Saturday, 1st May
It is Labour Day, a public holiday. Manchester City are leading Aston Villa by two goals to one in the match being screened in the corner of the bar at La Galette, the European supermarket and bakery. The Europeans seem intent on shopping while a cluster of African men sit intently following the progress of the football. The English commentator gets excited a Manchester City score a third goal to seal their victory. When the match is over; the other scores are given. Tottenham have won their match – does that guarantee them fourth place in the Premier League and a lucrative place in next season’s Champions League?
Does it matter? Does any of it matter? Sitting watching twenty-two men kick a ball around a pitch in a faraway country seems a bizarre way to pass the time in a city where football would be far down the list of priorities. The football stadium was once a very important place, but for reasons far removed from sport. During the 1994 genocide, thousands of people found it to be place of refuge because of its close proximity to the United Nations’ offices.
The earlier part of the afternoon had been spent at the Genocide Memorial in Kigali. A place of tranquility, where a flame in the gardens burns on the hundred days of the genocide anniversary each year; the tight security surrounding it is a reminder of the continuing threat of violence.
The gardens are filled with tropical trees and flowers; the terraces they occupy might be no more than ornamental gardens, were it not for the fact that the remains of 258,000 people lay buried beneath the great slabs that cover much of the lawns.
Indoors, the story of the genocide is told through multi media means. This is not killing on an industrial scale like the Nazis, this is not impersonal murder through the gas chamber or the bullet; this is hideous hands on, personal mutilation of victims. A glass display case contains the weapons of slaughter; machetes and hoes and hammers among them. A rusty chain is a reminder of a family who had been chained together and buried alive. When their corpses were found, they were still fastened together. The militias strove to devise as hideously painful ways as possible of killing their victims; killing children in front of their parents; hacking people slowly to pieces; raping women repeatedly before dismembering them. The awful reality was overwhelming.
While the world stood by, for more than three months the killing continued. The foreign troops sent in to evacuate expatriates might have been sufficient to prevent what followed, but few seemed interested in the lives of people in a small African country. This was three years after the first Gulf War demonstrated the power of television to beam instantly around the world images from extreme situations, yet the world pretended it did not know.
Tears and silence were the only response to the memorial. Our companion lost his four brothers; he stood in quietness.
In a world where such things could happen, football seemed faintly ridiculous.