Commonly referred to as the land of thousands hills, Rwanda has proved to the world that it is also a land of multitude wonders. For many outsiders who watch international news in the comfort of their sitting rooms, it is easy to stereotype Rwanda given the amount of negative coverage that are often reserved to African countries. But for those who have ventured themselves in the land, a positive image is the one they take back home.
Why resilient? The 1994 genocide against Tutsis that claimed more than one million lives in three months was for many observers an event that would lead the land into an endless chaos. To their surprise it was an end to all sorts of pogroms that had characterized it and the beginning of a new era of peace and economic development. It is unbelievable how the victims and perpetrators of the genocide have come together to rebuild a land that was deeply divided by decades of policy of “divide and rule”. I guess it is only in Rwanda where this situation was possible in the history of the modern world.
Leave apart the dark side that was common news up to 1994 and let’s look at the impressive performance that we have witnessed over almost two decades. The government of unity that inherited the land has performed beyond the expectations of everyone. Up to one million people were lifted out of poverty according to the Third Integrated Household Living Conditions by the National Institute of statistic. Among the key findings of the survey is that per capita GDP rose from $333 in 2005-2006 to $540 in 2010-2011 and the percentage of Rwandans living in poverty decreased from 56.7 percent to 44.9 percent
Previously francophone, a system inherited from its Belgian colonizers, Rwanda switched to English in 2008. This decision was mostly motivated by economic gains and the desire for change, a move that has open up many opportunities to its citizens. Going eastward Rwanda is set to gain in its partnership with its English speaking neighbors of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. The land can now access economic and cultural exchanges that are available in English speaking countries. In 2009 Rwanda joined the 54 nations in the commonwealth, becoming the second country to join the club without previously having been a British colony.
As the social and economic fabric continue to positively improve, so is the number of international visitors flocking in. The tourism sector is by now the leading foreign exchange earner for Rwanda having generated more than US$ 128 Million in the first semester of 2012 compared to US$ 115.6 Million fetched in the same period in 2001. More than 500,000 tourists were hosted in the first semester of 2012 a trend that is expected to continue given the prevailing peace and stability the country is enjoying.
Rwanda is amongst few countries where all sorts of visitors are seen alone in the night walking in its clean and beautiful roads. The security is assured almost everywhere by disciplined men and women in uniforms. What strike most visitors is the honesty and absence of corruption that are seen in Rwanda’s institutions something that is not found in most developing countries. All these soft factors contribute to the wellbeing of visitors who enjoy the amazing climate and the smile of Rwandan people. The latter are friendly and are available for free guidance to any visitors who need to find their way.
The government view tourism as an important sector to achieve Vision 2020 that aims to spearhead the country among the middle income one. The national carrier, Rwanda Air has been strengthened with modern aircraft such as a number of Boeing 737 aircraft and Bombardier Dash-200 series. It is now one of the fastest growing airlines on the African continent and serves a number of destinations in East, West and southern Africa in addition to domestic flights. Rwanda Air goes as far as Dubai and plan to serve more destinations in the near future. Five stars hotels like Serena and Marriott hotels have set up shops in the country to offer world class accommodation.
Most visitors coming to Rwanda arrive through Kigali international airport that had been increasing its traffic every year. In 2013, data from Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority shows that passenger traffic through Kigali International Airport grew by 30 per cent to 488,903 in 2012, up from 377,327 in 2011. The airport is normally designed to handle 400 000 passengers per year the reason why Rwanda CAA announced that Kigali airport will be upgraded to meet the strong demand. The airport handled over 300 flights a week in 2012, a figure that is expected to increase. International airlines such as Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines have recently started their operations in Rwanda in addition the existing one such as Brussels Airlines, KLM, South African Airways, Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airways among others.
Kigali city reflects a good image of the country to international visitors. The city has been tipped as one of the cleanest and safest city in Africa. Kigali city was founded in 1907 as a small colonial outpost by Dr. Richard Kandt, the first German colonial resident of Rwanda. Among the packages that are offered to tourists in Kigali is The Kigali City Tour. The guided tour starts from its first modern building from which the city was founded to the rapidly growing neighborhoods that are changing the face of the city. Tourists are offered a guided tour within Gisozi Genocide Memorial to learn about the history of the country. Apart from that tourists can enjoy the city vibrant commercial center where they can spend their time in Coffee shops, bars and local and international restaurants ranging from Chinese, Italian, North African, East African, Thai and Greek cuisine.
Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is the leading destinations for many tourists outside of Kigali. The park consists of 125 km2 of mountain forest and is home to the six Virunga Volcanoes and the world famous mountain gorillas. Others choose bird watching in Rwanda’s seven Important Birding Areas including the three National Parks—Volcanoes, Akagera and Nyungwe. In their tour around the country, tourists are entertained to Live dance performances at the Iby’ Iwacu cultural village in Musanze or at the National Museum of Rwanda. A visit in rural area can also be an opportunity to discover a wide range of traditional handcrafts ranging from ceramics and basketry to traditional woodcarvings and contemporary paintings.
The land of thousands hills boosts an ever increasing cultural events in its annual calendar. The popular one being Kwita Izina (to give a name) that is part of the celebration of the birth of a new child in a family. Because of the importance of gorillas in the Rwandan economy and biodiversity, this ceremony previously dedicated to humans has now focused its attention on baby gorillas. Since 2005 Kwita Izina became a public ceremony that has been attracting world renowned international celebrities, conservationists and media personalities to celebrate Rwanda’ s conservation efforts in protecting the endangered mountain gorilla.
All these have been achieved in less than two decades, the reason why I call Rwanda, a resilient land.