I was in my final year of Primary School in 1994 when we had this essay writing competition and were asked to write one of those compositions beginning a particular phrase which I can’t recall.
What I do recall is that I wrote about the events that were making headlines in my country at the time and were still fresh in my memory. A few days earlier, the airplane carrying Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira, among other passengers and crew had been shot down leading up to chaos in Rwanda and later on massacre and bloodshed leaving hundreds of thousands of people dead, others injured and displaced and the world shocked.
I came first in the competition, taking home a mathematical set, some books and pens as my prizes. To me, at that time, it was just a story. All I knew about it is what I read in the newspapers and what I saw on the news. Much much later on, I came to realize that this was much more than just a story. It was the reality which hundreds of thousands of people had to live through and continue to live with. The aftermath will continue to be felt and affect people for generations and generations.
It is impossible to speak about Rwanda without speaking about the genocide. It is part of history. But for me the most intriguing thing about Rwanda is how it has been able to rise up, against all odds, and become a force to reckon with in Africa, and in the world at large.
I made my way to Kigali, Rwanda in 2014. I travelled by bus via Kampala and it took about 18 hours to get from Nairobi to Kigali. The first thing that struck me about Kigali when I arrived is how clean and neat it was. I had heard about it and I got to see it for myself. The city was green . The streets were clean and at night they were well lit. People were walking leisurely after dark, others were jogging. Rwandese people are beautiful! Everywhere I looked I saw handsome men and beautiful women.
The next day I toured the Rwanda genocide memorial centre which left me with a lump in my throat. The centre has information on Rwanda’s history and the genocide, including events leading up to it. It is important for people to understand this so that they affirm their resolve to never allow something like this to happen again. Ever.
We then drove around Kigali city then had lunch at Carwash Grill where I also sampled some Rwandan beer. I don’t even know why I sample beer when I travel. I don’t even like beer. It’s just one of those things on my list to try in every country that I can’t even explain. lol! Goat meat skewers, referred to as brochettes served with french fries are a popular dish in Rwanda.
And of course you can’t forget to add some Rwandan chilli, akabanga, which, for anyone who is not used to spicy food, should be taken in small doses otherwise it can make you feel like your intestines are being deep fried in hot oil in Satan’s kitchen, there is an inferno in your mouth and steam is coming out of your ears. I like it a lot though. I love my food quite spicy. Later on we sampled Kigali nightlife at Papyrus Night Club and danced the night away to some good music.
I must say I hold Rwanda in alot of awe. What I gathered from the few days I spent there is that the women in Rwanda are treated with so much respect. Any violation against a woman lands the perpetrators straight in jail. The citizens won’t even wait for the police to come they will arrest the perpetrator themselves. Women have really been empowered.
At the busy bus stop the touts approach you trying to convince you to board their vehicle. but none touches you, unlike in Kenya where they pull you in different directions sometimes dragging you, your children and your luggage to three different vehicles. Bribing police officers is unheard of. Nobody can even dare approach a police officer with such intent. Rwanda is infact one of the least corrupt countries in Africa.
Rwanda is the country with the highest representation of women in parliament in the world. More than 60% of Rwanda’s members of parliament are women. Rwanda also enacted and enforced a ban on plastic bags. You cannot be allowed to enter the country with plastic bags so you best check your luggage and ensure you are not carrying any. I am happy that my country Kenya followed suit with a similar ban and I hope it will continue to be enforced stringently. We do need take active measures to reduce carbon emissions.
Rwandans also have a national community service every month where everyone participates in cleaning their cities, towns and villages. It is no wonder that Kigali is one of the cleanest cities in Africa, and I believe in the world.
I left Rwanda the next day, breaking my journey by making a stopover in Kampala to visit a friend before proceeding on to Nairobi. The trip to Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills, though short was quite an eye opener for me. I would have loved to see more of the country, except that I was constrained both budget-wise and time-wise.
I would definitely love to go back.