Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Habyarimana's Place

[UPDATE: Went back in August 2015. They've really cleaned the place up, the guide was much better informed, and it felt like a proper museum.]

Jo and I have been talking about visiting the President's Palace for months. It's just up the road from the airport, next to the military hospital. It's where JuvĂ©nal Habyarimana was stationed with the army, and where he later built his presidential palace. His plane was shot down, sparking the genocide of 1994, and he died alongside the president of Burundi. The plane landed about fifty yards from his house!

Barracks. Habyarimana's First Home.

Presidential Palace

An impala - one of many animal heads given as gifts. In the president's bedroom there's an elephant table. It's upholstered in the skin of an elephant and the legs are two elephant feet pointing in different directions.

As interesting as Habyarimana's house was, I was a little disappointed at the state of the place. Entry is FRW 6,000 for foreigners and 5,000 for residents, but most of it was a mess. Not the standard you'd expect of a national monument.

The barracks were flooded and most of the house is suffering water damage.

The rooms in the barracks were stuffed with junk. There was even a packet of Omo washing powder in the bathroom. Not exactly atmospheric.

This is the point where I learned that, having paid 2,000 FRW to take photographs, I wasn't actually allowed to take photographs of anything except the garden. I was pretty annoyed by this. If they'd told me at the beginning, I would have kept my money. This is quite a common issue with tourism. I think it's similar at Nyanza Mwami Palace. Don't assume that paying for photographs actually entitles you to take any. Always check exactly what is meant first.

Meanwhile, the tour guide spent half the time texting on his mobile phone. His most insightful comments were: "This was a balcony" (err... it still is a balcony) and "This was a kitchen. That's a cooker." 

Still, it was a very sunny day for it.

Tennis Court used by Kanombe Residents


Security Hut

Jo used to manage a hotel and whenever guests came back from visiting the palace she'd ask them what it was like. Invariably, they replied:

"Bathroom, bathroom, bathroom, secret gun cupboard, bathroom."

That pretty much sums it up. They were really, really into bathrooms. Every second room is a bathroom. No kidding, in the president's bedroom there is actually an en suite bathroom to an en suite bathroom!

There's also a weirdly out of place metal filing cabinet which apparently used to be stuffed with ready cash in case anyone ever broke in and the president needed to barter for his life.

Then, in the children's TV room the wooden panels push back to reveal a secret gun rack where the president kept his heavy metal. Apparently it was secured with a remote control code, so no danger the kids might accidentally re-enact The Lone Ranger.

In the garden there's what looks like another swimming pool, but this was actually a terrarium for the president's pet python, which was apparently utterly huge and stuck around of its own volition - no glass or walls or anything. Apparently it disappeared the day the plane went down.

Behind this wall at the end of the garden are the remains of the plane crash. I took a picture before being told I couldn't. Didn't delete it but won't post it. You can Google Habyarimana plane crash if you're curious. There's hardly anything left as most of it was stolen for scrap metal before the wall went up. Couple of engines, cockpit and a tail wing. Still, a heavy sense of history knowing that the moment that hit the ground all hell broke loose on 6th April 1994.

Impressive Tree

It could be a really nice exhibition, but right now it's just a run-down house. The attic is worth a look. It feels bigger than the rest of the house - like a TARDIS. There was a hair salon up there, a chapel, and even a cubby where Habyarimana met with his personal witchdoctor!

Glad we finally made it. Interesting. Just hope they renovate the place before it collapses.

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