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Monday, March 31, 2014

Kigali - City on a hill

I set out a week ago on a visit to Kigali to look for business opportunities, make new contacts and meet friends. I made all three and more. On my way back, I passed through Kampala and visited Makerere, the famous University my father attended nearly 60 years ago. Africa has roots, deep roots. It has a rich past, but also a glowing future. I have carried memories from Kigali that I look forward to sharing with my grandchildren. Memories that no pictures can tell.

The city is actually set on many hills and is spread out with the same pristine sense of deliberate order. The un-intrusive presence of armed police and militia keeps a watchful eye on all that is going on. Nairobi and Kampala drive on the left, Kigali drives on the right. I had to stop and think every time I crossed the road. You will find all the top of the range cars in Kigali as anywhere else in east Africa. The people are friendly, but far more familiar with Kinyarwanda than Kiswahili, English or French. One can sense there is a great deal of learning or relearning going on among the populace. Nevertheless, one of the first things that caught my eye was the proud, bold machined print on the back of a three-wheeled motorized truck – MADE IN RWANDA! The people know who they are.
I can say that Kigali is a city that has benefited from a new start. A new start because it is deliberately organized and actually well groomed.  There are well-arranged royal palms throughout the main town on a hill. The town center does not have the hustle and bustle you will find in other capitals in East Africa, but you will find all the international business institutions you need.

Kigali has a national vision (2020).  I did not analyze how far along they have come along on their strategic plan, but as a visitor, I am very pleased with what they have done to keep the environment clean. For one there are no flying plastic bags. Moreover, I carried my shopping around in the romantic brown paper bags that I had not used in three decades. Clearly, the Kagame government was determined to give the country a new start.
I visited the Tutsi Genocide Memorial. I could not complete that whole tour. Not because I did not have the time. It is an emotionally draining experience. The horror of it is incompatible with what you see in the city or even outside the fence of the memorial grounds. The memorial needed to be set up. It is impossible to explain to anyone how humanity can turn on itself and commit such atrocities. It is a story that needs to be told and retold – lest we forget and let it happen again. Other cities set up museums in which to hide their past. The memorial is living history. It is in full view of the city. The picture of the city in this article is taken from the grounds of the memorial.

I visited Nyabugogo the central arrival point of all road transport into the city form eastern Africa. That in itself is an experience. The transport park is a like a people exchange where every language is spoken. Baggage, luggage and forex are also exchanged. The small trader has business meetings in the tea kiosks and sells his wares to whoever will buy – in any currency.
I also visited Nyarutarama. The location of the plush and well heeled in society. Like every city, there are prime places and other places, but in Kigali, everywhere is orderly and clean.  I feel good about this city not because there are rich and poor or that it has good roads and someone has a vision. No, I feel good about this city because the people have chosen to face the reality of their past and do something about the promise of their future. It is a city of hope. A hope they want to pass on to their grandchildren. Kigali is set on a hill as a beacon to remind those who doubt that if we look out from where we are, if we look far enough and if we are willing to work hard enough we can all live the hope we long for.

Allan Bukusi, Kigali

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