You probably don’t know where Rwanda is. And if you heard about this tiny, beautiful country, there is a 90% chance that it was related to genocide. Genocide that occurred 25 years ago. Genocide that is a part of our history. But since then, this country has made giant steps and is now an example for many other African countries–and in my humble opinion–for the rest of the world. So let me paint a new picture for you.
Reasons To Visit Rwanda
Rwanda is located in East Africa and is one of the smallest countries on the continent. The name “Rwanda” is derived from the Kinyarwanda word rwanda meaning “domain” or “area occupied by a swarm”. The country is also known as “The Country Of A Thousand Hills” because mountains dominate central and western Rwanda. They are part of the Albertine Rift Mountains, which offer spectacular sceneries. In the North, you will find the Virunga Mountains where there are five dormant volcanoes. Rwanda is bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burundi. This is Rwanda’s geography.
I have been living in Rwanda since 2014. I left Belgium to come to Rwanda because it is the country of my grandparents. I was so fed up with the irritating question I hear in Europe, “Where are you really from,” even if I have been Belgian for 3 generations. I was so fed up, in fact, that I decided that it was time to go home, even if neither I nor my mother had ever lived there.
But because Rwanda is an amazing country, I felt its call for entrepreneurship. As a bi-racial person, it was important to me to come here and be a part of the change. The country has such a bad reputation outside of its borders, in addition to within the entire African continent itself. Every time I talk about traveling or moving to Rwanda, people will ask, “Is it safe? Aren’t you afraid? Isn’t it dangerous? What about disease?” And each time I say, “What the fuck are you talking about?”
So today, let me give you some real facts about Rwanda, my beautiful home country! No more excuses for not adding this gem onto your travel bucket list because now you will know.
Visit Rwanda Because It Is SAFE; I Repeat: RWANDA IS SAFE
Mention Rwanda and people think of it as a highly dangerous place. However, it’s actually one of the safest countries in East Africa to travel to today, according to various sources like me…or Lonely Planet.
But really, Rwanda has the lowest level travel advisory, meaning there is no travel advisory:
- Serious crime or hostility aimed specifically at travellers is very rare, and there’s no more to worry about here than in most other countries.
- Kigali is a genuine contender for the safest capital in Africa.
- Although crime levels in Rwanda remain relatively low and violent crime is rare, petty crime (such as bag snatching and pickpocketing) does occur like in the rest of the world. I mean it happens in Paris, guys. And everybody wants to visit Paris!
Visit Rwanda Because It Is Not An Expensive Destination
People often mistake rich tourists coming here for high-end destination experiences as a reflection of the country. While it is true that you can find very expensive hotels, lodges, and tour operators, you can also travel on a budget. All the National Parks offer camping options, travelling by bus is safe and cheap, and the food is not expensive at all. You can have a buffet of Rwandan food for $3. A bottle of water will cost you 50 cents. The country is small so doing everything by bus is totally doable!
Visit Rwanda Because It Is An Example Of An Environmentally Conscious Nation
Despite Rwanda being the fourth smallest country of the continent, it has three National Parks. Yes, THREE. The national parks of Rwanda are protected ecosystems and wildlife reserves located within the borders of the country. These protected natural zones include the Volcanoes National Park (dormant volcanoes and gorillas), Akagera National Park (a reserve where you can see the Big 5 on safaris with stunning landscapes and wildlife), and Nyungwe Forest (a rainforest with a canopy you can hike through).
Among the goals of wildlife conservation are to ensure that nature will be available for future generations. Therefore, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), with assistance from the government, manages the maintenance of the national park system and tourism infrastructure. Wildlife conservation and protection of endangered species, like the gorillas and the rhinoceros, are very important to Rwanda.
Visit Rwanda Because It Is Preserving Wildlife Environments
When you arrive in Rwanda at the airport you will see a large sign, “Use of non-biodegradable polythene bags is prohibited.” That’s right. The country as a whole has banned the use of plastic bags since 2008! They recently talked about reinforcing this law with the ban of single-use plastic.
This policy has been going on for 10 years now and is proving to be a tangible way of life. As other countries are slowly catching on, they are using Rwanda as an example of a country that has carried out such important legislation via steep fines for plastic use. It seems impossible to live in a world without plastic. But to see a developing country implement this is ground-breaking. It goes to show that anything can be possible if the will really exists and true political efforts are made. Rwanda is an example of protecting the environment for future generation.
Visit Rwanda Because It Is Preserving Communities: Umuganda
Every last Saturday of the month, all of the citizens are invited to participate in Umuganda. This day in every area, cities, or villages is a time when everyone cleans the roads and streets, cuts the grass, and builds schools during the hours of 8am to 11am. No shops or offices will be open before 1pm to let people participate in Umuganda.
This practice was instituted after the Genocide and has helped bring people together for the greater good of the country. It was a good way to show people what they have in common instead of what they don’t and learn to live together again.
Visit Rwanda Because It Is Preserving Tourism
A big part of tourism in Rwanda is due to the nation’s endangered mountain gorilla population. If you cannot afford the gorillas permit of 1500 USD (yes, conservation has a price, guys!) come for everything else this tiny country has to offer.
Tourists can enjoy beautiful lakes, volcanoes, and national parks to visit and do activities while admiring beautiful nature. But also, in Rwanda, the first exportations are coffee and tea, so make sure to include a visit to the coffee farms and tea fields during your trip; you will not regret it!
Rwanda also protects its citizens and visitors with great infrastructure. Public transportation is regulated and buses work on a prepaid swipe card basis. They are on time. Moto-taxis wear helmets and have an extra one for their passengers. Helmets are mandatory because your safety matters! There are traffic lights and they are respected.
If you were expecting the chaos and classic stereotypes of Africa, you came to the wrong place. People are most surprised at Rwanda’s organization. There are no food stalls selling street food anywhere. Here, we seat to eat. It is also one of the least corrupt countries. So no, you will never have to give money to a policeman or a public servant. Everything has to be paid online. There is no cash transaction to avoid that temptation.
Visit Rwanda Because It Is Preserving History
The indigenous people of Rwanda are the Twa, who still remain in Rwanda today. Rwanda now has multiple ubwoko or clans that have become separate groups called the Hutu and the Tutsi. The Twa, Tutsi, and Hutu have a complicated history of oppression amongst themselves. What you hear most about is the Rwandan Genocide.
Some facts about the genocide of the Tutsis are:
- The genocide was a carefully planned attempt to kill all the Tutsis in Rwanda.
- Within 3 months, more than 800,000 Rwandans were killed.
- By the end of the genocide, more than 80% of the Tutsi population was dead and 40% of the entire population.
- Many Hutus who were opposed to the genocide were also killed. This included politicians and civic leaders, as well as ordinary people who tried to save their friends or neighbors. Their sacrifice is honoured on 13 April as part of the annual commemoration
- The United Nations ignored warnings about the planned genocide. The warnings were repeated and detailed. Still, they failed to act. Some members of the UN talked about this afterward in several books or interviews. They knew but didn’t want to do an intervention. The UNSC kept their peacekeeping presence in Rwanda (UNAMIR) to a minimum. UNAMIR asked to be able to seize arms from militia groups but was denied. They also asked to be able to actively protect the population but were again denied
- The genocide of the Tutsis occurred almost 25 years ago beginning in April 1994 although mass killings happened before and after the genocide.
It is difficult to explain the origin of all this, but the roots can be traced to the Belgian administration and how it focused on ethnicity to control the population when Rwanda was one of its colonies. If you want to learn more, you can visit the website of the genocide memorial and Kwibuka. Both will give you more information about this terrible part of the history of Rwanda.
Although this was one of the most tragic and harrowing events in history, Rwanda has done an incredible job of bouncing back, rebuilding, and rebranding the country. In visiting the memorial, you will pay tribute to the victims and also have a better knowledge about this genocide, with real facts, real information, and real testimonies. The genocide remains a controversial subject in Western countries who didn’t help the country during this awful, short period. The entry is free, but please do a donation to support the existence of the memorial and show some respect to the work done here for the memory of the genocide.
Let’s also remember that the genocide was 25 years ago now and I prefer to talk to you about how the country was able to bounce back and become a beautiful destination to visit!
Visit Rwanda Because We Welcome You
If after this, you are still not convinced, please have a look at this article about the capital of Rwanda, Kigali, which deserves a trip itself!
About the Author
Nathalie was born from a Belgian father and a Rwandese mother. She grew up in West Africa until 1995 and then lived in Belgium. She then moved with her husband and their daughter, to her mother’s land to be part of the change that the country was doing. They opened a restaurant in the capital, Kigali, called Poivre Noir using their bi-cultural origin in the menu. Nathalie has created Joli Tropisme, a website that changes the narrative about Rwanda and the African continent. She showcases what life is like without the classic western cliché about Africa.