Kigali

Kigali CBD

The capital city of Rwanda is young and vibrant and a pleasure to move around in, with easy access any time of the day or night.

It seems that in the last 7 years, from around 2012, the creative sectors really started to take off with the fashion, art and music scenes starting to blossom, and the business startup and food scenes also developing at a pace.

Homegrown mobility solutions such as the Move app, a joint venture by VW and the Rwandan Government, offering taxi rides in new VWs assembled at the new VW plant outside Kigali, show real smarts (but be patient, there’s a lot of work to be done still to make it as fluid as Uber, it’ll get there); the fashion scene is outsize for a city as small as Kigali, sustained by a local market hungry for Made in Rwanda brands, and with huge international scope. Entrepreneurship is encouraged by a regulatory framework that makes it possible to register and start operating a business within 24 hours!

Bars are open till very late and the nightlife, while not yet playing with the swagger of the Nairobi or Lagos scenes, will get you through to sunrise in ways that Cape Town can barely remember.

Rwanda is also, perhaps only subconsciously at this point, emerging as the reconciliation centre of the continent, the place you pilgrimage to in order to gain insight into the tools of reconciliation. As the whole planet is looking for ways to address conflict and create sustained reconciliation and human dignity, Rwanda’s journey has much to teach.

Kigali Moto taxi

Much is made of the cleanliness of the city, and the country at large, and it is obsessively litter free. It’s interesting that visitors to Geneva never comment on its cleanliness, because there are a whole lot of assumptions about Swiss and European cleanliness in cities. It is easy to mistake Kigali’s cleanliness for a glitch in the African matrix, where comments about its cleanliness speak more to stereotypes about a dirty Africa, physically and metaphorically, than the fact that it is litter free. What gets missed here is cleaning as a ritual that brings about order and dignity. Cleaning your home, your mind, your body and your environment is at the heart of a strategy geared toward creating order and peace out of the chaos and horror of the 1994 genocide. Cleaning is healing in the Rwanda story.

Kigali convention centre

We love…

  • 1000 Hills Distillery for their whisky and the hot lava rock steaks (East Africa’s first craft distillery)
  • Question Coffee for their unfermented coffee and the fact that all their beans are sourced from women run coffee growing co-ops
  • Moshions, Sonia Mugabo, House of Tayo and Haut Baso fashion houses
  • Repub Lounge for their live music, the sambaza fish from Lake Kivu and the isombe
  • The Moto motorbike taxis, that are like ghost cabs, they are just everywhere, and they get you everywhere
  • Inema Arts Centre, where ten artists are in residence, where Thursday night is a great party in the city, and where you will always bump into somebody interesting at the bar (the view is also great)
  • Poivre Noir for Rwandan takes on Belgian dishes, and Belgian takes on Rwandan dishes, really mixing up narratives in delicious ways
  • 514 Club for Wednesday Karoake (especially good if you are staying at Chez Lando, and can just stroll over at 2am for Kigali versions of Ring of Fire, for example)
  • The Nu Kigali music scene, as detailed in this piece by Jefferson Rumanyiko
  • Makumbi Sound jazz band
  • The Quantum Economics of the country
  • Rwandair, the scrappy national airline playing above its ranking, pushing pushing pushing the boundaries with little room for error. They serve Org du Rac organic wine from the Cape Swartland region, the food is below average and the staff so pleasant, the music programming phenomenal and some excellent film choices.
Makumbi Sound jazz band
Coffee masterclass at Question Coffee

Hotel favourites

  • Chez Lando, because it is Rwandan owned, has a rich story and is so damn odd (yet very comfortable). Also in a good location for the nocturnal who seek karaoke and 2am whisky
  • Park Inn by Radisson, because it is the perfect mix of international generic colourful style with Rwandan touches, comfort, convenience, location and price. Great for groups.
  • Heaven Boutique Hotel, well priced, purified water in reusable bottles, bathroom soaps in refillable containers, very sweet staff, great breakfast, great laundry service (just don’t get sidetracked by the Heaven Retreat and the heavy American paternalism, the Boutique Hotel is the business)

All of these hotels offer great free wifi (we do suggest you use a VPN for safety though, especially in the larger hotels)