The first thing a seasoned traveler might notice about Rwanda’s capital city Kigali is how clean and ordered it is, as compared to many other cities in Sub-Saharan Africa (or anywhere, for that matter).
Not much garbage and no plastic bags flying around. They’ve been banned here. The grass and foliage in the traffic medians are well-tended. All the motorcyclists wear helmets and travel at the speed limit. People smile a lot and ask you how they can help. You can see why Rwanda is sometimes referred to as the “Switzerland of Africa” (except for that smiling and helping part. The Swiss could take a lesson).
What makes this all the more impressive is that the Swiss haven’t had to recover from a violent civil war in which the French-speaking Swiss tried to exterminate the German-speaking Swiss. But that’s something like what happened here in Rwanda just 17 years ago.
How Rwandans deal with this horrific history while ambitiously building toward what many say is a fairly promising future is both inspiring and a bit odd at times.
I’ve come to explore Rwanda with a group of journalists sponsored by the International Reporting Project based at Johns Hopkins University. Today is our first full day (since arriving last night) and the initial order of business was to get an overview of Kigali. It’s clearly a city moving forward with a plan, with little patience for those resistant to change.
“It’s not something new you question but something new you embrace,” said Liliane Uwanziga Mupende, director of urban planning for the City of Kigali. “It’s extremely exciting.”