The 7 Best Museums in Kigali, Rwanda

Kigali Genocide Memorial, Rwanda

Historial Photos / / CC BY-ND 2.0

Kigali is a flourishing city with a reputation as one of the cleanest and safest capitals in Africa. Nevertheless, it is also synonymous with the tragic events of its past; namely, the 1994 Rwandan Genocide that claimed the lives of roughly one million people. Many of Kigali’s museums and memorials exist to commemorate the victims of the genocide, and as such, visiting them can be highly emotional. When you have fully explored this dark period of Rwandan history, visit Kigali’s lesser-known museums to discover the country’s colonial past, rich cultural traditions, and vibrant contemporary art scene. 

Note: Most museums in Rwanda are closed on the last Saturday of every month for Umuganda—a national holiday set aside for mandatory community work—and on April 7, which is Tutsi Genocide Memorial Day. 

01 of 07

Kigali Genocide Memorial

Rwanda Prepares For 20th Commemoration Of 1994 Genocide
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
KG 14 Ave, Kigali, Rwanda
Phone +250 784 651 051

Over a period of approximately 100 days, beginning on April 7, 1994, the militias of the Hutu government slaughtered close to one million of their fellow Rwandans—most of them Tutsis. The causes and consequences of this tragedy can be explored at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which has three exhibition halls dedicated to the Rwandan Genocide and massacres in Namibia, Armenia, Cambodia, and Europe. The purpose of the museum is to honor the victims while educating visitors so that similar atrocities never happen again. It is also the final resting place of more than 250,000 genocide victims, who are buried in mass graves on the grounds. After taking a guided tour of the museum, pay your respects at the burial site and its accompanying wall of names. The memorial is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; entry is free.

02 of 07

Campaign Against Genocide Museum

RN3, Kigali, Rwanda
Phone +250 783 379 597

The Campaign Against Genocide Museum is located in Kigali’s Parliamentary building. It was here where 600 Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) soldiers were housed when they traveled to the capital in December 1993 to help implement the new transitional unity government agreed upon under the Arusha Accords. However, the genocide broke out before the government could be instated, leaving the soldiers as the Tutsis’ only defense after first-world nations largely failed to come to their aid. Its exhibitions and statues commemorate the soldiers’ bravery, and the lives they managed to save by eventually bringing the genocide to an end in July 1994. The RPA was led by Paul Kagame, now president of Rwanda, who opened the museum in his comrades’ honor in 2017. The museum is open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; entrance costs 4,500 francs (about $4.50).

03 of 07

Belgian Peacekeepers Memorial

23R7+R6J, KN 3 Ave, Kigali, Rwanda
Phone +250 788 906 151

Also known as the Camp Kigali Belgian Memorial, the Belgian Peacekeepers Memorial marks the spot where 10 Belgian peacekeepers from the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) were murdered on April 7, 1994, in one of the first atrocities of the genocide. The soldiers, who had been sent to Rwanda to help implement the Arusha Accords, were killed during an attempt to protect the Rwandan prime minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, from the militia. Ultimately, Uwilingiyimana, her husband, and all 10 soldiers were assassinated, causing Belgium to withdraw its troops from UNAMIR on April 12. Today, visitors to the former military compound can view the gunshot-riddled building where the killings took place, as well as 10 stone pillars, one for each of the murdered peacekeepers. The site is free to enter and open daily. 

04 of 07

Ntarama Genocide Memorial

Rwanda Thirteen Years Later
Yoray Liberman / Getty Images
V3P2+W2C, Kayumba, Rwanda

If you wish to experience the consequences of the genocide on a more visceral level, drive 50 minutes south of Kigali to Ntarama Church. On April 15, 1994, 5,000 Tutsi parishioners sought sanctuary from their attackers in the church, only to be slaughtered there without mercy. Today, visitors can still see the bent window frames and missing sections of brick wall where the Hutu militia forced their way into the church. Human skulls and bones line one wall, as do the victims’ blood-stained clothes. For many, the sense of horror and fear still pervades the church and visiting is a grisly experience. Nevertheless, the landscaped gardens provide a chance to reflect, while a wall of names serves as a more personal memorial for the few individuals who could be identified after the massacre. The church is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07

Kandt House Museum

KN 90 St, Kigali, Rwanda
Phone +250 738 881 825

The Kandt House Museum is named after and housed within the home of Richard Kandt, who was the first colonial governor of Rwanda. It offers an insight into Rwandan history, with three distinct exhibitions filled with old photographs and artifacts. The first illustrates the social, economic, and political aspects of life in Rwanda before the colonial period. The second is dedicated to the events of the colonial era, first under Germany and later under Belgium; this is of particular interest since the exhibit shows how racial divisions were exploited by colonial authorities to perpetuate their own power, thereby sowing the seeds for the later genocide. The third section covers the history of Kigali, including its establishment as the Rwandan capital in 1962. Kandt House Museum is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; entry costs 6,000 francs (about $6).

06 of 07

Rwanda Art Museum

KK 106 St, Kigali, Rwanda
Phone +250 730 741 108

Established in 2018 and located east of Kigali International Airport, the Rwanda Art Museum is located within the former Presidential Palace. It is primarily a contemporary art museum, with pieces ranging from paintings and sculptures to ceramics and mixed media. In addition to the permanent collection, which features artworks from both Rwandan and international artists, the museum hosts regular temporary exhibitions. It also has an Art Kids’ Studio, where children can enjoy a hands-on creative experience. In the garden of the former palace, the remains of an airplane can be seen; this is all that is left of the presidential jet that was shot down above Kigali on April 6, 1994, killing then-president Juvénal Habyarimana and triggering the Rwandan Genocide. The museum is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; it costs 6,000 francs to enter. 

07 of 07

Inema Arts Center

Rwanda - Kigali - Painter Timothy Wandulu at work
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images
KG 563 St, Kigali, Rwanda
Phone +250 783 187 646

If you don’t wish to travel to the outskirts of the capital for your contemporary art fix, make your way to central Inema Arts Center instead. Founded in 2012 by a pair of self-taught painters and brothers, this gallery is a hub for Rwandan creativity. It provides a space for 10 artists-in-residence to hone and showcase their craft in a permanent exhibition that features new paintings and sculptures every day. This means that members of the public can browse and purchase products, while also having the added privilege of speaking with their creators. The gallery nurtures the artists of the future by hosting regular workshops and training sessions. In addition, it hosts yoga classes every Wednesday, Thursday happy hours, and dance performances on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Inema Arts Center is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. 

Article Sources
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  1. University of Minnesota, Holocaust and Genocide Studies. "Rwanda." Retrieved on November 10, 2021.

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The 7 Best Museums in Kigali, Rwanda