German architecture in Rwanda

Roland Dieterle: the architect who designed the Kigali Convention Complex

The Kigali Convention Complex is intended to attract guests from all over the world to the Rwandan capital.  After having been delayed several times, its opening is currently planned for May 2016.

The facility was designed by the German architect Professor Roland Dieterle. What brought him to Rwanda?

Johanna Wild

The dome and the five-star hotel of the Kigali Convention complex in Rwanda
The Kigali Convention Complex in Rwanda. @spacial solutions

‘After more than ten years of work, I have of course put a lot of passion into the project’, recounts Dieterle.

He is sitting in the meeting room of his architectural firm, which offers a view over the roofs of Munich.

‘Apart from our office in Munich, we also maintained an office in Kigali and managed a team in Beijing. It was a really complex project’, he notes.

Dieterle’s work on the convention centre began in 2004. Before his affiliation with the project, he would have – like many other Europeans – had difficulties locating the small East African country on a map.

A German architect, chosen by Rwanda

Dieterle did not choose Rwanda himself. The situation was quite the contrary: the country approached him.

While working as a chief architect for the Siemens firm, he attended an event in Dubai. A Rwandan participant he met there expressed interest in Dieterle’s architectural work.

Shortly thereafter, the Rwandan embassy in Germany put a flight ticket into his hands and asked him to visit the country to develop some concrete ideas for several construction projects.

During the course of his trip, he was also invited to meet with the Rwandan president.

A convention centre for up to 2600 visitors

Professor Roland, as he is called in Rwanda, suggested blueprints for several projects, including the construction of two hotels on Lake Kivu.

The Rwandan president appreciated Dieterle’s concept for the Kigali Convention Complex straightaway, and Dieterle, who was in the midst of launching his own architectural firm Spacial Solutions, was able to commence work on the project immediately.

The Kigali Convention Complex is designed to hold up to 2600 visitors and has an adjoining five-star hotel.

The event venues are situated under a transparent dome that was inspired by traditional Rwandan hut construction.

The original plans also envisaged office space and a museum.

Both a building and infrastructure project

Designing and implementing a blueprint in another country was nothing new for Dieterle; he had already worked in different regions of the world.

He cites the surrounding infrastructure as the main difference building projects abroad and in Germany:

‘When you are constructing in Germany, there is a wastewater pipe and a power supply line in each street. And if there isn’t, the next one is not far away.’

‘This is not yet the case in Rwanda. That’s why our building project turned into an infrastructure project, too.’

The objective was to construct the facility as sustainably as possible.

For example, there were plans to integrate a biological wastewater plant that would have been able to use 95 per cent of all wastewater for flushing toilets or watering plants.

An independent power supply system was also supposed to feed surplus electricity back into the power grid.

‘Out of the necessity of power cuts that sometimes occur, we made a virtue and planned this independent and therefore sustainable power supply’, recalls Dieterle.

Convention centre opening currently scheduled for May 2016

The Kigali convention centre's spiral-formed arena is designed for up to 2600 visitors.
The arena of the Kigali Convention dome @Daniel Wolf/spacial solutions

In 2009, a Chinese construction firm was entrusted to implement the German-designed blueprint.

Dieterle particularly appreciates the quality of work they achieved while constructing the dome:

‘The Kigali Convention Complex is a quite sophisticated project and many aspects of Chinese construction standards are different from German ones.’

‘But paradoxically, it was the most difficult component of the building that the Chinese did most perfectly.’

Due to construction delays, the opening – which was initially scheduled for 2011 – had to be postponed several times.

The resulting discrepancies between the Rwandan building contractor and the Chinese construction firm led to the assignment being re-allocated, with a Turkish firm winning the new contract.

The opening of the centre is currently scheduled for May 2016.

A model for sustainable urban development in Africa?

Even though Dieterle is no longer traveling to Rwanda, he is pleased to see that the convention centre will be able to start operating soon.

Critics from Germany and other European countries had accused the German architect of constructing a luxurious building for the rich in a country where some people are still starving and struggling to access good health care and higher education.

‘In practice it is not realistic for a country to develop itself from the grassroots level to the high-tech level’, Dieterle counters.

‘It needs landmark projects that demonstrate Rwanda’s success in order to reach an international level, as well as to show highly educated Rwandans that they can be optimistic about finding perspectives in their own country.’

According to Dieterle, the Kigali Convention Complex also has the potential to serve as a model for sustainable urban development in Africa.

He feels it will act as a counter-concept to all of the newly built shimmering glass buildings in the region that – in contrast to Dieterle’s own concept – fall short of demonstrating a good energy balance.

Click here to see more pictures and to read more about the centre’s architectural design.

Modern Architecture in Rwanda

The Kigali Convention Complex: As colorful as traditional Rwandan dresses

The Kigali Convention Complex stands out in the Rwandan capital’s cityscape. What did German architect Roland Dieterle want to express by using forms and colours that are so unusual for architecture in this country?        

Plan drawing picture of the Kigali Convention Complex at night.
Lit in Rwanda’s national colours: The Convention Complex at night. It is scheduled to be opened in May 2016. @spacial solutions                                                                                

Critics regard the convention centre in Kigali as a building that could be found anywhere in the world. They consider it too Western and feel it is not sufficiently adapted to the Rwandan context.

Its German architect, Roland Dieterle, counters by drawing attention to all of the glazed office buildings that have sprung up in Kigali in recent years; he asks,

‘Do these shimmering blue glass palaces have a stronger African identity?’

 

Traveling Rwanda to analyse patterns found in the country

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Dieterle, who founded the Munich architecture firm Spacial Solutions, started dealing with the Kigali Convention Complex in 2004.

He notes that he dedicated much time to traveling around the country and analysing its structures and peculiarities before elaborating his architectural concept.

‘We tried to develop a language that originates from within the country.’

‘To reach that goal, we looked at structures and patterns that occur frequently in Rwanda’, Dieterle explains.

 

Reflecting the structure of a country in the structure of an architectural building

 

 

An example of this principle in action is the congress centre’s dome, which was inspired by the royal palace in Nyanza; according to Dierterle,

‘We translated the palace’s round shapes as well as its spiral forms into modern and forward-looking symbolism.’

Depending on the type of event being hosted, the facility can be lit in different colours after dark.

 

The coourful hotel facade of the Kigali Convention Complex
The colourful hotel facade. It will be managed by the hotel chain Radisson blu. @spacial solutions

The façade of the hotel which is part of the complex features bright colours that are derived from the country’s clothing traditions.

 

 

‘We extracted the colours from dresses that are traditionally worn in Rwanda and used them to “clothe” the building’, Dieterle explains.

 

 

The façade is also decorated with stripes, which were inspired by Rwandan basket weaving techniques that involve gradually interweaving individual ‘stripes’ of material into the piece being made.

In addition to being decorative, the hotel’s stripes also help to deflect the sun from its interior.

Click here to read more about the story behind the Kigali Convention Complex.

What people in Rwanda love about their country

Listen to 5 Rwandans who will tell you why they think Rwanda is amazing

This is not to say that there are only positive aspects about living in Rwanda. But some things in this small East African country are great. 5 Rwandans explain what they like most about their home country.

View over the houses on the outskirts of Rwanda's capital Kigali. In the background are some of the many Rwandan hills.
View of Rwanda’s capital Kigali @Johanna Wild Tweet this

Gabriel Dusabe:

I can see the spirit of entrepreneurship in different spheres of society

Tweet this

A building where different small shops are located. Many people are working or walking the streets in front of the building.
Small shops in the area of Kigali’s bus station in Nyabugogo. @Johanna Wild Tweet this

Magnas Karigirwa

Rwandans are hopeful. There is hope there will be a better life tomorrow.

Tweet this

A fisherman in his boat on lake Kivu during sunset
Rwandan fisherman rowing on Lake Kivu @Johanna Wild Tweet this

Nicole Umuziranenge

I like that spirit of promoting women

Tweet this

A Rwandan girl wearing a school uniform on an unpaved road. In the background: The buildings of a Christian school
Rwandan girl in front of her school @Johanna Wild Tweet this

Maxime Rindiro

Rwanda came from genocide. Now, everything is changing

Tweet this

Cars and motorcycle taxis on a main road in Kigali
One of the main roads in Kigali @Johanna Wild Tweet this

James Akena

The sense of organisation and the control of noise level

Tweet this

Road sign indicating a zebra crossing
Road sign and street lighting in Rwanda’s capital Kigali @Johanna Wild Tweet this

 

 

 

Rwanda and Germany, 2 countries with genocide experience

Josef Pröll: The son of German genocide opponents

A genocide took place not only in Rwanda but also in Germany: The holocaust is the genocide against approximately 6 million European Jews during the Nazi regime between 1941 and 1945.

Many Germans supported the mass murder against the Jews and the national socialist regime that committed it. However, there were also opponents.

Josef Pröll’s parents offered resistance at that time and were sent to concentration camps as punishment for their commitment. In the meantime, their son is over 60 years old. The topic „genocide” has not let go of him for all his life.

 

 

„Could we talk about a different topic at lunch today for a change?“

Josef Pröll tries to ask as a teenager every now and then. But his request remains without success. The life of his family revolves around the holocaust.

Even decades after the end of the Nazi regime, his parents and their acquaintances are sitting at the kitchen table to talk about their painful experiences at the concentration camps.

„Most friends had either endured the same camp as my father or the same camp as my mother“, Josef Pröll says, who was born in 1953.

The son grews up surrounded by the terms “death camps”, “national socialism” and „right-wing extremism“.

Today, he admits:

„For me, this was really a difficult situation.“

His father is a member of the communist party, his mother prints leaflets against the war

His parents Anna and Josef Pröll and many other family members offer resistance during the time of the Third Reich.

His father is a member of the communist party that commits itself against the national socialist regime, his mother prints leaflets against the war in the 1930s.

Anna Pröll later justifies her courageous commitment against the Nazi regime with the words:

„You just had to be able to look in the mirror again every morning.“

Both are sent to concentration camps for their commitment. In contrast to other family members, they survive.

But the crimes they became victims of lie over their lives like a heavy, dark shadow.

Old Nazis in leading positions, former Nazi opponents unemployed

Also because the German post-war society holds an attitude towards the Nazi opponents that is anything but friendly.

„Now that the prisoners are let out of the camps, we need to lock our flats very carefully“,

Anna Pröll remembers their neighbours’ reaction to the family moving into their new flat.

 

The wedding picture of Anna and Josef Pröll shows the young couple in their best dresses smiling into the camera
Josef Pröll’s parents Anna and Josef Pröll on their wedding day in 1938. Both held resistance against the Nazi regime in Germany and were arrested in concentration camps. @Josef Pröll

Whereas the opponents are highly appreciated and treated as guests of honour in France, they remain stigmatised in their home country.

In contrast to many old Nazis that quickly achieve leading positions again, the Pröll family, stigmatised as former prisoners of concentration camps, is hardly finding work.

They even needed to request a moving in permit, before they are finally allowed to settle down in Augsburg, their town of birth.

Everyday life dominated by the holocaust

Considering their seemingly superhuman courage and the challenges of their everyday life, the teenager Josef Pröll is facing difficulties distancing himself from his parents and developing his own personality.

„I appreciated them so highly that I pushed myself aside all the time.“

Even when choosing his partner, his parents’ opinion is more important to him than his own. If his girlfriend doesn’t appeal to his parents, she will be ditched.

It was only at the age of around 40 when he had finally understood that letting his life be dominated by this crime even until his grave was unhealthy, he says.

Civil courage as a family legacy

He is liberating himself from the topic of the holocaust step by step and is thus finding his own way of dealing with the past of his parents.

He is now living near Augsburg, has a wife and children and also appreciates the positive features his parents taught him.

For example, he does not allow others to take him off-track, even if this has negative consequences.

Pröll remembers how, as a 19-year-old member of the army, he was grilled for half a day by the military spying agency because he had traveled to the former GDR (editor’s comment: At that time, Germany was divided into two parts: The German Democratic Republic was one of them).

„This was why I didn’t get to the so-called security level 1. That’s a level every soldier has. In this situation, my knees were trembling. But this was the first time I acted courageously and felt what one needs to muster for that“.

Remembering the history of national socialism so it was not in vain

Josef Pröll has given himself the commitment to pass the legacy of his now passed away parents on to the next generations.

He goes to the memorial place of the concentration camp Dachau approximately three times a week and explains to the visitors what atrocities the Nazi regime committed there until 1945.

 

Josef Pröll at the memorial site of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. He points at a display board which explains the different types of inmates between 1933 and 1944.
Josef Pröll works as a visitor’s guide at the Dachau concentration camp’s memorial site in Southern Germany where more than 40 000 people were killed during the German ‘Holocaust’

Most importantly, he wants to bring across in what a cruel way the prisoners were robbed of their dignity in the concentration camp within a very short period of time.

Starting at the camp’s gate with the sign „Work Brings Freedom“ as a symbol of loosing one’s own freedom to the degrading registration procedures.

„All hair of new-arriving prisoners was shoved, they were then sprayed with a pesticide and got concentration camp clothes. The injustice that took place at this very moment is indescribable“.

To make sure that injustice of this kind will not repeat itself in the future, Josef Pröll commits himself to the wish that society gets more conscious of values such as human dignity and civil courage.

„My target vision is that when I pass this history on to the next generation and encourage people to offer resistance against such crimes, people will come to the conclusion that such crimes were not in vain, that people did not die in vain“.

The quotations of Anna Pröll were taken from the German documentary film „Anna, ich hab’ Angst um dich“ (2002, in German) that Josef Pröll produced in cooperation with the historian Wolfgang Kucera about the life of his mother.

Genocide in Rwanda in 1994: the positive role of Muslims

How Muslims in Rwanda became rescuers

For a long time the Muslim minority in Rwanda was discriminated against. However, during the genocide in 1994, it was they who prevented many Tutsi and moderate Hutu from being killed.

                                                                                  Johanna Wild

 

White mosque in Kigali surrounded by a garden
The ‘centre culturel islamique’ accomodates one of the biggest mosques in Rwanda’s capital Kigali. Rwandans call it ‘Gaddafi’s mosque’ indicating that the controversial leader paid for its construction.

 

A young boy races through the narrow alleys of the Muslim quarter of the city in the Rwandan capital Kigali. There is a knife in his back.

Wide eyed, he searches desperately for somewhere to hide from his pursuers, the Hutu militia Interahamwe.

Anoura Mukamusoni’s son opens the door to their house and pulls him in. “Don’t worry, no one will find you here” whispers the mother. She pulls the knife out of his back and provisionally attends to his wound.

This is how Mukamusoni, a Muslim, remembers the day on which her son brought around twenty people into the house, who she hid throughout the genocide.

At least 800, 000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were murdered by radical Hutu militias in Rwanda between April and July 1994. Since then Rwanda has been one of the biggest genocides in human history.

However, the Tutsi who Anoura Mukamusoni hid in her house in the Muslim quarter Nyamirambo were all saved.

Muslim rescuer: “I didn’t have a weapon, but I had my mouth”

“I should write a book about it one day”, jokes the now 52 year old and her deep, hearty laughter makes her entire body shake. She stands in the same living room as she did 21 years ago.

In the time between, she has furnished it with yellow curtains and the oversized leather sofas, which are so popular amongst Rwanda‘s middle and upper classes. All along the wall there are so many seats that a single visitor almost vanishes within them.

Her house, in which she lived with her four children and her domestic workers in 1994, lies near the main road in Nyamirambo. On their flight through the Muslim quarter, many persecuted Tutsi came past her house.

There was always someone knocking on the family’s door in desperation. Anoura Mukamusoni opened it. Every time.

 

Two women with headscarves are walking through an unpaved road in the Muslim quarter Nyamirambo.
One of the wide roads in the Muslim quarter Nyamirambo. The quarter is characterised by numerous twisting, narrow alleyways, in which only those who know the place can find their way.

 

Some of the persecuted Tutsi and moderate Hutu stayed for several months, others stayed just one night and then tried to leave Kigali.

“I didn’t have a weapon to defend myself and those in my house, but I had my mouth”!

Anoura Mukamusoni taps her fingers on her lips in a lively gesture and laughs.

Genocide survivor Mukarubayiza: “In 1994 all of a sudden people changed completely”

In the small alleyway that you need to take from the main road to reach Anoura Mukamusoni, there is one more house standing behind a stone wall. This is the home of former primary school teacher Cécile Mukarubayiza.

It’s almost six o’ clock in the evening, the time at which night falls over Rwanda’s many hills. The last beams of light shine through the drawn curtains in Mukarubayiza’s small living room.

The 70 year old is sitting in an armchair holding a copy of the bible. On the table there is a vase with red flowers in it, a picture of Jesus is mounted on the wall. She is just about to set off for her nightly prayer circle.

As a member of the Tutsi minority, her life was in danger during the genocide. Together with her children, she holed herself up in her house and hoped to remain undiscovered.

“During the genocide, all of a sudden people changed completely”, remembers Mukarubayiza. “Really completely… all of sudden they all went crazy”.

The faithful Christian shakes her head thoughtfully. A gentle smile lies on her face.

“Here in our quarter, most people stayed as they had been. That was really very lucky.”

 

A man wearing a white Muslim dress enters a mosque's yard. The background of the picture shows the hilly Rwandan landscape.
Muslim believer on his way to the mosque

 

At that time, death squads roamed through the quarter, looking for houses with Tutsi occupants. One day they also came to Mukarubayiza’s front door.

“We only survived”, stresses the 70 year old, “because my neighbour rigorously chased them away.”

In fact, Anoura Mukamusoni also cared for Mukarubayiza in 1994. She passed her four children off as her own, so that they could play outside without being in danger.

As the Hutu militia came to murder her neighbour, Mukamusoni stood in their way: “No one lives here anymore”, she lied, straight to the faces of the young men. “I have already taken over this house.”

During the genocide, it was common for the neighbours of Tutsi to first kill them and then take their belongings for themselves. Convinced by the words of the woman in a headscarf and the many little children, the murderers moved on.

“Islam teaches me that your neighbours are your family”

Obviously, I was afraid, the now 52 year old admitted. If it were found out that she had helped Tutsi, she would have been lynched on the spot. Hutu who did this were seen as traitors to the country.

As a wealthy Muslim woman, belonging to the majority group, without her actions she would have had nothing to fear.

“I had sometimes thought about whether I might simply leave. I could travel without any problems and I had money then too”, said Anoura Mukamusoni.

“But Islam taught me that your friends are also your family and I knew that these people would die if I left”.

Mukamusoni stayed and fed the people in her house with food from her household.

She went shopping in a remote part of the city. Only there could she be sure that she would not arouse suspicion if she bought unusually large amounts of food.

“In the Koran it states that true believers love their neighbours as they love themselves”

Portrait image of Yahaya Nesengiyumwa in front of his house. He is wearing glasses and a light sweater.
Yahaya Nesengiyumva. His story is shown in the permanent exhibition of the Kigali Genocide Memorial as a positive example.

 

Owing to his Muslim convictions, the 67 year old Yahaya Nesengiyumva felt compelled to hide persecuted people inside his house.

“I am positive I did the right thing. In the Koran it states that true believers love their neighbours as they love themselves. Indeed, regardless of their religion”.

Between 30 and 40 people turned to the head of the street for help. Nesengiyumva, then married to a Tutsi himself, found place around his house for everyone.

Rifles, to keep the Hutu militia away

The man facing old age, whose eyes always appear to be smiling, points to the small terrace in front of his house: “This is where I used to sleep, together with the other men. Only the women and children were inside”.

He sometimes gave rifles to his son and the other young men so they could fire warning shots from the house to keep the Hutu militias away.

However, one day a few people found out that he was hiding Tutsi. They sent the Hutu militia, who threw explosives into his courtyard. By some miracle, they failed to go off.

Those in hiding sought refuge in other places for a few days. Then they came back to Nesengiyumva.

5th July was planned to be a day of death

The car mechanic repairs busses that were affected by the carnage of the genocide. In exchange, he receives food staples, with which he can feed his household. Sometimes his daughter is even able to get a bit of sugar in return for these.

 

Yahaya Nesengiyumva is standing in front of the door of his house. Next to him one of his daughters.
Yahaya Nesengiyumva with one of his daughters.

 

The people he protected live on. Only after the genocide did Yahaya Nesengiyumva discover how narrowly he and his guests avoided death a second time.

“We received a list of names to see all of those who should have been killed on 5th July. My name was on the list”.

However, shortly before this date the murders came to an end.

“‘My god! ’That was the first thing I said when I found out”, Nesengiyumva laughs and makes himself comfortable in his living room.

On the wall, many things are chaotically arranged together. Lots of different objects such as a colourful map of Africa with recognisable borders and a gourd, out of which traditional banana beer is drunk in Rwanda.

A thick wooden wall cabinet fills out the part of the room, underneath which masses of glasses, cups and plates can be seen. It is as if he were prepared at any time to take in anyone seeking help.

Murder under the influence of alcohol

Yahaya Nesengiyumva cannot explain why in 1994 many Muslims didn’t get involved in the killing, whilst the adherents of other religions became murderers.

“I am aware that around the world there is no religion that calls for the killing of others. The Muslims who commit terrible acts around the world have misunderstood the Koran”.

However, he also adds: “During the genocide, many men committed murder under the influence of alcohol. Perhaps abstinence from alcohol helped Muslims to not get involved with the killing”.

Yahaya Nesengiyumva leisurely takes off his slippers and walks outside in the last bit of sunshine in front of his house.

Precisely where more than 20 years ago the young men were lying awake with their rifles. He blinks happily in the light through his reflective sunglasses.

Also worth reading: Interview with Sheikh Musa Sindayigaya, representative of the Muslim community in Kigali.

Expats in Rwanda: What locals think about them

5 things Rwandans find strange about Westerners in Rwanda

Journalist Chrispin Mizero shares what Rwandans think about the behaviour of Western foreigners in their country:

1. Asking so many questions!

They want you to answer all kinds of questions: on politics, history, touristic sites, culture and so on. That’s something Rwandans would never do.

2. Dressing carelessly

They are known as people who are rich however the majority of them don’t often change their clothes and shoes. And they even seem to wear rather cheap clothes.

3. Eating in the street

All they seem to need is take-away food or coffee to go. Rwandans don’t eat in public and it matters a lot to us to eat in the right place and to have enough time to enjoy our meals.

4. Showing their feelings and affection in public

When they are in love with somebody they exchange deep kisses no matter where they are (bar, stadium, market…) whereas Rwandans are doing it in hidden places.

5. Claiming the right to homosexuality

When they are in Rwanda, they always emphasize that homosexuality has to be seen as a normal thing whereas many Rwandans consider it as an abuse of their culture.

What else?

Muslims are terrorists? The Muslim community in Rwanda proves the opposite.

While Christians were killing, Muslims saved their neighbours from genocide.

 

 

A room in the Muslim health centre in Kigali serves as Sheikh Musa Sindayigaya’s office. On the ground floor, patients waiting for their doctor appointments sit on simple wooden benches. Between 3 and 6 per cent of the population in the Christian-dominated country of Rwanda are Muslims. Sheikh Sindayigaya is their representative in Kigali City.

Sheikh Musa Sindayigaya represents the Muslim community in Rwanda's capital Kigali. He is standing in front of the wall of the Muslim health centre in Kigali.
Sheikh Musa Sindayigaya in front of the Muslim health centre in Kigali.

How did Islam come to Rwanda?

It was in the late 19th century, when Arab and Indian traders came to our country. And then there were also local staff members of colonizers traveling from Tanzania, a country that had a large Muslim community.

The Arab traders were known for treating the local population with respect. Many people were impressed by their behaviour, and so they decided to convert to Islam.

Over the years, the number of Muslims in Rwanda continued to rise.

What does the Muslim identity mean for Muslims in Rwanda?

The Muslim identity was characterized by the discrimination that the Muslim community had to endure over a long period of time.

Before the current government under the Rwandan Patriotic Front – which took power in 1994 and stopped the genocide – Muslims were discriminated against.

They were considered foreigners in this country because they came with new ideas and a new culture that was unfamiliar to the local people here.

The government at this time was dominated by church people, and they used these differences to discriminate against the Muslim community.

Muslims were discriminated against in terms of access to education, in terms of employment and even in terms of citizenship. Some Muslim personalities supposedly changed their Muslim names to get access to education.

And if you looked at the Rwandan army, you could only find very few Muslims, especially in senior officer positions.

I can also give the example of a primary school that was built by the Muslim community in the 1950s.

It was constructed to provide Muslim children access to education because they were being discriminated against by the other schools.

But as soon as the building was complete, the school was forcibly taken over by the church – which maintained control over the school until 1994.

Since then, we have been running the school again.

A boy is heading for the entrance of a mosque with adjoining school in Kigali.
Mosque with an adjoining school in Kigali.

 

What role did the Muslim identity play during the genocide in 1994?

It is widely recognized that the vast majority of the Muslim community did not participate in the genocide.

There is much proof of the positive actions of Muslims all over the country.

First of all, no Muslim religious leaders have been sentenced for participating in the killings, whereas many leaders from other confessions have been jailed.

And amongst the people who sought shelter in mosques, nobody was killed. If you look at the churches, you find many people were killed inside. Many churches were even destroyed at that time.

What did the imams do differently compared to other religious leaders?

Every day in the congregational prayers, the imams addressed the people and said: “Let’s help the persecuted people. Let’s save them.”

We also have a letter from the time before the genocide that was addressed to the Muslim community here in Rwanda.

It was the time that political parties that were directly linked to the genocide ideology were being established.

And in this letter, the Muslim leadership asked all Muslims not to participate in what was going on in the country.

It told all Muslim leaders that they were not allowed to join political parties.

Did they not put themselves in danger?

Yes, of course. But according to our faith, if you have to put yourself in danger to save many people, it’s still your obligation.

And we compare: If you are killed while protecting 1000 people, then it could be better to sacrifice your life. That’s the philosophy that we have in our religion.

How did the Muslim community develop after the genocide?

After the genocide it became clear that a large number of both Muslim and non-Muslim survivors had been protected by Muslims.

Many people had sought refuge in Muslim houses, and many who had been hunted during the genocide had told themselves: “If only I can reach the Muslim area, I will survive.”

Afterwards, many Rwandans were convinced of the positive actions of Muslims during the genocide, and many even decided to convert to Islam.

Since then, the number of Muslims in Rwanda has been increasing.

 

Sheikh Musa Sindayigaya is sitting behing his laptop in an office of the Muslim health centre in Kigali. On the wall is a picture of the Rwandan president Paul Kagame. Many different documents are lying on the desk. a docotr's white coat is slung over the chair.
Sheikh Musa Sindayigaya in front of a picture of the Rwandan president Paul Kagame. The sheikh is responsible for the Muslim health centre in Kigali that is financed by the government.

 

Do you think that the Muslim community is nowadays better integrated into the Rwandan society than in the past?

Today we feel happy and proud, like all of the other citizens here in Rwanda. The current government treats all citizens equally, including members of the Muslim community.

Before 1994, access to education was denied to Muslims. Now it is different. If you pass your exams, you have access to the universities. The government does not look at your religious affiliation.

We have many young Muslim girls and boys who have already graduated. They can now do their Master’s degrees or even their PhDs.

Our students are also allowed to have their own Muslim student union and the university organises special Iftar meals for them during Ramadan.

Nowadays you can also find many Muslims in senior positions. They are becoming ministers.

And Eid [the end of the Ramadan] is an official public holiday in Rwanda.

What role do you think the Muslim community should play in the reconciliation process twenty-one years after the Rwandan genocide?

We play many different roles within the reconciliation process.

We are collaborating with the religious leaders of non-Muslim communities and we are trying to reconcile the families of genocide survivors and the genocide perpetrators who have now been released from jail.

As religious leaders, we collaborate and cooperate with our government for the sake of Rwanda’s reconciliation.

To reconcile people and bring them together to seek forgiveness, that is actually the role of religious leaders.

Would you say that the role of Muslim leaders within the reconciliation process is different from that of other religious leaders, due to the Muslim leaders’ mainly positive role during the genocide?

I think we have a specific role because our word can reach further than the word of others.

But the Muslim community is small and we cannot play that role all alone; we need to cooperate with others.

If the Muslim community acted all alone, it would once again create something negative. That is why we prefer collaborating with other religious leaders.

There is not only one religion in Rwanda! Just because some religious leaders have participated in the genocide does not mean that all leaders of these religions are bad.

Those who are responsible are now being judged. We collaborate with those who are good – and there are so many.

We should never generalize. I can say that there is not one religion that incites people to kill. If people use their religion to justify killing others, they are either misusing or misunderstanding it.