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The Rwandan Architect Who Works Like No Other

9 Min Read

The rebirth of Rwanda, 27 years after the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, is partly through the contribution of artistic works of architects; who conceive concepts which embellish the country’s cities, model landscapes; creative interior spaces. 

In Kigali, alike other cities of the country, glass towers of different shapes are erected on commercial and residential areas, similar arteries light up; wooded and flowery urban landscapes replace old neighborhoods; monuments take place in public spaces, in short; the city is changing and so are Rwandans. 

These works are conceived, designed, supervised by tireless architects. 

Taarifa traced one of them. A retired Lieutenant, Vedaste Ngarambe, is a solitary architect with no urban works who transforms and models landscapes and expresses himself by the absolute use of local materials that he values through the execution of his projects. 

This solitary artist is absent from the luxurious cafes and restaurants of Kigali and is also absent from the circle of his fellow architects. His extraordinary concepts speak for themselves.

It is the precursor of the ecotourism projects in Rwanda. In Kinigi, at the footsteps of the Virunga Mountain, in 2002 with the execution of Gorillas Nest hotel, and the development of the ecology and cultural park of Buhanga, the 1st residence of Gihanga, the founding king of Rwanda, 10 centuries ago.

Today, this park is one of the heritages being exploited by Rwanda Development Board (RDB). In the same region, Ngarambe developed caves of more than 3 km for an underground experience for tourists.

He also developed Mount Rubavu in the city of Gisenyi, Western Rwanda, where 2300 households were resettled from the steep slopes of this mountain on behalf of Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (REMA). 

For genocide memorials, Ngarambe has no equivalent. He has conceived and developed more than ten memorial sites beginning with the Bisesero Genocide Memorial in 1998 which he designed and executed in the first phase.

Bisesero genocide memorial

He not only designed the memorials; but also designed their interior space, for the display of the memory of the victims and the exhibition of the evidence of the Genocide against the Tutsis.

Notably, he collcted and displayed the dark memory of the perpetrators illustrating their role of the genocide. Their images hang on walls in the banker of the memorials of Ngoma, Mubuga and Gatwaro.

The memorials designed and supervised voluntarily by him have allowed the burial with honor of more than 100,000 victims in some region. 

Karongi district is Ngarambe’s home village.

He is passionate about contributing to efforts of healing the souls of the survivors and creating economic opportunities through developing ecotourism concepts.

Kivu Lodge rests on an island in the middle of the lake. It’s construction created multiple opportunities for the local community until today.

He moves the dynamics of tourism development stretching along the Kivu Belt along Lake Kivu; introducing eco-tourism in Mubuga and Gishyita along the lake with eco-hotels that he designed and supervised the construction of Kivu Ressort, Kivu Lodge, and Mpembe Safari Park.

The promotion of these touristic sites has attracted several investors in tourism with an investment cost of more than US$4 million. 

Speaking of museums, the man is an architect of these special concepts. He oversaw the study and implementation of the Campaign against Genocide museum for over eight years and participated in the training of tour guides. 

Construction of a luxurious eco-lodge along the shore of Lake Kivu has created jobs, helped conserve the environment and boosted local tourism

He designed the National Liberation Museum in Mulindi and is supervising continuous renovations. He also designed “U Rwanda rwa Gasabo Museum in Rutunga/Gasabo on behalf of Gasabo District. 

When architecture contributes to the rebirth of a region severely devastated by genocide: an almost crazy bet 

We wind our way along a dilapidated road and passed by the Mugonero hospital through the rolling hills of the Congo-Nile ridge; in search of this isolated architect. It seems that he has taken up residence in the peaks of these high hills of Bisesero. 

We meander into the rough road to reach the heights of Rulonzi; a high region at more than 1900m of altitude near Busesero. 

These hills were once home to thousands of Tutsis.

The region is almost uninhabited; only the ruins of the destroyed houses of the perished Tutsi families are still visible on the slopes of these silent, forest-covered hills. It is in this untouched, inhospitable world where the artist of the unique works resides.

Our journey is blocked by a wooden barrier; and a young man in civilian clothes. He offers us passage with all the honors of a military quarter-guard. We penetrate into his wild domicile and at the end of 200m, in an open space serving as parking lot, a man with a cane in the hand; beckons us to follow him.

We enter a building, spacious; artistically braided; reflecting the traditional decor and art; with a jungle inside. He explains to us that we are at the reception of a mountain tourist information center. 

“I am Mr. Vedaste Ngarambe, the architect you are looking for,” the tall handsome and muscular gentleman says. And he continued to explain that this space serves as a starting point for the exploration and adventure into the mountains. He showed us some diagrams of ecotourism exploitation and revealed his plans for the regeneration of a whole region bruised by the genocide: that of Bisesero and its surroundings, the domain of the Basesero resistance fighters who fiercely resisted the thousands of militias armed with machetes and guns. 

Ngarambe’s home is magical.

We continue our discovery into his home; a greenhouse-museum and inside is a lush vegetation and giant rocks on which flows a cascading stream; wild plants, ferns, banana trees in a setting of paved alleys in flat rubble and brick wall with a very modest arrangement under a woven ceiling in reeds and that is the living space of this architect, a little crazy, as often described by his friends. 

He finds no one alive

Meanwhile, Ngarambe has another mission to accomplish, but it has painful dimension. As a teenager, his father sent him to Zaire, now Dr. Congo to study. He had an assignment; to study architecture and return home to help build houses in his home village. He never made it back, instead, he joined the Rwanda Patriotic Army in 1991 to help liberate the country from the genocidal regime.

At 27, in 1994, after the genocide, a Lieutenant, he travelled back to his home village in Karongi district, then Kibuye. He had hope his family had survived. He found no one. The whole region was littered by dead bodies decomposing on the hills. His parents, relatives and friends lay in the genocide memorials he has designed and supervised their construction. For him, that is the legacy in memory of his beloved father who is no more.

He had to retired from the army, gracefully, but with unimaginable agony. His projects are a form of healing.

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