How I spent my holiday in Rwanda | Exploring Kigali
Watagwan fam?!. I have been MIA for some time but we can blame it on globe trotting. I visited the 'Remarkable Rwanda' and it was my first East Africa experience. I soaked myself in the past, present and future of the country so much that I wept for Nigeria, my beloved country.
Once a year go some place you've never been before - Dalai Lama
I actually became interested in visiting the country after reading Ene Abah, Folawaka and Mofe's experiences. For a moment, I thought what's the fuse about Rwanda especially knowing about their gory past and after watching Hotel Rwanda. They all can't be wrong about the country, on a second thought, so I decided to visit and experience the grandeur of the Remarkable Rwanda. Guess what, I was dazed!.. Take away - never judge a person's present or future just because you are privy to some information about their past.
I visited what can be called 'the perfect choice for a holiday in Africa' with an open mind and without much expectations to be honest. After five days of exploring Kigali and Gisenyi, my bittersweet experience came to an end, but, I carried a piece of the country with me which I will be sharing with you.
1. Kigali, where it all started. Hotel Rwanda
We arrived in Kigali (the capital of Rwanda) late at night, thanks to Kenya airways who delayed the connecting flight for 8 hours, making me lose a full day of activities in Kigali. Gist for another day!. Anyway, I’d seen the movie, Hotel Rwanda and was perplexed to discover it was still in existence but now called 'Hotel des milles collins'. Talk about preserving history!. Well, you guessed right....I booked for a one night stay at the hotel.
Hotel Rwanda cannot be ignored in the history of Rwanda. It was a safe house for over a thousand people during the genocide. Unfortunately, there is no art gallery or evidence of the part the hotel played during the genocide, though I understand that there was a change in ownership & management and perhaps rebranding meant disassociating from the dark moments in history. The room was tiny but the view was breathtaking and breakfast was great. Book here
2. A visit to Natural History Museum of Rwanda
The next morning we set out with one vision, to tour the whole of Kigali, because we had just one day before travelling to Gisenyi.
Natural History Museum of Rwanda was our first stop. Formerly known as Kandt House, the musuem showcases the distant past of Rwanda before, during and after colonial period. It is also reputed to be the first building in Kigali, built in 1907.
Here you learn about the country’s flora and fauna, geology and biological history. It wasn't as impressive as other natural history museums I have visited though but worth a visit. This was a quick stop but a reminder about the maintenance culture that exists outside Nigeria. Cost Rwf 6,000 per non-resident adult.
3. A tour of Nyamirambo neighborhood; Gaddafi's Mosque
We heard one of Rwanda’s most impressive mosques is the Gaddafi mosque so we decided to visit. The mosque has a school and community center. Unfortunately, we were unable to enter the main building because prayers was ongoing but we were allowed into the premises.
However, the view and landscape from the mosque was amazing; the scenery was so beautiful and the surroundings cleaner than most other countries. I will also recommend the trail up the Mt. Kigali, which is within the Nyamirambo neighborhood, though I didn't visit myself. It appears that I was too lazy to hike.
4. Paid respect to the Rwandans who lost their lives during the genocide; Kigali Memorial Centre
The centre has three exhibitions namely the documentary of the 1994 Genocide, a children’s memorial & an exhibition on the history of genocidal violence around the world.
The genocide involved the slaughter of about 1 million people, mainly of the Tutsi ethnic minority by extremists of the Hutu majority. The killings commenced from April to July 1994. lasting 100 days. So many families were torn apart.
Before the advent of colonialism, Rwandans were only differentiated by class rather than race. Then, the Tutsi minority were the elite and ruling party with the most cows. However, ethnic distinction was institutionalized and enforced in national papers during colonial rule by Belgium.
Prior to the genocide era, there had been sporadic genocidal acts directed against the Tutsis but this worsened following hate speeches. The situation escalated when the plane carrying Rwanda’s then Hutu president, Habyarimana, as well as Burundi’s President was shutdown. I visited this site which is now a museum
I read and understand that France and other international governments might have sponsored the genocide war by providing an escape for perpetrators, providing ammunitions and also military training to the Hutus. As a result, the then president's wife who was instrumental to the genocide, is resident in France and still alive.
The message was clear as I walked through the centre, the international community failed to come to the rescue of Rwandans. "The UN failed to intervene and stop the genocide despite being informed as to clear indications that a genocide was being prepared stands as one of the blackest marks in the history of the organization. The media concentrated on Bosnia where war which also included genocide was occurring but on a much smaller scale than in Rwanda, because it was closer to the West".
Nothing, I mean absolutely nothing I read or heard prepared me for the uncontrollable emotional breakdown I experienced in my visit to Kigali Memorial Centre. I couldn't bear listening to the documentary and seeing the shocking images of man's inhumanity to his fellow man. Hatred, strife and bitterness filled the hearts of the young and old.
People weren't just killed, but killed slowly and painfully starting with mutilation. I read that the country smelt of the stench of death. Today, it smells of peace, solid leadership, hope and oneness. The past is gone and Rwandans have come to terms with this ugly past. Reconciliations was done to some extent. At present, there is no more Hutus or Tutsi but Rwandans!.
Apparently, the memorial centre is not known for it's overt beauty because it is the mass grave of the Rwandans who lost their lives in the 100 days abominable genocide. Deep pain and anguish. Will the pain ever go away?! Have people really moved on?! How do you forgive someone who never came directly to you to apologise?! Pray for the countries in Africa. Only God can truly heal a land. So much sober moments
5. I saw evidence of the rapidly developing real estate market in Rwanda; Pension Estate
How else do you know a country is developing? Infrastructure development (social and economic). Pension Estate and loads of other projects in Rwanda are clear evidence of development in the country. This is the new face of Rwanda. Rebuilding, rebranded and restored. Personally, I know a number of Companies that have invested in that economy. Why?.....Stability; Political and economic stability.
6. Channeling my inner artist at Inema Art Gallery
Inema art gallery is owned by two brothers (how cool!), Innocent and Emma. We went to see the contemporary African artworks been done and sold by the art centre and boyyyy....we saw creativity oozing out of the artists. It was definitely worth a visit. I really wanted to buy a piece but 'Ko so wo' (no money). Good news for intending visitors - there's happy hour on Thursdays.
7. Java Restaurant
Okay, I'm not a fan of posting food :). But yea, I recommend Java Restaurant. The meal was amazing.
8. The headquarters of "America wonder"; Presidential Palace Museum Kigali
This was the presidential residence of the late president of Rwanda, Habyarimana, but today it's a museum. A visit to the museum was one of the best activity I included on the itinerary. By the way, this is the most relatable museum I have ever visited. The tour guide explained every single piece of work, mostly relating to nation building (post genocide era). We, myself and my travel buddy, also got a full tour of the entire building and saw how the president lived. Completely unbelievable.
As we walked up the stairs to the bedrooms, the tour guide showed us the sensors which are strategically positioned to alert the president of incoming intruder. There were hidden weapons all around the house, an escape route and a witchcraft room. I mean, he had all forms of security gadgets but yet.....the enemy (his wife and her brother) where within his household.
N.B. No photos allowed inside the museum and just a few permitted outside
Like I said, the presidential museum is "An America Wonder". There are unresolved mysteries and myths. We were told that the president's wife (who by the way is still alive) was highly instrumental to the massacre of the Tutsis (hopefully you have read up on the history of Rwanda and the genocide era). She was a Hutsi and planned must of the killings with her brother. The president was clearly not in support of their actions and rumours have it that they planned his death. The plane carrying him and the then president of Burundi was shutdown on approaching the airport in Kigali. This was the very catalyst for the mass killings in April 1994.
The plane happened to crash right in the president's residence (a stone-throw from the airport). The above picture is the debris. Hmmm....the 'assassination' ignited more tension. Also, the hugeeee 300 pound python which was said to be kept as a pet by the president disappeared. Locals believe that the president was the snake as per jazz and voodoo!.
9. Lodged at Ubumwe Grande Hotel
We spent two nights in Kigali but had one day to explore. On the second night we decided to change hotel (well, it was in the plan). Actually, we ought to stay at 2000 hotel downtown but on arriving, we discovered it was in the middle of a market (think Balogun). HAHAHAHAHA. My travel buddy was having none of it and nothing I said convinced her to just spend a night (I mean, 1 night). LMAO.
Fortunately, Ubumwe was on our radar previously but we were looking for ' cheaperu'. Anyway, we went back to our old love and had an amazing time. The rooftop restaurant gave us a view of the city, the pool view was amazing, the room view was breathtaking and the food was really good. Oh! and we took in all the breathtaking views and sunsets
10. Kigali Convention Centre and Radisson Blue Hotel
Finally, our day tour of Kigali came to an end with a visit to the famous Convention Centre. We had hoped to experience the hype of the place but that didn't happen. There was no games or salsa dancing, only fancy Italian restaurants sniffing around my wallet. I was a bit disappointed and had to find a cab back to the hotel in the cold. The architecture was gorgeous though.
Final words on touring Kigali
We want to make the kind of progress that will make Rwanda unrecognisable to those who define us by our tragic past. The future we are building is the future Rwandans deserve - President Paul Kagame
Dear Mr. President, your vision has been achieved. The world is proud of the remarkable progress the all-round gorgeous Rwanda has made. There was a lot of history, fascinating stories, lessons of nation building, therapeutic views in Kigali and a myriad of attractions.
My trip to Kigali set my mind on fire and inspired me in ways I can't explain. The green city is definitely worth a visit and hopefully this article can act as a solo traveller's guide to Rwanda.
Travel tips for a Nigeria traveling to East Africa
1. Visa: Visa is issued on arrival. Rwanda visa is US$30 and other East African countries are US$50 each. However, if you intend visiting all the East Africa countries together, then get the East African visa which is US$100 flat and gives you access to Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.
2. Flights: We combined a trip to Kenya and Rwanda, so Kenya airways came handy and we got a flight for N190,000.Yupppp!. However, if you are travelling directly to Rwanda, then please go with Rwandair.
3. Transport: I like convenient travelling :). Anyway, we hired a chauffeur for a day and it cost US$50 thereabout. He took us everywhere and we maximised the day. Generally, transport is affordable in Kigali. People tend to use the motorcycle taxis more. SafeMotors app is like Uber. You can order for motorcycles. We didn't use it though.
4. Restaurants: I have a sensitive stomach and really not a food tourist, so I kept it simple and ate at decent restaurants. I recommend Java and Cocobean
5. Accommodation: If you have been following me, then you know hotel exploration is part of travelling for me. :). So, if you are like me then I recommend Ubumwe, Radisson, the retreat or Marriott Hotel. Don't look elsewhere if you are into hotels.
6. Tourist sites: In addition to the places highlighted above, I would recommend Question coffee Rwanda and Mount Kigali
7. Language: Swahili is the official language, though English is sparely spoken
Other places in Kigali worth visiting
1. Akagera National Park
2. Nyamirambo women's centre
3. Mt. Kigali
4. Umuganda, Rwanda's community work day
Tourism lessons for Nigeria
1. Architectural vision: You see the Kigali Convention Centre I just randomly talked about? It is not only a world-class facility but also embedded within a world-class hotel, Radisson. How do you ignore such a place to host top-level summits. It hosted the 2018 Transform Africa Summit and I learnt it will be hosting FIFA Council Meeting and 2020 edition of the Commonwealth Heads of State & Government Meeting.
2. Country branding: Rwanda has successfully rebranded itself from a story of doom to the land of a thousand hills. I'm not sure of the Nigerian brand. We need to move away from being labelled a corrupt country with dubious people to something like 'hearts with unending history'. lol. Just something, anything but corrupt.
3. Security & Safety: The quote below from the CEO of Rwanda Convention Bureau says it all. I noticed policemen and streets light everywhere in Kigali. This gave me a sense of security and safety. Nigeria-------we can start with having street lights along the airport roads and everywhere else.
“With the support of the Government, as well as the private sector, Rwanda has been able to establish itself as a safe, secure MICE (Meeting, Incentive, Convention, Exhibition) destination of choice due to the presence of world-class MICE venues, accommodation facilities, connectivity options and ease of service” - Denise Omany