I jumped at the opportunity to take a one-week break, offered and sponsored by a friend who could not attend my recent book presentation. Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, looked like a good place to go. Some friends who had visited Kigali earlier this year returned to recommend that I should visit.
Rwanda had its attractions. First was the fact that I would be issued a visa on arrival, unlike what Nigerians face in obtaining visas to the wealthy countries of this world. Even Dubai has substantially increased the obstacles to entry. It used to be the case that your agent obtained a Dubai visa on the payment of a mere N30,000. Now it is different.
The second reason was that the economy return ticket for the four-hour flight was about a quarter of the cost of an economy ticket to Europe in this summer’s upsurge of travel to those areas. Even airline employees are finding it difficult to find seats on their own airlines.
I arrived in Kigali and it took about 15 minutes to pass through immigration with a visa stamped on arrival. The Lagos travel agent had advised that both a PCR COVID test and yellow fever certificates were required, but the immigration officer did not ask to see either. Although happy to have gone through immigration in record time, I was a bit annoyed at the agent for making me spend both time and money needlessly.
After clearing customs in a matter of minutes, I decided I did not want to have anything to do with arguments on roaming charges with my Nigeria MTN service provider. I then bought a local SIM card, Airtel.
In my rush to get into town as it was after 10pm, I forgot my phone on a desk beside the SIM vendor’s kiosk. I was about half way to my hotel in a taxi when I realised my phone was missing. I reckoned it had to be at the airport. I therefore asked the taxi driver to return to the airport. I panicked. I knew what could happen if one was so careless as to do what I had just done in Lagos.
The taxi driver was amused. He assured me that we would find the phone. He said that the entire area, as well as the majority of Kigali, was covered by cameras and that no one would dare to take the phone.
I was not assured until we got to the vendor, who lifted my phone to show me when I arrived. I was relieved and literally snatched my phone from the guy who had a smile on his face. That was an introduction to Kigali, or was it to Rwanda?
Whenever I visit a developing country, I immediately put that country into comparison with my beloved country. Are we better than they are, or are there areas where Nigeria could learn from them? I had visited Thailand in 2008 and again in 2014, and I wrote an article contrasting Nigeria with Thailand. The population of both countries was comparable. In this case, it would be unfair to compare Lagos, the commercial capital of the giant of Africa, with the capital of a country which was recovering from the genocide of 1994, in which estimates of between half a million and a million people lost their lives.
One is about 200 million, while the other is about 13 million. Kigali has a population of about a million people and is situated practically in the centre of the country, nestled at an elevation of about one and a half kilometres above sea level, sprawling across several hills, ridges, and valleys. As a result of this high elevation, Kigali has a temperate climate, cool all year round. The cars hardly use their air conditioners, doing so only when it rains.
Surprisingly, I found that there were things we could learn from Kigali. One thing that anyone on the road would notice is the order and discipline of their Boda boda (Okada) motorcycle taxis who are organised under cooperatives. With this, one would wonder why our own Okada riders cannot be controlled and better organised. What immediately stands out is that, without exception, both riders and passengers wore red helmets.
All riders wore red jackets so they stand out. All motorcycles were of the same make or specification. All had standard number plates in yellow background which you could easily be read from 30 meters distance. All of the riders obeyed traffic lights just like motor vehicle drivers. With the Boda boda drivers literally everywhere, there were no hooting of horns either by themselves or motor vehicles. I heard hooting only twice throughout my one week stay, yet I was on the road every other day exploring the city.
This low-noise environment appears to be a reflection of the nature of the people themselves, friendly, calm, soft-spoken, not loud and boisterous like my cousins here in Nigeria. It is not surprising because there is even a university of tourism.
Read also: How Kigali is making Africa proud
Traffic is light in Kigali with little or no holdups. The only exception was on the airport road in the Rumera business district part of the city, which happens to be on the highway to Tanzania, hauling freight headed for the port of Daresalam, which handles Rwanda’s export and import shipments. Another route to the sea is through the Kenyan port of Mombasa. The country is landlocked and has borders with Kenya, DRC, Uganda, Burundi, and Tanzania.
The other things that strike one on the roads of Kigali are the lush greens and tree-covered hills across the city. Abuja compares, but Kigali has more. All road medians and kerbsides were marked emphatically and clearly in black and white, as were the lane markings.
Kigali is well served by international hotels. There are Marriott, Sheraton, Four Points, and Radisson, and other not-so-well-known names, including the 16-storey Ubumwe Grand Hotel. Kigali is said to be one of the cleanest cities in Africa, and I can testify to its cleanliness. Perhaps having hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government, Kigali may have had a bit of spring cleaning.
The title of this piece speaks about hills and valleys. These features have earned Rwanda the sobriquet of “Land of a Thousand Hills.” Indeed, looking out from any location, one would be looking at a range of hills and valleys. This landscape gives one a panorama of incredible and breath-taking beauty.
I was told Kigali is served by electricity twenty-four hours a day.
Even the slums get this service without interruption. In spite of this robust supply of electricity, my hotel had energy-saving features. Lights go off automatically if there is no human movement in the public areas and come on as soon as there is human presence.
On the political front, the government of Rwanda has been in the news lately for its deals with the UK to take in immigrants illegally entering the UK. While I was there, Rwanda played host to the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, who was reported to have intervened in the effort to resolve the frosty relationship between Rwanda and its neighbour, the DRC.
I do not think I saw all I could see in Kigali on my short visit, during which I played a round of golf at the Kigali Golf Resort. The golf course is certainly more beautiful than my home course at Ikoyi Club in Lagos. I will have to end it on this note because I fear my friends at the Ikoyi Club might attack me for this comparison. All I can tell them is to go and see with their own eyes. One consolation is that the local beer, Miitzig, is certainly no match for our Star, not to speak of my favourite Heineken. Up Nigeria!
Parting shot. As I made to catch my return flight on RwandAir, I presented my green passport to the immigration officer, who promptly hailed me as “IGWE, IGWE.” I’m not sure where that came from, I admitted with a firm nod. Our music is promotional for Nigeria’s image abroad. The takeoff presented me with an opportunity to see Kigali from the air. Again, the panoramic landscape did not disappoint. I looked around to see if there were any abandoned or unfinished buildings among the houses. I saw none. I need to confirm this when I next visit, which I surely will, God willing.
Ihetu, a former MD/CEO, Nigeria LNG Limited, writes from Lagos