The Heroes Memorial site is located in the Town of Kigali. Click on the image for a slideshow of photographs. All photographs © 2002-2008 Jens Meierhenrich.

Unlike most genocide memorials in Rwanda , the National Heroes Memorial in Kigali is off limits to the public. A special permission from the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture is required to gain access to this small complex of graves and tombs just adjacent to Amahoro Stadium.

Even more remarkable is the fact that this is not merely a genocide memorial. Rather, the dozen or so heroes commemorated here range from Major General Fred Rwigema, the famed military leader of the then-insurgent Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) who was killed on the second day of the RPA’s invasion of Rwanda in October 1990; to Agathe Uwiringiyimana, the former Hutu Prime Minister who was assassinated in the opening days of the genocide; to a number of unknown soldiers.

Most of their graves were fashioned in dark green marble and adorned with golden inscriptions. They are embedded in elaborate landscaping, kept up meticulously by two gardeners. To protect the graves from the elements, protective roofs cover nearly all of the sites. To protect the graves from intruders, two armed guards secure the memorial at all times. A tiny “visitors’ center” in the form of a rotunda houses a ramshackle portrait gallery stacked on the floor. In addition to images of the aforementioned and others, one finds here photographs of three students from the Nyange School near Kibuye who were massacred in 1997—three years after the genocide—by insurgents who had infiltrated the country from neighboring Zaire (today the Democratic Republic of Congo).

The National Heroes Memorial plays a prominent role each year on February 1, the “National Day of Happiness and Joy.” It is not used, however, during commemorations of the 1994 genocide in the period April-July. The annual budget for the site amounts to eight million Rwandan Francs, or US$14,000.

Copyright © 2010 Jens Meierhenrich. All rights reserved.