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Kigali - A view from our expert author
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Although bustling, colourful and noisy, this capital is much safer and cleaner than most of Africa’s others, with plenty of tree-lined streets inviting you to take a stroll.
The low-key but attractive Rwandan capital city of Kigali stands in the centre of the country, where it straggles over several hills and valleys, spanning altitudes of around 1,300m to 1,600m. The city was founded in 1907 at a location chosen by Dr Richard Kandt, who built an administrative residence close to the present-day Gakinjiro Market. Two years later, 20 houses were built close to the present-day prison (one of which has been restored as a natural history museum) on the eastern slopes of Nyarugenge Hill, which now forms the commercial city centre.
Kigali’s occupants, from smart-suited businesspeople to scruffy kids hawking newspapers or pirated cassettes, go purposefully about their activities, only lessening tempo briefly in the middle of the day. Occasional traffic lights, roundabouts, a strictly enforced one-way road system and a cacophony of car horns manage (more or less) to regulate the traffic, although it’s heavy and congested at peak times. Peaceful, tree-lined residential streets stretch outwards and generally downwards from the city’s heart, and give visitors scope for strolling.
The government and administrative area in Kacyiru quarter is newer and quieter, with wide streets and some striking modern architecture. Kigali was the centre of much fighting during the genocide and offices were ransacked; when workers returned after the end of the war they had virtually no usable typewriters, phones, stationery or furniture and had to start again from scratch. Also files, archives and other documentation had been destroyed.
Kigali hasn’t many tourist attractions and you’re unlikely to want to spend many full days there, but it has some good hotels, the services (shops, banks, etc) are plentiful and the ambience is pleasant, making it an excellent base for exploring the rest of Rwanda, all parts of which are easily reached by road in less than a day. Car-hire is available via one of the many tour operators and travel agencies.