What I would have liked to know before I travelled to… RWANDA/KIGALI
Just over 20 years ago the Rwandan genocide took place and yet the country seemed to me to be the most organized and cleanest country in Africa. The atmosphere on the sleepy streets of Kigali, which wind their way up the green hills of the city, seemed somewhat bizarre and surreal. A country with a violent history, great ambitions and concealed contradictions. What I would have liked to have known before I traveled to Kigali:
- Plastic bags are forbidden: I accidentally had one with me and nobody noticed it at the airport, but especially if you come by bus from neighboring countries, bags are sometimes searched and even at the airport there are random checks from time to time.
- There is public transport from the airport to the city: contrary to what the taxi drivers tell you in front of the airport building, it is only a short walk to the exit of the airport and there are many motorbike taxis, which are much cheaper than the official taxis in the airport area.
- About motorbike taxis: a great means of transport! In Rwanda it is especially fascinating that all people wear helmets from the same brand and you even get one of these uniform helmets as a passenger! I also noticed that the prices the motorcyclists offered were usually quite fair, but there are always exceptions and of course it never hurts to at least try to bargain a little.
- Rwanda is incredibly well organized: Attention, if you come from another African country, there is definitely cultural shock potential! Already my arrival at the airport with RwandAir was fascinating: you get a visa super uncomplicated at the entry, I hardly had to queue, there are even card readers to pay and the employees were so friendly, it all seemed like from an advertising video!
- Rwanda is incredibly clean: the streets of Kigali definitely come close to Munich in terms of cleanness. Seeing garbage is a little sensation.
- About minibuses: only as many people as there are seats may actually get on and the buses only stop at marked stops! You pay for the trips with a special chip card, but mostly as a tourist you can also give the driver some coins or a nice bus passenger pays on his card for you.
- Eating on the street is considered rude: what really stands out is that there are no food stalls on the street or people with baskets of pineapple or any other fruit on their heads. Food is only sold in supermarkets, small shops or designated market areas.
- Street life: probably due to the lack of street food, there is almost nothing going on on the streets of Kigali. Of course the normal traffic pushes itself over the asphalt, but you don’t have the feeling of any life going on on the streets: there are hardly pedestrians and the good mood music, which I know mainly from West Africa, is also missing.
- But the Nyamirambo district is more lively: this Muslim district is a little less chic, here you can still see a lot of people on the streets in the evenings and there are some cool cafés and bars.
- Communication: From World War I until independence Rwanda was a Belgian colony and therefore French-speaking, but since 2008 the school language is English and besides the national language Kinyarwanda English, French and Swahili are official languages. My experience was that English usually worked surprisingly well and, irritatingly, French never really helped.
- Kigali is super hilly: the small houses stretch up the pretty green hills and especially beautiful I found the hidden roof cafés, from which one often has wonderful views over the city, for example the Inzora Rooftop Café.
- About history: I generally think it is important to know some basics and deal with history in the country one travels to – so here is a very short summary of Rwandas latest history: in the Kingdom of Rwanda people with a common language and tradition lived together, who used different names for each other depending on their activities, so there were the Twa (hunters and gatherers), the Hutu (farmers) and the Tutsi (ranchers) – the rulers were also among the Tutsi. When the Germans colonized the country together with Tanzania and Burundi under the name “Deutsch-Ostafrika”, they defined the different social groups as different ethnic groups or “races” and ascribed them different cultures and appearances in the sense of the racial ideology prevailing at that time. They only integrated the Tutsi into the government. This separation was largely maintained by the Belgians who took over the colony during the First World War. From the end of the 1950s, there were repeated tensions between Hutu and Tutsi. There were large (violent) revolts of the Hutu population, which then, with the help of the Belgians, took over power. After a referendum, Rwanda was released into independence in 1962. The Twa were marginalized and mostly beggars. Many Tutsi fled to neighboring countries and formed resistance groups such as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Under the Hutu government, the Tutsi who remained in the country were systematically classified as inferior by propaganda. The RPF occupied the north of the country from 1990. In the ensuing civil war, neither side managed to gain the upper hand and after some time President Habyarimana decided to sign a peace agreement. But when the plane Habyarimana was on was shot down in 1994, the situation escalated. The government blamed the RPF for the attack and systematically began to kill Tutsi and critical Hutu within three months. Between 800,000 and 1,000,000 people (about 75% of the total Tutsi population) were murdered in the genocide. It is unclear who was actually behind the attack on the presidential machine, and it is often assumed that it was extremist Hutu who disagreed with Habyarimana’s supposed policy of rapprochement. In July 1994, the RPF managed to penetrate further parts of the country and end the genocide. A party of the same name was formed and has ruled the country ever since.
- About politics: Paul Kagamé has been president of the country since 2003, new elections are held every seven years, Kagamé has already changed the maximum length a president may remain in office several times (how democratic this is is left open), and he was every time re-elected by a large majority (over 90%). There is also a parliament which is there for the legislation and control of the president. It is one of the only two parliaments in the world where there are more women than men. Kagamé has big plans for the country, it should become a kind of model state of Africa: he wants Rwanda to be a middle-income country by 2020 and has great plans for the African Union as well (one trade zone, no visas). In addition, Rwanda has a very progressive policy on equality, the environment and racism. For example, it is forbidden to form parties on a religious, ethnic or other seperatist basis and great importance is attached to the goal of Rwandans identifying themselves as one people, where concepts such as Hutu and Tutsi no longer play a role.