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Rwanda Now: Gorillas in our midst

VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK — Rwanda has a thriving mountain gorilla population, as well as a booming gorilla tourism, thanks to cooperation with the local community.

Rwanda Now: Country's bright future tainted by tragic past

KIGALI — Rwanda today is marked by bustling progress, yet the country is haunted by the country’s 1994 genocide in which some 800,000 Tutsis were butchered. 

Rwanda journalists under threat

KIGALI — Journalist Fred Mwasa is enthusiastic about the future for Rwanda’s media. But surveys rank the country as one of the most repressive for the press.

Rwanda Now

KIGALI β€” Emerging from its genocide, Rwanda has great promise, as well as significant challenges.

On the road: Glimpses of Rwandan life

A drive through the densely population country shows Rwanda full of activity.
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View of Lake Burera in northern Rwanda. (Andrew Meldrum/Getty Images)

KIGALI, Rwanda — We’ve been on the road, driving up to the north, east and south of the country, a trip that has taken several days.

First stop was Butaro, where we visited a new hospital established by the Rwanda government with Partners in Health, the international organization started by Harvard’s Paul Farmer.

Next we went to Kinigi and Ruhengeri, where we went into Volcanoes National Park for close encounters with the endangered Mountain Gorillas.

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Rwanda: Genocide's youngest victims

The self-help group Sevota helps genocide rape survivors and their children recover from trauma.
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The two Rwandan boys shown here are coping with being children born from the mass rapes of the genocide. (Andrew Meldrum/GlobalPost)

KIGALI, Rwanda — The teenage boys, awkward and nervous, looked down and mumbled when we introduced ourselves and asked them their names.

They spoke quietly when we asked them about the schools that they go to.

But after a while, they perked up when we asked them about Sevota, a self-help group for genocide rape survivors and their children.

One boy was particularly downcast and quiet and I could barely hear him when he got up to tell his story. Desire Hatungimana told us he is 16.

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Rwanda: Genocide memorial a pathway to healing

The Kigali Genocide Memorial features, among other things, education programs and counseling for genocide survivors.
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UN Sec. Gen. Ban Ki Moon walks through the Genocide Memorial on Jan. 29, 2008, in Kigali. (Lionel Healing/AFP/Getty Images)

KIGALI, Rwanda — The lush tropical gardens, include palms, mango and banana trees. Delicate sunbirds hover to sip the nectar of tropical lilies and orchids. It appears to be a pleasant place to relax and enjoy the views of the hills of Kigali.

But this is no ordinary park. The ground beneath our feet is a gravesite for 250,000 people killed in Rwanda’s ghastly 1994 genocide.

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Rwanda's unspoken history

Some of the sites in Rwanda are still haunted by the country's brutal past.

KIGALI, Rwanda — Built on a series of high hills, neat and tidy, lush with tropical vegetation, Kigali has a reputation as one of Africa’s prettiest capital cities.

Seeing Kigali for the first time by daylight, I can attest to all that. There is lots of large scale construction going on — a few hotel complexes, including a large Marriott, a huge conference center and new office buildings. Kigali is a city that is transforming before your eyes.

Kigali’s population has boomed in the past 10 years from an estimated 400,000 to 1 million today. And the growth is expected to continue to surge to 3 million in the next 20 years.

“When I first came here in 1996, it was just a little town. You had to take a dirt road from the airport into the city,” said a Zimbabwean friend who is in Kigali on business. “Now look at all the roads. No potholes!”

Kigali’s new, wide divided thoroughfares are, indeed, impressive, especially with the landscaped median strips boasting palm trees, grass and flowering plants, all well manicured and cared for.

More: In Rwanda, a disconnect in picking GHI focus

The morning started with an early morning downpour and then the clouds gave way to sunny weather and then another thunderstorm. The rains here are plentiful. Exploring the city is a breeze thanks to the excellent roads.

First stop was the new State House Museum, the official residence of President Juvenal Habyarimana, whose death when his plane was shot down in 1994 set off the genocide of the Tutsis. The sprawling residence is fairly rundown and sparsely furnished and gives off an impressively eerie vibe. Habyarimana’s presidential jet was shot down right over the grounds of his garden. The wreckage of the plane is still there and the tour guide pointed to where Habyarimana’s body landed. The genocide against the Tutsis started immediately.

Adding to the creepy feeling of the place was the security, which forbids anyone from taking pictures of the remnants of the plane or the interior of the house. Plus, in the house are secret panels. One opens to a gun storage closet and another hidden door opens to a hidden staircase leading to large attic rooms where clandestine meetings were held.

More: Investigating GHI in Rwanda

And then there is the snake pool where the superstitious Habyarimana kept a huge python with distinctive white markings around its head. The president believed the snake gave him protection and, according to the tour guide, the snake disappeared after the plane crash.

It really did feel like a haunted house, especially as it was ground zero for the genocide. People say that the killing of Tutsis began on the orders of Mrs. Habyarimana.

It felt good to open the windows for a fresh breeze on the drive back into Kigali’s downtown where we went to the Mille Collines Hotel, popularly known as “Hotel Rwanda.”

This is the international hotel where more than 1,000 Tutsis hid during the genocide, sheltered by the hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina. The story was made into the film “Hotel Rwanda” and it’s wonderful to come into the lobby of that haven. French businessmen and tourists enjoyed lunch in the garden overlooking kids splashing in the pool.

The hotel is immaculate and pleasant and well run. It has a compelling sense of history. Yet when we members of the International Reporting Project’s current tour of Rwanda requested to speak to a hotel manager about the story, we were told there was no one who could speak about it.

In his book “Ordinary Man,” Rusesagagina describes how the hotel filled up with Tutsis trying to escape from the massacres. Several times he felt the situation was hopeless and all in the hotel would be slaughtered, and he wrote that when he went up to the hotel’s roof terrace to look at the view of the surrounding hills to say goodbye to his country.

The view from that top floor is gorgeous. We journalists went up there to take in the inspiring vista.

“See over there, all those red roofs? Just a few years ago that was all bush. And over there was undeveloped, and over there, too,” said Rwandan journalist Fred Mwasa. “So much has been built, so much has changed. Even if you go away for a few weeks, when you come back to Kigali, you see new things. Good things. Progress. But even under good things, there are some who suffer from the changes.”

Mwasa said many Rwandans are proud of the Mille Collines Hotel.

“It is one of our best hotels and it has a distinguished history. Secretly, quietly, many people are proud of Milles Collines. They know that at least somebody did something against the genocide,” said Mwasa. “People don’t talk about their pride in the Milles Collines, though, because they don’t want to be associated with Paul Rusesabagina. He is now declared as an enemy of Kagame and of Rwanda.”

I had hoped a visit to “Hotel Rwanda” would be infused with a sense of hope and would clear out the lingering menace of Habyarimana’s house. But with Paul Rusesabagina in exile because of his opposition to President Paul Kagame, the Milles Collines Hotel has an unspoken history, like so much else in Rwanda.

Andrew Meldrum's trip to Rwanda has been made possible by the International Reporting Project.

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Rwanda: Introduction to a complex nation

From politics to economics, Rwanda is a country full of dramatic contrasts.
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A group of people watch as a plane makes it's final approach to the International airport in Kigali, Rwanda, on Sept. 16, 2010. (Steve Terrill/AFP/Getty Images)

KIGALI, Rwanda — Muraho from Rwanda!

That’s Kinyarwandese for “Hello!”

I’m in Rwanda, on a trip sponsored by the International Reporting Project, to look at how this key African country is remaking itself 17 years after the horrific genocide.

Rwanda is one of Africa’s most inspiring success stories. Or it is one of the continent’s most worrying countries.

President Paul Kagame is a dedicated leader determined to transform Rwanda into a modern nation with a prosperous economy, good health care, education and job opportunities for all. Or Kagame is an iron-willed leader who is maintaining a steely grip on the country and who does not respect human rights.

More: Rwanda returns conflict minerals back to DRC

These are the dramatic contrasts of the beautifully hilly little country wedged between Eastern and Central Africa.

“Rwanda inspires people,” said Timothy Longman, director of Boston University’s Africa Studies Project.

“Many believe passionately that the country is doing incredibly well and that Kagame is a progressive and visionary leader. Others see the dark side — the repression, the intolerance of dissent, an appalling human rights record,” said Longman. “Both sides believe passionately in their narratives of the country. And both have good reasons for their points of view.”

Longman himself has worked in Rwanda and studied the country for years.

“Rwanda is great because it is really complex. There is always another layer to understand. There is something more behind what people are saying,” said Longman.

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Rwanda returns conflict minerals to DRC

About 82 tons of smuggled minerals were handed back to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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Men work in a gold mine on Feb. 23, 2009, in Chudja, near Bunia in north eastern Congo. The conflict in Congo has often been linked to a struggle for control over its resources. (Lionel Healing/AFP/Getty Images)

Rwanda returned about 82 tons of smuggled minerals seized by Rwandan police back to the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the BBC.

The move is a sign of improved relations between the two countries.

Minerals included in the shipment Thursday included cassiterite and coltan, which are used in the production of computers and cell phones.

The dispatch comes in the wake of international regulations including the US Dodd-Frank consumer protection act that address conflict minerals in the Congo, Bloomberg reported. The minerals have long been used to fuel conflict in the region by militant groups who have seized many of the mines in the eastern Congo.

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"We have begun the process to end speculation that the Rwandan government is interested in conflict mineral business from Congo," said Michael Biryabarema, director of natural resources at Rwanda’s ministry of mines, according to Platts.

Rwanda has invaded Congo twice, with the official reason being to fight armed groups, BBC reported. But the Rwandan army has been accused of exploiting Congo’s vast wealth in minerals by looting mines.

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