Rwanda Digitizes Memories of Genocide for the World

Sep 27, 2012


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Article ImageRwanda, the tiny East African nation that is synonymous with the infamous 1994 genocide -- in which close to one million people were slaughtered in a bloody ethnic cleansing that lasted about 100 days -- has made giant strides on a path towards national reconciliation and recovery. Today, the country is on a grand march towards socio-economic growth that has been spurred by favorable government policies and investor confidence.

However, the Rwandan government has learned valuable lessons from its troubled history and has been working hard toward collating and collecting data from before, during, and after the genocide with a view to using this information to educate not only the Rwandans, but also the entire world on what political and ethnic hatred can do to a people.

Through various institutions such as the Kigali Genocide Memorial and Ibuka, the government of Rwanda has been working behind the scenes -- through partnerships with both local and international organizations and institutions -- toward harnessing the power of technology to preserve the memories of those who died and preserve eye-witness accounts of the events that happened during this dark period.

Embrace ICT

Honoré Gatera, the centre manager at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in downtown Kigali tells of the importance the center plays towards educating both local and foreign visitors of the horrors of the genocide. "Through the support of the Rwandan government and other organizations from Rwanda and abroad, we have, over the past few years, been transforming the information we have thus far managed to gather and transformed it into a digital format," explains Gatera.

Though the memorial was set up in 1999, it was not opened until 2004. But since its opening, the memorial has embraced information communications technology (ICT) to digitize video, audio, and written literature that touch on the genocide.

Says Gatera: "In a world where information is critical and is quickly relayed over multiple platforms at a touch of a button, we found it important to have this information gathered and stored in a format that could easily be accessed from any part of the world. The reason [behind] this is so as to offer important lessons to people across the world on the dangers of ethnic cleansing and animosity."

Remembering the Genocide: Lessons for the World

According to Naphtal Ahishakiye, the acting executive secretary of Ibuka, Rwanda "has learned its lesson the hard way and we want to spread a message of peace and tolerance to the outside world."

Ibuka is a national association that is representative of and supports the genocide survivors. The organization helps the survivors overcome the trauma associated with the revulsions of the genocide. Ibuka means remember in the local Kinyarwanda language.

Says Ahishakiye: "National healing and reconciliation is an undergoing process. People are still suffering from the horrors of the genocide and we need to support them through various programs...We are able to gather information from the survivors and perpetrators of the genocide and we document this information and we are in the process of digitizing it so that it can be used as a teaching platform for future generations. We now have a huge archive of information that includes audio and video tapes that we seek to continue digitizing for easier storage and access."

Ibuka gathers information in regards to the genocide by getting first-hand eye witness accounts. The organization, through the government of Rwanda has partnered with the US-based Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education to help preserve the memories of Rwanda's dark past from which future generations and the entire world can draw vital lessons.

Since 2008, the Kigali Genocide Memorial has introduced audio guide gadgets that help articulate important information in regards to the 1994 genocide in at least five different languages. The gadgets can be used within the grounds of the memorial where thousands of victims of the genocide are buried.

The memorial, according to Gatera, has since 2010 launched the genocide archive of Rwanda with a view to educating as many people as possible. The archive is available online for ease of access and is constantly being updated.  

("Rwanda flag on a butterfly" courtesy of Shutterstock.)