Wednesday, 20 October, 2021

Kigali – as I have seen

Mohammad Mahmudur Rahman Niaz

Kigali – as I have seen

My road journey through several hills and valleys towards Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, was an exhilarating experience. The trip was from Goma city of Democratic Republic of Congo, located westwards. The road distance between these two cities is around 156 kilometre (km). Gisenyi is the bordering city located on the northern shore of Lake Kivu. During the genocide of 1994, many scared Rwandans crossed this border to escape the horrific regime. We could see lush valley of Virunga Reserved forest from the road after crossing the border. Smoke emitting from the mouth of the active volcano Nyiragongo can be seen from a long distance. The magnetism of scenic views comprising lakes and green landscapes all along the road lures visitors.

Extending across several hills and valleys, Kigali City deserves more space in a tourist's itinerary. The earliest inhabitants in this area were the Twa, a group of aboriginal pygmy hunter who settled between 8000 and 3000 BC. Rwanda was separated from Burundi and gained independence in 1962. This city has developed into a vibrant cosmopolitan destination, teeming with art, culture, and cuisine. This burgeoning metropolis has a plethora of attractions to visit and admire. The main language is Kinyarwanda, with English and French serving as official languages. Coffee and tea are the major cash crops for export. Country’s leading foreign exchange earner is the tourism sector. Kigali possesses a tropical savanna climate with two rainy seasons— the first from February to June and the second from September to December. Ethnically here 84% are Hutu, 15% Tutsi and 1% Twa. Rwanda, located in African great lakes region is linked by road to other East African countries.

The bus dropped me at the city centre. Riding on a boda-boda, the famous motor taxi bike, I reached my hotel.  It was sunny morning of February of 2017. After refreshing, I moved out for Kigali Genocide Memorial, where over 250,000 victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide were buried in a mass grave. The Kigali Genocide Memorial sheds light on the historical events that led to the genocide and horrifying realities Rwandans faced. On April 6, 1994, an airplane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the Hutu president of Burundi, was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali. Many believe the attack and deaths of the two Hutu presidents served as the catalyst for the genocide. Overall an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed during the 100-day period from 7 April to mid-July 1994. At the ingress, a short documentary film about the Rwandan genocide is shown. The Hutus conducted mass slaughter of Tutsiwith machetes, clubs, blunt objects, and other weapons. Besides, mass rape, maim and looting were also conducted. The three main halls are filled with artifacts, historical information, and photographs. Exhibit explains how colonisation affected Rwandan society and created divisions between Hutus and Tutsis. Children's Room keeps the memory of the children alive through details about their favourite toys, sports, foods, songs, their last words and the manner in which they were killed. At upstairs genocides and massacres around the world are exhibited. For a more informative experience, an audio guide is available. Coming outside, I saw the vast concrete slabs that cover the mass graves. There's also a wall of names, a rose garden, a gift shop and a pleasant cafe serving good coffee, lunch buffets, snacks and juices. The artistic amphitheatre portrays a Rwandan traditional hut. The amphitheatre hosts memorial events, educational workshops, dramatic performances, cultural and historical events and film screenings. Comparing to my last visit to this place in 2010, I found little development in exterior look.

While returning to city centre, I passed by nicely decorated independence square. Palm trees all along the road added beauty to this city. I had my lunch in a local restaurant. I felt the menu was very cheap. Rwandan traditional dishes include bananas, plantains, pulses, sweet potatoes, beans, and cassava. Many Rwandans do not eat meat more than a few times a month. Among fishes tilapia is popular.

After lunch, I visited Kigali Convention Centre (KCC) which is located about 6 kilometres west of Kigali International Airport. Numerous embassies, government offices and some prominent businesses centres are very near to this place. It has a majestic dome. The shape was inspired by the King’s bee hive-shaped residence, with the spiral motif representing the classic Rwandan baskets. It effortlessly combines Rwandan culture and modernity and is billed to become one of the country’s major architectural landmarks. KCC offers a premium environment for regional and international conventions, exhibitions, festivals, meetings and other events. Big chandeliers added beauty to the hotel lobby. I entered the gigantic convention centre with an area of 53,000 square metres. The lighting, acoustics, cutting-edge technology, and furniture arrangements were most impressive. The venue has consolidated its place on the map of world-class conference destinations. The translucent dome’s impressive illumination at night reflects its elegance. The 5-star Radisson Blu Hotel is located at its west. Its bold multi-coloured mat-looking exterior surface resembles traditional weaved basket. The adjacent road square is embellished with several decorated shrubs.

The next destination was hotel des Mille Collines located in the central business district. The Belgian airline Sabena built this hotel in 1973 and owned it during the Genocide. This hotel sheltered thousands of people during the Rwandan genocide. The story of saving those people during genocide time by manager Paul Rusesabagina was well displayed in the famous Hotel Rwanda film. Rusesabagina bribed the Hutu Army to ensure safety and food for the refugees. This film is also known as African Schindler's List. The film was nominated for multiple Academy Awards. It is listed by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 most inspirational movies of all time. The film also explores genocide, political corruption, and the repercussions of violence. The United Nations mission, foreign governments, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front exerted pressure on the Rwandan government forces to ensure safety of those trapped in the complex. The four-star hotel has 112 rooms, a bar, a café, three conference rooms, a restaurant, a swimming pool, and tennis courts. An incredible view of the city can be enjoyed from Le Panorama Restaurant, which is on the fourth floor of this hotel. Recreational amenities like massages, Internet access, body treatments, facials, and fitness centre are of world class here. Culinary delights from casual to fine dining, international cuisine to local signature dishes are also main features. On Friday evening, locals gather here to listen to music and dine on the terrace and beside the pool. Time passed so smoothly that I did not mark when the sun has set. Coming out, I felt night beauty of Kigali is also supreme. Music and dance are an integral part of Rwandan ceremonies, festivals, and social gatherings.

Next morning, I went to the market area. I exchanged money in a nearby money changer. While strolling, I interacted with local vendors. Bargaining is must to purchase any item. Hundreds of vendors set up shops in open air, hustling everything from bed sheets and carved masks to a cornucopia of produce sourced from all over East Africa. Visitors need to walk in single file through tight pathways, and ducking beneath hanging t-shirts. Bespoke clothing is very famous here. Shopkeepers here assist to choose vibrant, patterned fabrics from thousands of options on offer. Obviously, it is one-of-a-kind souvenir to take home. Naturally many tourists want to capture this exciting slice of Kigali life in photos. I went to a big souvenir shop. Here traditional crafts like pottery, wood carving, woven baskets and bowls attracted me. A distinctively Rwandan craft is the Imigongo or cow dung paintings. Many of Rwandan traditional crafts can now be obtained online. I was astounded to know that in last Saturday of every month, Rwandans set aside their personal business for the morning and contribute their efforts to public works around the country, which can include litter cleanup, tree planting, building houses for the vulnerable and more. However, Rwanda has maintained an explicit and traditionally refined culture that has been neatly marketed across the globe.

I tasted coffee at a local café to wrap up my tour. Rwanda has a special coffee culture. Roasting and cupping are integral to transform it from bean to brew. Baristas serve a variety of speciality espresso beverages, pour-over coffee, and caffeinated drinks infused with unexpected ingredients. Coffee is a critical part of the Rwandan economy, bringing tens of millions of dollars into the country each year. But despite growing some of the finest beans in the world, Rwanda doesn't have much of a local coffee culture. It exports nearly all of its coffee.

I was on my return trip. I passed by Kigali international airport. I travelled several times from this airport. Since 2002 RwandAir is the national carrier. It is one of the safest and fastest growing airlines on the African continent. The Rwandan roads are really of good quality.

Kigali houses several memorials, museums, and centres dedicated to the Rwandan Genocide. Many of the city's churches are now memorials where thousands of people were massacred. Visit to the country's capital provides a fascinating insight into Rwanda's post-genocide recovery. There is a range of hotels of a good standard and a varied choice of restaurants and cafes for visitors. It is also one of Africa's cleanest cities, where uses of plastic bags are banned. Peaceful tree-lined residential streets, parks and gardens give visitors ample scope for strolling. Beautification of roundabouts, establishment of amusement parks, outdoor sporting places and scenic sites reflect deliberate efforts to transform Kigali into a recreational city. With so many amazing places, historic sites, fantastically diverse architecture, historic buildings, rambling gardens and modern structures, definitely Kigali is worth bumping to the top of any tourists travel bucket list.


The writer is a civil Engineer and Military Officer