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The land of a thousand hills

RWANDA, Dec 11 – Last week I visited the ‘land of a thousand hills’. But in my view, Rwanda should be referred to as the ‘land of a million hills’ as all you see throughout the country are hills upon hills.

My 80-minute air journey from Nairobi was uneventful and as we approached landing, the weather was favourable enough to allow me a glimpse of what the 26,340 square kilometers country has to offer.

I could see long and winding weathered roads snaking their way around the city and I remember wondering how many kilometers of tarmacked road they have.

My ‘concerns’ were however put to rest when I go to the airport and on my way to the ‘Beasejour’ Hotel. The airport although small is clean and the roads even though narrow, are well done.

There was nothing much to do after I checked in but I could not wait for my Kenyan friends (whom I had informed beforehand that I would be visiting) to leave work and show me the ‘Kigali night life’.

Finally, they did come at 7pm and off we went to town. Now, Kigali is very beautiful at night. The city lighting helps illuminate the many houses and buildings many of which sit on the hills. This gives the city a romantic feel.

Our first stop was Serena Kigali, which is as serene as the city at night. After a couple of drinks we moved to a club in a building called ‘Top Tower’ on the eighth floor and allows one a 360 degree view of the illuminated city.

Although it was on a Monday night and there were just a handful of patrons, it still struck me as odd that the music was just loud enough to be heard by the people inside the club.

I asked this and one of the ‘intellectual mercenaries’ (apparently that’s what Kenyans are referred to here) told me that that’s the story in almost all clubs. Someone explained that traditionally, Rwandans are a ‘hushed people’ and this was made even worse by the 1994 genocide which made everyone wary of the other person.

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I didn’t see much the next two days because I was in a daylong workshop with participants from all 19 COMESA member states discussing about ‘war economies’ and how the states should address it.

On Thursday however, there were arrangements to visit the Kigali Memorial Centre so off we went at 9am. We skirted around the hilly city and in 20 minutes we were there.
Visiting a memorial site requires one to be mentally prepared for anything, I mean you are visiting a site where the remains of several hundreds or more people are buried.

But I have to admit that nothing would have prepared me for what I saw. I have read books about the Rwandan genocide, I’ve watched many movies on the massacre but the visit to Kigali Memorial Site was numbing to say the least.

Our guide first took us to the mass graves where the remains of 253,000 people are buried. Now 253,000 people are nearly all the people who live in Umoja and Kayole in Embakasi constituency; that is a huge number yet it is just part of it.

Inside the hall, using videos and writings on the walls they tell you the story of Rwanda, its people, culture and their colonial masters who planted the seeds of hatred among its population.

Some of it was as absurd as the number of cattle you had was what was used to determine whether one was a Hutu or a Tutsi.

Then came the photos and the videos.  (No one is allowed to take photos) I think because some of those photos are gruesome. There were photos of children, women and men hacked to death, children’s heads sliced with machetes, bodies sewn all over the streets and yet of others who lost their lives to gangs at road blocks.

The machetes, the hoes and most of the crude weapons used, clothes that the victims wore when they met their death, chains that were used to bury people particularly those who had married from the ‘wrong tribe’ are all displayed there.

At one section are photos of thousands and thousands of victims in their happy days. But the one that really got to me was the section on children. There was an enlarged portrait of each of them with a short description of how old they were, what they liked eating or enjoyed doing, their nick names for some and how they died.

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‘Young Yves was 12 months years old; she loved chips and was daddy’s girl. She had her head smashed against the wall,’ said one portrait.

I thought I was prepared for what I’d see in there but I found myself shedding bitters tears for people I don’t know. I wondered how human beings can be so cruel. I thought about the path that Kenyans wanted to take after the 2007 and I felt so sorry for my country.

After what seemed like eternity, we left that depressing place but not before I realised how importance good leadership is. Despite its past, Rwanda has pulled itself together and under President Paul Kagame.  They are doing great things. You probably have had that this nine million people hilly place is now being described as the ‘Darling of the West’.

Friday was a day to check out the ‘real’ clubs and together with my friends, our taxi driver who insisted on calling me “Clementine Uwamahoro” (which means the peaceful one – I don’t know how he decided I’m a peaceful person)  took me to some place called ‘Republika Lounge’ where I had the best ‘sambaza’. These are small deep fried fish, the size of ‘omena,’ coated with breadcrumbs.
It was lively but once again, the music was not deafening. Saturday saw us travel 157 kilometers to Lake Kivu. This gave me the chance to see the Rwandan country side and the implementation of a government’s program called ‘cluster settlement’ where a few hundred people are grouped together in a certain area in order to free up land for cultivation.

You’d expect a journey of 157km to take you roughly two hours but it took us four hours to get to Lake Kivu again because of the hilly nature of the land.

Next stop was Lake Kivu Serena hotel and I must say the drinks I enjoyed at the beach and the beautiful sight of Goma City was breath taking! That experience once again reaffirmed my desire to be rich so that I can enjoy such of life’s pleasures.

The border between Rwanda and the DRC is just five minutes away and we went up to that point but we weren’t allowed to cross over because my friends had not carried their passports.

But in case you thought Goma is some run-down, dirty town with bombed out buildings… Think again. The Kenyan town that comes close to Goma is Malindi and it has one of the busiest airports in East and Central Africa….but that is a story for another day.

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