Sunday, August 19, 2012

Remarkable Rwanda: Africa's cleanest capital city and visiting Rwanda's past

Back in Kigali we returned to the Step-Town Motel. Located very central and at a bargain price  of $55pn with clean rooms, a good hot shower, beautiful views from the balcony and by far, the loveliest staff we’ve come across, this place was a winner. So much in fact that we stayed in Kigali for a week; it was the perfect place for a bit of R&R.

Houses in Kigali all set on mountains
I found Kigali and Rwanda for that matter, to be quite an amazing place. It is so organised, so clean and the people don’t necessarily feel (dare I say) as African. The houses all have clean and tidy gardens, there is no rubbish on the streets and (get this) every month on the last Saturday there is a compulsory clean up in the morning for all citizens. If you can’t make the clean-up in your community without a legitimate reason you must pay a small fine. And after the clean-up everyone attends a community meeting to discuss community issues. Amazing and it works because we saw it in action. Rwanda seems to be onto something; somehow they have built up respect and pride amongst their population and it was really nice to see. As we assumed, this initiative came about after the 1994 genocide, and from what we could see and were told, it has helped to rebuild communities. The president, Paul Kagame, and the government of Rwanda have recently been criticised a fair bit for being a bit on the authoritarian side of things, but clearly they must be doing something right!

Me with a shopping bag. Notice its paper as plastic bags
are "illegal" in Rwanda. Seems to be working
Buzzing Kigali
The view of Kigali from Step-Town Motel
Kigali itself is a thriving little metropolis. Traffic was quite hectic, especially with all of the motorbikes and there is obvious ongoing development with lots of new buildings being constructed. Kigali also has a great range of restaurants, cafes and shops, and while there was the usual expat crowd hanging out at these, there was also a number of Rwandans enjoying lattes, wi-fi, electronic gadgets and upmarket clothing. What really shocked Mike and I was the presence of Apple, both by Rwandans and expats. It seems everyone now has an iPad or Macbook. Clearly we’ve been away too long and are no longer one of the cool kids.
Unfortunately not the best photo, but I was trying to show the traffic lights
in Kigali, all with timers so drivers no how long they have to wait/ go. I haven't
even seen these in Australia! 
Dinner at Republica: The yummiest fish fingers I think I've ever had
Republica: Chicken and beef brochettes
A few days into our time in Kigali our overland Swiss friends Monica and Martin turned up and also stayed at Step-Town. We hadn't seen them since we went our separate ways in Southern Tanzania and it was great to catch up and swap stories. We had a great night out, having drinks at the Hotel Des Mille Collines, a.k.a “Hotel Rwanda”, followed by dinner at one of Kigali’s buzzing restaurants. Disappointingly “Hotel Rwanda” was nothing like what we had seen in the movie, so I can only assume the movie took some “creative license”. The hotel is very much a business hotel and no mention is made of its role in the 1994 genocide. 

Beer of choice at the Hotel Des Mille Collines
Enough said
Very much a business hotel...not at all like depicted in the film

And the pool which featured in the movie; also where we had drinks
View from Heaven restaurant where we had dinner. Virtually all of the
restaurants in Kigali have awesome views being set on hill sides
Dinner with Monika and Martin at Heaven restaurant 

Apart from just relaxing in Kigali we also took some time to see some of the genocide memorials and sites and TRY and understand more about it. I’ve read many books* on the topic and had a very good understanding of the events that took place, but still have never been able to understand how so many people could be convinced to become involved in murder. It turns out that 30 years of brainwashing will get you a long way, although I still don’t fully understand it. I guess I never really will.

Anyway, we visited the Kigali Memorial Centre which was by far one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. It was really well put together and takes visitors through the entire story starting from the beginning of the nation of Rwanda. It also has a section on other genocides that have taken place in history such as the Jewish Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, the Namibian Herero’s and sadly many others.  The site is built next to mass graves with approximately 250,000 buried there and numbers growing as more and more bodies continue to be found.

Kigali Memorial Centre
One of the mass graves at the memorial centre
Another mass grave; all up around 250,000 people are buried at the centre

Also in Kigali city centre was the site where 8 Belgian soldiers were killed and dragged through the streets by the Interahamwe within the first week of the official genocide (as the killings started long before April 1994 and the president’s plane being shot down). Most of what was there was in French however there was a nice poster with a history of the different genocides; I'm ashamed to say that Australia made the list for its attempt to eliminate the Australian Aborigines.

Bullet holes and grenade damage are still very much evident at the site where the
Belgian soldiers were killed trying to protect those hiding inside
8 stones to honour the 8 soldiers who died
List of genocides, including Australia on the bottom
right hand column
Another day we headed out to Ntarama, a church site 30kms from Kigali where around 5,000 Tutsis were murdered in approximately 6 hours. The killings were completed by machete, guns, grenades, pretty much whatever method worked. Children were apparently swung head first into walls, with the blood stains still there to show it. The guide at this site was very good and honest that although Rwandans have moved on it will take another couple of generations to fully move on from the horrors of the past. In his words ”we need the old people to die off” to fully move on. He also told us that around 90% of Hutu males were involved in the killings in some way, a number that really had us thinking as we walked around the streets and saw many older men. Ntarama was a very touching site and haunting, the church still with skulls and bones that have been left on display.

Ntarama Memorial site
Inside the church
Skulls from just some of the 5,000+ people that died on that day 
Heading into the memorial site
A week in Kigali and we knew we must move on. It was a struggle as we really enjoyed our time there, everything was just so easy! Nonetheless we had the hills of Rwanda to see and now had to catch up to Monika and Martin who had left us behind!

*For anyone wishing to learn more about the Rwandan genocide I can’t highly recommend enough, the book written by Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire, the commander of the UN peacekeeping forces called “Shake hands with the devil”. A disturbing story of how the people of Rwanda turned on one another and the failure of the international community to stop it when they (we) had the power to do something.

Side note: I picture of Monika and Martin’s suspension, post Ngorongoro Crater- Serengeti road. Look how black it looks from the heat? I told you the road was bad!

Black and burnt suspension, courtesy of the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti NP road


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