Eyes to the Soul (c) Ilan Wittenberg (c) Ilan Wittenberg New Zealand
Faces of Rwanda
I visited Rwanda in February 2019 after being deported from South Africa. The original plan was to spend a week in Johannesburg on route to a Safari trip as the winner of the Grand Prize from the 2018 Sony Alpha Awards.
Arriving to Johannesburg, South African border control said that my passport expired and would not scan the extension. I felt extremely stressed and was lucky not to be sent directly back home as the plane to Sydney had already left the gate.
After spending a night at the airport, I bought a ticket to Rwanda and landed there at 11pm exhausted and stressed as this experience was completely outside my comfort zone after losing control over the situation. I like planning and knowing where I'm going to stay so this required improvising and trusting the people I meet along the journey.
The Berlin Conference of 1884 assigned the territory to Germany as part of German East Africa, marking the beginning of the colonial era. The explorer Gustav Adolf von Götzen was the first European to significantly explore the country in 1894; he crossed from the south-east to Lake Kivu and met the king.The Germans did not significantly alter the social structure of the country, but exerted influence by supporting the king and the existing hierarchy and delegating power to local chiefs. Belgian forces took control of Rwanda and Burundi in 1916, during World War I, beginning a period of more direct colonial rule. Belgium ruled both Rwanda and Burundi as a League of Nations mandate called Ruanda-Urundi. The Belgians also simplified and centralised the power structure, and introduced large-scale projects in education, health, public works, and agricultural supervision, including new crops and improved agricultural techniques to try to reduce the incidence of famine. Both the Germans and the Belgians promoted Tutsi supremacy, considering the Hutu and Tutsi different races.In 1935, Belgium introduced identity cards labelling each individual as either Tutsi, Hutu, Twa or Naturalised. While it had previously been possible for particularly wealthy Hutu to become honorary Tutsi, the identity cards prevented any further movement between the classes.
Belgium continued to rule Ruanda-Urundi (of which Rwanda formed the northern part) as a UN Trust Territory after the Second World War, with a mandate to oversee eventual independence. Tensions escalated between the Tutsi, who favoured early independence, and the Hutu emancipation movement, culminating in the 1959 Rwandan Revolution: Hutu activists began killing Tutsi and destroying their houses, forcing more than 100,000 people to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. In 1961, the suddenly pro-Hutu Belgians held a referendum in which the country voted to abolish the monarchy. Rwanda was separated from Burundi and gained independence on 1 July 1962, which is commemorated as Independence Day, a national holiday. Cycles of violence followed, with exiled Tutsi attacking from neighbouring countries and the Hutu retaliating with large-scale slaughter and repression of the Tutsi.In 1973, Juvénal Habyarimana took power in a military coup. Pro-Hutu discrimination continued, but there was greater economic prosperity and a reduced amount of violence against Tutsi. The Twa remained marginalised, and by 1990 were almost entirely forced out of the forests by the government; many became beggars.Rwanda's population had increased from 1.6 million people in 1934 to 7.1 million in 1989, leading to competition for land.
In 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a rebel group composed of nearly 500,000 Tutsi refugees, invaded northern Rwanda from their base in Uganda, initiating the Rwandan Civil War. The group condemned the Hutu-dominated government for failing to democratize and confront the problems facing these refugees. Neither side was able to gain a decisive advantage in the war, but by 1992 it had weakened Habyarimana's authority; mass demonstrations forced him into a coalition with the domestic opposition and eventually to sign the 1993 Arusha Accords with the RPF. The ceasefire ended on 6 April 1994 when Habyarimana's plane was shot down near Kigali Airport, killing him. The shooting down of the plane served as the catalyst for the Rwandan genocide, which began within a few hours. Over the course of approximately 100 days, around one million Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu were killed in well-planned attacks on the orders of the interim government.
The Tutsi RPF restarted their offensive, and took control of the country methodically, gaining control of the whole country. The international response to the genocide was poor, with major powers reluctant to strengthen the already overstretched UN peacekeeping force. When the RPF took over, approximately two million Hutu fled to neighbouring countries, in particular Zaïre, fearing reprisals; additionally, the RPF-led army was a key belligerent in the First and Second Congo Wars. Within Rwanda, a period of reconciliation and justice began, with the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the reintroduction of Gacaca, a traditional village court system.
Photography at Kimironko Market
Most of the photos in this album are from Kimironko Market which is the best and the biggest in Kigali. Vendors here sell produce from Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, while locals from all over the city head here to stock up on fruit, vegetables, fabric, clothing, shoes, and general household necessities. Second-hand clothing, fruit and vegetables, fish, fabric and baskets are all sold in this covered complex. One can find everything in this market from food to kitchen tools, electronics and hardware, clothings as well as car parts. The variety of food on offer is amazing. However, as you plunge into the depths of the site to the clothing and crafts area - everyone wants you to part with your cash. The brilliant seamstresses are worth a watch as their sewing machines rattle away and you must be prepared to bargain and expect an extra gift to seal the deal. The entire experience and a drama for the senses. Kimironko is a "real" market where locals buy all their stuff. You just get everything. It is so lively, crowded and colorful. The choice of different Kitenge fabrics is incredible. The people in Rwanda were very friendly and helpful. They were mostly delighted to pose for my camera!
Murakoze ("Thank You" in Rwandese)