The Land of A Thousand Hills

If you ask me, “Which is the cleanest city in sub-Saharan Africa?,  I will answer, “Kigali.” Safety being the primary criterion involved in deciding your tourist destination, you, I am sure, will ask one more question: “Which is the safest city in sub-Saharan Africa.?  I will add Accra, the capital of Ghana, to Kigali to answer your question. My answers are based on me visiting 33 countries in Africa, spanning 15 years. Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is the safest and cleanest city I had come across in sub-Saharan Africa. I visited Kigali many a time from 2007. One can venture out in the night without the fear of unknown. I did never face safety issues in Kigali though I used to go out in the nights. Plastic bags were banned in Rwanda from 2008. It is a practice here that people come out in large numbers and clean the city once in a month on the last Saturday when the entire city shuts, with no vehicles plying and no offices opened for a few hours in the morning. Also, to reduce carbon footprint,  the city observes car-free time till noon on the first and third Sundays on every month.

Rwanda is known as “The land of a thousand hills.” It sets itself in valleys and hills, so you can go as much uphill as downhill if you wish to take a walk along the city. The country has numerous hills in the backdrop of a green topography, and that is why Rwanda got the hilly pet name. In the night, Kigali looks wonderful with the houses and commercial establishments on the hills and in the valleys well lit that reflect like waves of lights in no-motion. There are plenty of motorcycle-taxis plying around for those who want to pillion-ride. Due this unique terrain , people pillion-ride on motorbikes even for short distance. Indian motorcycle brands like Bajaj and TVS are the most popular ones.

The people are very friendly and cooperative. I found them very helpful, too. I have a long list of customers from this country. Rwanda is a land-locked country which relies on Tanzanian and Kenyan seaports for cargo movement in and out of the country. Dubai is a favorite trade destination for the Rwandans to come in, purchase a multitude of products and take them home for making a living. Almost all of my customers are women, and I had seen women running many enterprises in Rwanda, a country where women power is in full play. More than 60% of the elected representatives of the Rwandan parliament are women. Great, isn’t it? 

A few of my Rwandan customers when they visited our office:

Historically, Rwanda was a Francophone country, thanks to the colonization of the country by Belgium for 46 years. The country got independence from Belgium on July 1, 1972. Rwanda has two prominent tribes. The people of one tribe, the minority totaling around 20%, are more than 6-feet tall and have facial features closer to the Europeans. The Germans, who colonized Rwanda from 1884, considered this tribe as the forefathers of the Caucasians, hence, gave prominence to them in administration of the country. The Belgians, too, followed this tradition. The people of the other tribe, which is close to 80%, are not as tall as the minority tribe but closer to other sub-Saharan peoples, felt alienated for centuries. All these pent up feelings took a bloody turn in April 1991 when the majority tribe came to the power, leading to a genocide in 1994. More than a million people were butchered in this internecine war in 1994. The United Nations and all the world powers remained as mute spectators to the worst genocide that mankind witnessed in the recent history. 

As a realization and respect for the people who were killed, Rwanda stopped identifying and naming the people based on their tribal ethnicity. I refrained from naming the tribes in this blog as a mark of respect to this heartening new tradition. The Rwandan government also encourages inter-ethnic marriages. An aftereffect of the genocide is that the country had moved from Francophone to Anglophone. It is alleged that besides not doing anything to stop the genocide, France provided weapons to the government that orchestrated the genocide against its own people. The new government that came to power after genocide decided to move from French to English as the official language. Now, you can see as many people as you want who speak English in Rwanda.

I visited the Saint Andre Church and the accompanying complex in Kabayi. This church is more than 100 years old. This venerable monument played a monumental role in saving thousands during the genocide.

There are about 200 genocide memorials in the country, and the one I visited had 250,000 souls Resting in Peace. When I walked beside the tell-tale pictures and narrations at the museum, I went completely silent. A pall of gloom was visible on the faces of visitors around, and I saw everyone silent as he/she moved along. At the end of exhibits, there are posters/portraits and photos of peace and forgiveness by the survivors as well as perpetrators. No cameras are allowed inside the museum.

The visitors were stunned into silence at the unquenchable hatred that the human mind was capable of and the havoc it could wreck. The genocidal memorial is a must-visit, for it is a powerful reminder of the viciousness of hatred. A stark reminder that there should never be another catastrophe like this! What I saw at the genocide memorial still lingers in me.

A few pictures form the museum:

Rwanda walked past its bloody future, and the county is one of the fastest developing economies in Africa. The country is also progressing well. From 2010, when I visited Kigali for the first time, to 2019 when I last visited the city, I could see massive development in the city. Many high-rise residential and commercial buildings adorn the skyline of the city. There exists an unusual camaraderie among the people, possibly as a repentance. Forgiveness and reconciliation as the national themes after the war helped to develop such a feeling of belonging-to-each-other among the people. I love Rwanda and the Rwandans and my prayers and well wishes are always with Rwanda.

One thought on “The Land of A Thousand Hills

  1. Rwanda, the first recall of this country would be on it’s genocide history. You opened to us a beautiful untold side of this country. We wish to see more countries reform to greater good after a bloody torn legacy. Your words of forgiveness and reconciliation is the apt one that has given a brighter side. I wish you should get nominated officially as an ambassador of this wonderful country. Thank you for this good article.

    Liked by 2 people

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