PICTURESQUE: Kigali sprawls across a number of scenic ridges and valleys. Picture: Steve Lawrence
PICTURESQUE: Kigali sprawls across a number of scenic ridges and valleys. Picture: Steve Lawrence
STARK REMINDER: A man works next to a wall showing names of those buried in a mass grave at Kigali Genocide Memorial. Picture: Reuters
STARK REMINDER: A man works next to a wall showing names of those buried in a mass grave at Kigali Genocide Memorial. Picture: Reuters
LANDMARK: The tranquil Hotel des Mille Collines, which was once a refugee centre, featured in the movie Hotel Rwanda. Picture: AP
LANDMARK: The tranquil Hotel des Mille Collines, which was once a refugee centre, featured in the movie Hotel Rwanda. Picture: AP
The memorials, museums and centres strewn around the city are a stark reminder of our gory past. It is here, more than 20 years ago, that more than 1 million of the minority Tutsis were killed during a horrific 100 days that saw one of the worst atrocities known to mankind.

The transformation of this city from its brutal past to one of the most beautiful and serene cities in Africa, patronised by thousands of tourists, is one of the most captivating stories.

Among the centres that instead of whipping emotions over events of the past, strengthen our hard-won unity, are the Genocide Memorial Centre and Kandt House Museum of Natural History.

These are must-go places for any visitor to get a chronicle of how this great city rose from the ashes.

“The Rwandans are quite a courageous people. They have over the years fought to build their country,” said Tressy Mulifi, a socio-political analyst in Kigali.

“They are not ones to keep hiding their past.”

The Ugwiro, the official residence of President Paul Kagame, also highlights what we strive for, loosely translating to hospitality in the local Kinyarwanda language.

Befittingly, hospitality is among the biggest industries in this tranquil city whose hotels are not only a mark of grandeur but also bear the city’s history and the country’s overall.

The Kigali City Tower, standing at 20 floors, can be said to be another landmark, being the tallest building in the country.


STARK REMINDER: A man works next to a wall showing names of those buried in a mass grave at Kigali Genocide Memorial. Picture: Reuters

World-class hotels include the Hotel des Mille Collines, which even back during the gory genocide era was a refugee centre. It is ever a picture of tranquility.

The one other thing in common with the hotel is its depiction in the movie Hotel Rwanda.

Another source of pride for Kigalians, which also shares a history with the hotels and museums, is Kigali International Airport which stands majestically atop a hill.

It is here that the genocide began as an aircraft carrying President Cyprien Ntaryamira and Rwandan counterpart Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down.

From that incident, which locals don’t usually talk about to show they have embraced the future, it has emerged as one of the leading facilities on the continent for its capacity to respond to disaster.

There is free wi-fi – not many such facilities can boast this.

Kigali has been ranking in recent years as among the safest, most liveable cities.

This “green” city is set on scenic hills. It is built in hilly country, sprawling across about four ridges and the valleys in between.

It is located on one of these ridges, with the main government area on another.

The tops of the ridges have an average elevation of 1 600m while the valleys sit at about 1 300m.

The bigger houses and office buildings tend to be on the top of the ridges, while the poorer people live in the valleys.

The city is ringed most of the way round by higher hills, with some suburban sprawl rising up these. The highest of these is the Mt Kigali, at 1 850m above sea level.

Considered a tropical savanna climate, typically with a pronounced dry season, it is however advisable to carry a jacket, umbrella and sunglasses when leaving the house. We experience all four seasons in 24 hours.

This beautiful scenery is complemented by the well-manicured gardens and the clean streets and pavements.

Unlike some cities, there is no littering. Plastic bags are banned here and around the country.Everything is orderly and there are rarely any traffic jams. Vending on the streets is rare.

Getting around the city is easy as pie, with Kigali the hub of the Rwanda transport network.Whether you choose bus or taxi, there is no fuss. However, public transport within Kigali is exclusively by the matatu (taxi minibus).

Similar to the national taxi minibuses, these services wait to fill up before setting off from the terminus, then pick up and drop off passengers along the way.

The city also has many “special hire” cabs, distinct being white with an orange stripe down the side.


LANDMARK: The tranquil Hotel des Mille Collines, which was once a refugee centre, featured in the movie Hotel Rwanda. Picture: AP

The taxi moto (motorbike taxis) is as popular, offering fares as affordable as FRW300 ($0.4) and FRW 1 000.

The 1 million Kigalians are the most beautiful feature of Kigali.

They are friendly, charming and well-mannered free souls who don’t want to dwell on the past.

“The genocide happened more than 20 years ago. Please don’t use it as an ice breaker. It pisses us off,” said Martha Ntaganda of Gasabo district.

Some have put us on the international map, including actress Sonia Rolland and physician Richard Sezibera.

But being well-mannered doesn’t mean the locals do not enjoy a good time.

Kigali seems to do brilliantly in the nightlife department.

Parties, bars, live music, nightclubs and the dinner and drinks facilities where you can watch live English Premiership matches, all abound.

“No one leaves for the club before 1am. We do not know what ‘last call’ is,” said Eugene Seromba, a regular patron at the Black and White Club, a place to be to sample the latest RnB tunes. – CAJ News