A Festering Malice: the Grenade Attack

What kind of person would throw a grenade at a cemetery? What must happen in a person’s mind for them to be that sick? A heady mix of festering malice, an arrogant disrespect for the sanctity of the dead, a remorseless psyche filled with hate. So many years after the event, I still found that…

The Spotless City

How could a city in a developing country be so completely litter-free? From the airport taxi, the streets of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, looked swept and spotless; not a sweet wrapper or plastic packet fluttered in the wind; there were no cigarette butts on the ground  or pockmarks of chewing gum defacing its pavements. Every street,…

Politicians and Popstars

Over the years the Kigali Genocide Memorial has been visited by countless celebrities and dignitaries; Angelina Jolie, Matt Damon, Natalie Portman, Ben Affleck, Ban Ki Moon, George Bush and Bill Clinton to name just a few. The centre’s tour guides like Honore, Henriette, Serge, Emmanuel and David would guide them completely unfazed by their stardom…

My friends, the survivors

I settled in to my role as an adviser at the Kigali Genocide Memorial – I got a desk, there was wifi and I had a workplan agreed with my boss Freddy. My colleagues made me feel at home as soon as I was introduced to them at our Monday morning meeting. What struck me at…

The Chatter of the Raindrops

Continuing the series Letters from the Heart of Africa.¬† My first few nights in Rwanda brought me shallow, dreamless sleeps; when I awoke I was unsure that I had even slept at all. My new home was so different to my home in London. The birdsong, distant voices from the street in unrecognisable tongues, the…

The Shimmering Lake in the Shadow of the Volcano

In the very heart of Africa, between Rwanda and D.R. Congo, is a silvery, majestic lake framed by breezy palms and sandy shores. Beside her sits an angry old volcano, at his top sits a lake of red hot lava. Because the volcano’s lava would now and again spew down his slopes and swallow forests,…

Stolen socks and missing underpants

One morning I phoned my friend Thierry. “Someone’s stolen my clothes.” “I can lend you clothes,” he said. Thierry was resourceful and full of solutions to problems – he could get things and repair things, and looked after the centre’s building and maintenance. “No but they’ve stolen my socks. Even Peter didn’t see anything.” He…

Banana-leaf balls, making friends and a bitter falling out

The twin pillars of passion in Rwanda are Christianity and English Premier League Football. The sides of the small buses, the mutatus, are adorned with colourful reminders of this: Wayne Rooney; a picture of Christ; Steven Gerard; sayings from the Bible; a picture of Didier Drogba; the Virgin Mary. Strangely the juxtaposition isn’t incongruous on…

We Need To Talk About Why People Kill Each Other

Continuing the series, Letters from the Heart of Africa No narrative on Rwanda can really ever avoid the genocide. Its magnitude and barbarism is unfathomable. In 1994, one million people were murdered in a hundred days; neighbours and friends turned on each other; the nature of the killing was especially cruel with the majority killed by…

The importance of memory 

Continuing the series, Letters from the Heart of Africa. We all want to go places, forwards, like a car, pressing on the gas, looking out of the windscreen; but to be really safe, we need the rear-view mirror. And so it is with memory in Rwanda, for there, memorials, like the Genocide Memorial Centre, take…

Help! I’m a businessman going to work in an NGO in Africa

One of my life goals was to volunteer in Africa but I was never quite sure if my career path could ever take me there. What use would I be in an NGO in Africa? Surely African NGOs needed doctors, nurses, teachers, humanitarian workers and engineers – not suited business people like me. How wrong…