The Nyabihu site is located in Western Province. Click on the image for a slideshow of photographs. All photographs © 2002-2008 Jens Meierhenrich.

Driving down the two-lane highway between Ruhengeri and Gisenyi, one encounters a massive construction site by the side of the road. Perched on top of an elevated mound, the concrete and steel structure is hard to miss, especially against the backdrop of the rolling hills of the tea plantations, which are ubiquitous in this region. This is the new site for the Nyabihu district memorial commemorating the genocide of 1994.

Enclosed in sheets of corrugated iron usually used for roofing of private homes, the site is barren safe for a concrete foundation at its heart. As of August 2008, the new memorial was in its initial phase of construction; it was unclear when the memorial would be completed. Construction had commenced on January 12 of the same year, but apparently stalled. Signage indicates that the memorial was supposed to have been completed by April 2008—presumably in time for the annual three-month commemoration of the genocide that gets underway every year in April in communities across the country.

Financed by the district of Nyabihu, the memorial, once completed, is intended to subsume some of the smaller memorials and graves scattered throughout the district. This tendency to combine smaller sites into larger memorials is common, as many other districts across Rwanda have either “pooled” their memorials, or have plans to do so.

This bespeaks both the formalization and centralization of memory that has seized the countryside. Take the nearby community of Kibihakane, the birthplace of ex-President Juvénal Habyarimana (whose assassination in 1994 set in motion the genocide), where memorials of modest size abound. Soon these informal, decentralized sites will fade away, as the sizable Nyabihu district memorial is slated to dominate the commemoration of genocide in this part of northern Rwanda.

Copyright © 2010 Jens Meierhenrich. All rights reserved.