Kigali, Rwanda - It’s been 18 years since the end of the Rwandan genocide when an estimated 800,000 people were killed in three months of brutality. However, even today, the memories remain fresh as I still see and smell death in my eyes and mind as I was one of many Omanis who witnessed the dark side of Rwanda while I was there in 1994.
My parents and I somehow managed to find our way out of the country because we had nothing to do with internal politics there and never returned. The country, however, is not the same as my recent visit showed. It has rebuilt itself in the aftermath of that tragedy, setting itself apart from other developing nations in Africa by making the most of a lost decade.
For those who do not know and as a matter of fact, many Omanis including myself, were born in that beautiful country but it turned dark when a civil war broke out in 1994 when I was still a student. But now, the country can be considered as a paradise on the African continent. On my recent visit, I could see that Rwanda has changed for the better with all the development highlighting the fact that the country had to make up for the lost years.
“It has been the government’s policy to make sure it delivers basic services and economic growth to its people in order to mitigate the sufferings of genocide and this has really worked. Things are not as they were before. No killings, no stealing and no corruption and our president makes sure all the government staff perform their duties to serve the people and not themselves,” Mohamed Nkurunziza, my guide for the three-day trip in Rwanda, said.
Earlier, travelling by road used to be a back-breaking experience but today, the road infrastructure is impressive. There were no supermarkets or ATMs then, but today they can be found all across the city and nearby areas. For that reason, I did not have to worry about running out of cash but rather how to spend all that I could.
By the way, I have to mention this. ‘The Global States of Mind: New Metrics for World Leaders’ report says Rwanda tops the list of countries in Africa where citizens are most likely to feel safe, with 92 per cent votes in a poll by Gallup, followed by Niger with 84 per cent. Indeed, all the people I spoke to there complement that with a smile saying, ‘This is a new Rwanda’.
In fact, Rwanda has shown it can rise from the path of violence to development and prosperity. Now for a tourist, Rwanda has much to offer. The beauty of the country lies in the fact that it is amazingly quiet and peaceful now than ever before.
One can enjoy the scenic beauty by driving around to savour the greenery or other hot spots like the surrounding hills and lakes. My favourite spot was a place called Muhazi, where I enjoyed watching the setting sun amidst the mountains and a lake.
Rightly known as the Land of a Thousand Hills, Rwanda is full of green hills, gardens and tea plantations. It is a home to onethird of the world’s remaining Mountain Gorillas, one third of Africa’s bird species, several species of primates, volcanoes, game reserves, resorts and islands on the expansive Lake Kivu, graceful dancers, artistic crafts and above, all friendly people.
One thing I like most is that all major attractions are located within one to five-hour drive from the capital, Kigali, and that’s why I managed to see much of it in just three days. Located in the heart of Central and East Africa with easy access to bordering countries of Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo as well as to Kenya, Rwanda is an ideal location for travel, especially for Omanis. In fact, there are some people of Omani origin who are now citizens there living in Kigali.
Kigali dominates the Rwandan landscape and the city is developing fast, and is very much a showpiece capital designed to impress visitors, from the humble tourist, to foreign investors.
The city spreads over several hills and valleys, with many of the better restaurants and hotels away from the traditional downtown area. As a clean, comfortable and ordered city, Kigali is very popular with long term expats with some Omanis doing businesses there.
Even though Kigali is expensive to live in, there are neighbouring prefectures that are more affordable. And if you are looking for what to buy, Rwandan coffee is generally very good and the honey is great. Local markets are also stocked with Rwandan handicrafts, fabulous colourful fabrics and all that is typical African.