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira on the evening of 6 April 1994 was the catalyst for the Rwandan Genocide. The airplane carrying them was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali. The assassination set in motion some of the bloodiest events of the late 20th century, the Rwandan Genocide and the First Congo War. Responsibility for the attack is disputed, with most theories proposing as suspects either the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front or government-aligned hutu power extremists opposed to negotiation with them. Regardless of the cause of the assassination, it unquestionably resulted in the immediate national mobilisation of anti-Tutsi militias who proceeded to set up roadblocks across Rwanda and slaughter every Tutsi or moderate Hutu they found.

Shortly before 8:20 pm local time, the presidential jet circled once around the airport before coming in for its final approach in clear skies. A weekly flight by a Belgian C-130 Hercules carrying UNAMIR troops returning from leave had been scheduled to land before the presidential jet but was waved off to give the president priority.

A surface to air missile struck one of the wings of the Dassault Falcon, before a second missile hit its tail. The plane erupted into flames in mid-air before crashing into the garden of the presidential palace, exploding on impact. The plane carried three French crew and nine passengers.

The attack was witnessed by numerous people. A Rwandan soldier in the military camp in Kanombe recalled: ’You know, its engine sound was different from other planes; that is, the president’s engine’s sound … We were looking towards where the plane was coming from, and we saw a projectile and we saw a ball of flame or flash and we saw the plane go down, and I saw it. I was the leader of the bloc so I asked the soldiers to get up and I told them “Get up because Kinani [a nickname for Habyarimana meaning “famous” or “invincible”] has been shot down.’ They told me, “You are lying.” I said, “It’s true.” So I opened my wardrobe, I put on my uniform and I heard the bugle sound.

NOTE: Above depiction of events taken from Wikipedia and Tourism Rwanda sites.

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Dawn Bradnick Jorgensen
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