It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Kigali. Excitement was in the air as a group of tourists, myself included, embarked on a tour of Kigali aboard that luxury sightseeing bus people have been talking about lately.
The bus exited the premises of the newly-refurbished Kigali Business Center (KBC) on time. From there, the gigantic automobile was steered toward Gishushu at a speed of about 20 kilometers per hour. That gave us ample time to soak up the beauty of the surrounding landmarks including Kigali Heights, Kigali Convention Center (KCC) and the parliament building.
The parliament building houses the Campaign Against Genocide Museum. This museum is a precise illustration of the operation conducted by the military wing of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in a successful bid to stop the Genocide against the Tutsi a quarter of a century ago.
The house in which policy makers assemble has been renovated but a section of its walls still bears scars inflicted upon the nation by its dark history. Today, the building in question is a monument symbolizing the closeness of the past in a country that has moved so far away from it.
On the other side of the road, KCC encompasses a conference center, 5-star hotel, other meeting halls and an office park. The conference dome, bearing the shape of a traditional house, illuminates at night in a striking display of the Rwandan flag’s colors.
At Gishushu junction, we turned left and proceeded to Nyarutarama, Gaculiro and Kagugu. As the guided tour took us to the city’s upscale neighborhoods, I marveled at a familiar city from a whole new position. The double decker bus elevates its passengers above obstructions and gives them a clear 360° view of the city. It feels like sitting on the rooftop of a moving building.
At some point, the tour felt like a five dimension property show. The current real estate boom is bubbling over previously remote hills far away from old Kigali.
From Gisozi, we cruised to Nyabugogo via Kinamba and Muhima. We navigated the buzzing Nyabugogo area between the modern market and the Nyabugogo Taxi Park which is the biggest bus station in Rwanda. I saw many buses that ferry passengers to and fro different parts of Rwanda and elsewhere in the region. Plans are underway to construct a state-of-the-art terminus unlike no other in East and Central Africa. The proposed ultra-modern facility is expected to cost USD 200 million.
We pushed through the congested Nyabugogo junction and advanced toward Nyabarongo, the longest river in Rwanda flowing across all five provinces. Nyabarongo is part of the upper headwaters of the Nile and a primary source of domestic water supply in Kigali and other parts of the country. From the sky, the river looks like a long snake gliding from the southwest to the southeast, maneuvering around the northern foothills and bypassing the City of Kigali along the way.
As we approached the bridge connecting the Southern Province to the city, we took the left turn. The joyride continued uphill toward a new neighborhood known as Karama. It is in this suburb where Karama village, a multi-million dollar estate hosting 240 vulnerable families and those formerly living in high risk zones, is constructed.
The village, comprising of several 4 story blocks, was inaugurated by President Paul Kagame ahead of the 25th edition of Liberation Day. The special Liberation Day gift came with a mini-market, health post, sports facilities and schools.
Karama village is part of a broader project initiated by the government in an effort to provide decent housing to poverty-stricken citizens free of charge. Model villages are sprouting up in different parts of the country. Roads, water, electricity, schools, health posts and modern markets are set up to ensure the beneficiaries are liberated from the sub-standard infrastructure or lack thereof.
I live in Kigali but I had never been to Karama before. I wasn’t even aware of the existence of the route we pursued.
As we kept going, I started noticing familiar physical features. Turns out, we had been driven to Mount Kigali through a new route. At some point, the driver pulled over. We alighted and took pictures. We also took that opportunity to celebrate a fellow tourist’s birthday.
I had been to Mount Kigali several times before but never through Ruliba and Karama. During my previous Mount Kigali expeditions, I visited Fazenda Sengha, a recreational facility established to promote equestrianism in Rwanda.
Creating an environmentally friendly social enterprise designed to unite friends and families interested in horsemanship and other outdoor activities is the rationale behind the establishment of Fazenda Sengha. Zip lining and archery are also practised there. Recently, quad biking tours were introduced to cater for the culturally diverse communities of Kigali dwellers and tourists flocking the city from all over the world.
I had patrolled the crest of Mount Kigali on the back of a horse before. I had done the same propelling a four wheeler powered by a combustion engine. This time round, I was rediscovering the loop from the upper deck of a sightseeing bus. Same hill, different experiences.
Once again, I digested the panoramic views of Nyabarongo River, Mount Shyorongi, Mount Jali and settlements spreading as far as Kamonyi in the Southern Province. On the other side of the hill, I was awestruck by the view of downtown Kigali and its soaring skyline. Across the valley, Rebero hill is gradually becoming another high-end neighborhood.
The tour continued downhill and all of a sudden, we found ourselves in Nyamirambo. All along, I didn’t know there is a tarmac road connecting Gitikinyoni and Nyamirambo. From the upper Nyamirambo area, we approached the Muslim quarter of Biryogo. This area is popular with visitors interested in urban culture, Swahili cuisines and a vibrant nightlife.
We had a ’bathroom break’ at the Kigali Conference and Exhibition Village (KCEV). Formerly known as Camp Kigali, KCEV is now a venue of conferences, exhibitions, concerts, weddings and other events. It is here where the ten Belgian UN peacekeepers, deployed to protect the moderate Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, were brutally murdered on the verge of the genocide.
When the tour resumed, we passed by the main round about near Sainte Famille Catholic church. Built in 1913, this church was once one of the biggest buildings in Rwanda. Its walls are made of classic red bricks but its facade is embellished with white panels.
Our next stop was outside the popular Kigali Arena constructed near Amahoro National Stadium in Remera Sector. En route to Remera, we were shown parts of Kicukiro District.
During the stretch between Kanogo and Rwandex, we were informed that old factories are being relocated from the Gikondo Industrial Zone to the Special Economic Zone. This is done in order to clear space for the creation of an artificial lake. The relocation became necessary after the area was gazetted by the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) as a wetland.
Finally, we returned to KBC through the bustling Gisimenti area. Every financial institution operating in Rwanda has a branch there. The same can be said about insurance companies and other corporations.
"I enjoyed the tour very much. Our guide had an excellent command of English and a clear way of providing information." Says Nicole, a tourist from Germany. However, she saw the need to give sightseers a more detailed account of locations and monumental features. Abigael, a 9-year-old local tourist wished the tour would have been a little longer. I bet she wasn’t the only one.