Almost every Rwandan family was affected when genocide tore through the small African country in the spring of 1994. Within one hundred days nearly one million Tutsi and Hutu opponents perished at the hands of roving génocidaires. Sixteen years later, hundreds, perhaps thousands of memorials to victims dot the countryside—next to thriving churches, schools, and hospitals, beside busy roads, and on isolated, forgotten hilltops. These lieux de mémoire, or sites of memory, are part of the living landscape of Rwanda.

This interactive website features select data from a larger, multi-year project on the transformation of Rwanda’s lieux de mémoire that revolves around a historical and spatial analysis of the entire universe of genocide memorials, informal and otherwise, that have emerged—and some that have vanished—in the last sixteen years. The transformation of the country’s lieux de mémoire is one of the most remarkable, and insufficiently researched, developments in post-genocide Rwanda. Not only is the countryside replete with such sites of memory, but Rwanda’s lieux de mémoire have become an important subject of contention in the struggle over Rwanda’s future.

Controversy has ensued over how the divided society ought to remember its loss. Disagreement exists concerning the purpose of remembering the dead of the genocide as well as over appropriate ways of doing so. Contemporary Rwandans, for example, are not in agreement as to whether the country’s lieux de mémoire should serve private or public functions. Inasmuch as some favor memorialization as an end in itself, others, especially some Tutsi elites who returned from exile, conceive of memorialization as a means to an end, notably the marketing of genocide. Furthermore, extensive field research in the countryside has revealed that survivors and other stakeholders do not see eye to eye on the question of whether to display human remains—skulls, bones, clothing, and personal items—in the service of keeping memory alive.

The photographs, maps, and empirical vignettes assembled here offer a glimpse into the ongoing project and, as such, into contending ways of remembering—and forgetting—the events of 1994.


This project would not have been possible without the support of numerous individuals and organizations. We gratefully acknowledge the seed funding provided by Harvard University, notably its International Innovation Fund, the Center for Geographic Analysis at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science, the Department of History, Harvard Business School, the Committee on African Studies, and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. The Kigali Memorial Centre and IBUKA, Rwanda’s umbrella organization of genocide survivors, aided the administration of the project on the ground. Freddy Mutanguha, Yves Kamuronsi, and Benoît Kaboyi deserve special mention in this regard. George Shaw proved indispensable in the field. We are also grateful for the help and dedication of a number of Rwandan assistants, whose names are not included here to protect their privacy. Closer to home, our GIS Specialist, Giovanni Zambotti, carefully realized the website design, and Eunice Kim offered critical input. Finally, and most important, we extend our sincere gratitude to the hundreds of genocide survivors (as well as perpetrators) who allowed us glimpses into their depleted lives. This project is for them.

Copyright © 2010 Jens Meierhenrich. All rights reserved.