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…

A special place of remembrance, hope and beauty

It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever worked in: a creamy-white building with balconies facing the hills of central Kigali, nestled in rose gardens and shaded by palms, in a peaceful air filled with birdsong. But more than just beauty, this quiet, modest site, the Kigali Genocide Memorial is one of the world’s truly special…

The thrill of the motorbike taxis in the hilly heart of Africa

The fastest, most exhilarating way to get round Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is on motorbike taxis, which go by the rather cute name of  ‘ipikipiki’. I like the way it sounds, like birdsong, it rolls off the tongue, is easy to spell, it’s just hard to stop spelling. If you want an adrenaline buzz,…

Getting to work, Rwanda style

Whoever first coined the term ‘the Dark Continent’ to describe Africa was either wearing very powerful sunglasses, or was nocturnal. The Rwandan sun is enthusiastic, its light is sharp and sunrise is rapid – the sun doesn’t drag itself up; it skyrockets in a steep trajectory and by the start of my commute at 7.30am…