I have enjoyed the time I have spent in Kigali. Rwanda is the land of a thousand hills, and even the capital city lives up to that name. Up and down and up and down, and roads that are not particularly conducive to walking. If you just look at the tops of the hills, you get a shining success story of a national capital. Well paved boulevards (although the road system throughout Rwanda is actually one of the best in Africa) lined by new modern buildings. But off the major streets, the roads are packed red earth, the houses are traditional, and the levels of wealth seem to follow the heights of the hill.
It is also my first trip south of the equator (although I got close in Singapore a few years ago.) And it is winter (I am actual currently wearing a fleece because of a cold breeze.) But the Rwandan country side is really lovely. Unfortunately, because of time limitations, I didn't really get to spend much time outside of Kigali, and I would love to go back to see some of the other regions of the country. I have heard that the lakes and national forests are amazing.
My hostel in Rwanda was quite different from other youth hostels I have stayed in. First it is run by the Aegis Trust ( Website ), a British NGO that works to prevent crimes against humanity. All profits of the hostel go to support Aegis work. Also the majority of people in the hostel are here as volunteers, researchers, or have jobs. I got out of bed at 8:05 this morning and was the last person in my dorm (7 other beds) to get up. Quite different from the normal youth hostel vibe of getting up at noon and partying until sunrise (although the weekend here is a bit different.) Last night I had a long conversation about health policy, education, genocide, development, and a number of other topics with a women from England who works with Aegis doing health policy work and a med student from Australia doing a 6 week rotation in Kigali. It was not a “normal” hostel conversation.
I spend part of an afternoon at the 15th Rwanda Trade Expo. It was in many ways like a county fair with a mix of products, food, a ride, and a variety of crafts from around East Africa and the Middle East. It was an interesting few hours of wandering around and seeing the various booths of crafts. There were some beautiful printed fabrics and traditional East African clothing.
I also got over my discomfort with the idea of riding a moto taxi. Motos are basically the way to get yourself around Kigali. A normal taxi will cost 3-6 times as much as a moto and generally take longer. And buses, if you don't speak Kinyarwanda, are relatively difficult to figure out unless you are going to the bus station. The squish factor and the waiting time at each stop also make them fall a bit on the more annoying then worth it side. (Although the 200 Rwandan Frank [$0.33] price tag is nice. But a short moto is usually 600 Franks so it doesn't quite break the bank.) In the end, I rather enjoyed hoping on the back of a motorbike and zipping up and down the hills and around the many round abouts in Kigali.
Talking to people who have traveled to Kigali multiple times over the last few years, they say the pace of growth is astounding. In just two years, villages are gone, replaced by roads and construction sites. Rwanda seems to have its stuff together. (Although issues in the DR Congo, Burundi, and Uganda can be directly linked to the refugee populations after the 1994 genocide, which implies that Rwanda may have just pushed its problems outside its borders. They also have one of the highest percentages of women in the legislative branch, but Paul Kigame basically runs a (relatively) benevolent dictatorship, as long as you don't disagree with him. So some aspects maybe be more superficial then they appear.) I think it would be fascinating to return to Kigali in a few years and see what changes have happened. I think that the international community will continue to support Kigame despite his suppression of meaningful democracy because of the stability and growth he has brought to the country. Just by looking at the growth in the city, it is obvious that there is a great deal of international capital flowing into Rwanda. I also wonder how much of the money and support for Kigame is based in guilt for the international communities inaction during the genocide and the years that lead up to it…
Some pictures of Rwanda: