The East African country of Rwanda truly lives up to its ‘Land of a thousand hills’ nickname. Enveloping Kigali, the nation’s capital, and beyond, are verdant, terraced hills standing, in juxtaposition with clear, blue skies, as proof of nature’s ethereal beauty. The general rule that nature invariably yields to human settlement and urban development doesn’t seem to hold true in Rwanda. On the hills and between them, concrete and nature co-exist like commensals with no apparent sign of a struggle.
One striking characteristic of Kigali is its spotless streets and roads. Public bins are present on street corners, and thanks to the 2008 ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags, gutters flow unobstructed. What’s more, the mandatory sanitation exercise, umuganda, on the last Saturday of every month, has no doubt helped Kigali claim its spot as Africa’s cleanest city.
Another distinguishing feature of Kigali is the absence of mammoth traffic jams common in large cities across Africa, making touring the city in a taxi or on one of the ubiquitous motorbikes a breeze.
As a relatively small country, Rwanda’s areas of interest are in close proximity to each other. So if you have less than 24 hours on your hands, why not take advantage and visit these places.
Ethnographic Museum, Butare
Butare, the former capital of Rwanda until it gained independence in 1962, is a two-and-half hour bus ride from Kigali City and home to the Ethnographic Museum (formally the National Museum), a repository for Rwandan culture and precolonial history.
On display are intricately woven mats once used as floor coverings and for partitioning rooms in traditional Rwandese homes. Various uduseke, the famed traditional food storage containers made from sisal fibres, banana leaves or raffia and ceremonial spears among other antiquities demonstrate Rwandan craftsmanship and ingenuity.
The King’s Palace Museum, Nyanza
The King Palace, one of Rwanda’s six museums, is a twenty-minute bus ride from Butare. The museum’s vast grounds houses three bee-hived shaped huts ensconced by a circular wall of grass. The biggest hut is a reconstruction of the king’s palace and was differentiated from the homes of commoners by three wooden poles on its roof. The hearth, the king’s bedroom, a welcoming area which became the children’s bedroom at night, and the women’s area are all separated from one another by partitioning mats.
Behind the grass wall is a grazing area for the traditional long-horned cows, inyambo, and a stall for calves. In ancient times, these treasured cows were decorated with beads and paraded before the king during ceremonies.
A short distance from the ancient palace is the modern one where King Mutara III Rudehingwa resided. Built in 1932, the long rectangular building has an open courtyard in its centre, cemented floors and glass doors encased in wooden frames. Though some furniture was looted during the genocide, velvet chairs, carved wooden beds and ornate cupboards still lend credence to the lavish presence that once was. The three adjoining living rooms were furnished to reflect the visitors’ status. Foreign dignitaries were received in the innermost and most opulent of the rooms, local officials in the second, and commoners in the third and least decorated.
Inema Art Centre, Kigali
Founded in 2012 by brothers Nkuranga and Nkurunziza, the centre is a collective of 10 resident artists whose paintings hang in its gallery. Art buyers and anyone interested in contemporary Rwandan art and craft will not be disappointed by the selection of paintings and sculptures on display. What’s more, you can watch artists in real time create their masterpiece.
Chez John/Shokola, Kigali
To fully experience a country is to indulge in its cuisine. And Chez John is just one of many restaurants in Kigali where Rwandan dishes like Ibitoke (steamed banana) and manioc (cassava) are served. The brochettes (Rwanda’s acclaimed kebabs) come with a side of fried potatoes and pili pili, a fiery chilli sauce in oil.
However, if you’re not adventurous and would rather eat non-Rwandan cuisine, visit Shokola. The restaurant, situated opposite the US embassy, sits above the national library and offers vantage views of the city from the patio. Enjoy a generous serving of beefy, juicy pitas with fresh tomato tree juice while being caressed by the cool Kigali breeze.
Lead Photo: The Convention Centre, Kigali/Shayera Dark. Its shape is inspired by traditional Rwandan huts.