Kigali is the capital city of Rwanda. Kigali is Rwanda's biggest city with a population of 850,000, it's also the commercial capital of the country. Kigali was founded by the Germans in 1907 but only became Rwanda's capital when the country became independent (from Belgium) in 1962. Kigali was at the center of the horrendous genocide that took place in 1994 which took the lives of 800,000 people and displaced many more in the space of just 100 days.
Kigali is a relatively safe and sophisticated small city that has come a long way in a short time. Kigali is a pretty city which sprawls over several hills. The city’s avenues are filled with flowering trees and it is surrounded by lush green mountains. Since 1994, Kigali has slowly been rebuilt and income from tourism (mostly coming to see the gorillas) as well as numerous aid workers has buoyed the capital's economy.
The city is built in hilly country, sprawling across about four ridges and the valleys in between. The city center is located on one of these ridges, with the main government area on another. The bigger houses and office buildings tend to be on the tops of the ridges, while the poorer people live in the valleys.
Kigali is an important center for trade in local produce, including coffee, cattle, cassiterite (tin ore), and tungsten. Manufacturing industries include textiles, chemicals, tin-processing, paints, and cigarettes.
Business in Rwanda is growing, and many new buildings are emerging across the city. Tourism and expatriate NGO workers provide important input into the economy also. The city is home to an international airport, Kigali International Airport. It is the hub of the Rwanda transport network, with hourly express bus routes to all major towns in the country.
History of Kigali, Rwanda
The earliest inhabitants of what is now Rwanda were the Twa. This is a group of aboriginal pygmy hunter-gatherers who settled the area between 8000 and 3000 BC and remain in the country today. They were followed between 700 BC and AD 1500 by a number of Bantu groups,. They included the Hutu and Tutsi, who began clearing forests for agriculture.According to oral history the Kingdom of Rwanda was founded in the 14th century on the shores of Lake Muhazi. This is around 40 kilometres (25 mi) east of modern Kigali.
At that time Rwanda was a small state in a loose confederation with larger and more powerful neighbours, Bugesera and Gisaka. By playing these neighbours against each other, the early kingdom flourished in the area, expanding westwards towards Lake Kivu and taking the Kigali area in the process.In the late 16th or early 17th centuries, the kingdom of Rwanda was invaded by the Banyoro and the kings forced to flee westward, leaving Kigali and eastern Rwanda in the hands of Bugesera and Gisaka.
The formation in the 17th century of a new Rwandan dynasty by mwami Ruganzu Ndori, followed by eastward invasions and the conquest of Bugesera, marked the beginning of the Rwandan kingdom's dominance in the area. The capital of the kingdom was at Nyanza, in the south of the country.
On 6 July 1973 there was a bloodless military coup, in which minister of defence Juvénal Habyarimana overthrew ruling president Gregoire Kayibanda. Businesses closed for a few days, and troops patrolled across the city, but life had returned to normal and the army had left the streets by 11 July.
Geocide in 1994
In April 1994 President Habyarimana was assassinated, when his plane was shot down near Kigali Airport. This was the catalyst for the Rwandan genocide. Between 500,000–1,000,000Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu were killed in well-planned attacks on the orders of the interim government. Opposition politicians based in Kigali were killed on the first day of the genocide.
The city then became the setting for fierce fighting between the army (mostly Hutu) and the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). On 8 April, Rwandan government forces attacked the RPF base in the parliament building from several directions, but RPF troops successfully fought back.
The RPF then began an attack from the north on three fronts, seeking to link up quickly with its isolated troops in Kigali. The RPF advanced steadily, capturing large areas of the countryside to the north and east of Kigali. They were avoiding an attack on the city itself, because the city was too heavily defended. They instead conducted manoeuvres designed to encircle Kigali and cut off supply routes as well as capturing the rest of the country.
By mid-June, the RPF encirclement was complete, and they began fighting for the city itself. The government forces had superior manpower and weapons but the RPF fought tactically. They were able to exploit the fact that the government forces were concentrating on the genocide rather than the fight for Kigali. The RPF took control of Kigali on 4 July, a date now commemorated as the Liberation Day national holiday.
Things to Do in Kigali, Rwanda
If you have time, plan to spend at least a few days in the city itself rather than simply passing through. In the quarter-century since Kigali was devastated by the Rwandan Genocide, it has been reborn as one of the cleanest and safest capitals in Africa. Skyscrapers and start-up companies provide a surprising contrast to the lush scenery of the surrounding hills while contemporary art galleries, coffeehouses, and restaurants add to its cosmopolitan charm.
Visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial
The Memorial also hosts three permanent exhibitions, the largest of which is dedicated to commemorating the events and victims of the Rwandan Genocide. After gaining an emotional insight into the horrors that shaped Rwanda’s recent history, take a moment to reflect on what you have learned in the Memorial’s tranquil gardens. The Memorial is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week.
Bear Witness to the Tragedies at Nyamata Church
The church itself still bears the original bullet holes in the ceiling and walls, and the bloodstained clothing of the victims (as well as their personal items and some of their bones) are displayed inside as a heartbreaking reminder of why the events of 1994 can never be allowed to happen again. The church is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Take a Cultural Tour at Nyamirambo Women's Center
Located in Kigali’s multicultural Nyamirambo district, the Nyamirambo Women’s Center is a non-profit initiative intended to provide Rwandan women with the education and training needed to find employment. The ladies that work here use their skills to create high-quality children’s clothing, accessories, and home decor products out of traditional kitenge fabrics—all of which make stunning souvenirs while funding the center’s community programs.
Make sure to sign up for one of their popular walking tours, too. After a traditional snack and a lesson in Kinyarwanda, you’ll follow a local guide on a tour of Nyamirambo’s houses, independent businesses, and mosques. Afterward, enjoy a traditional lunch at one of the ladies’ homes. Sisal basket weaving workshops and traditional cooking classes can also be booked online.
Experience Kigali's Café Culture at Inzora Rooftop Café
Nestled at the back of Ikirezi book shop, Inzora Rooftop Café offers a fine example of Kigali’s flourishing café culture. Spectacular views of the city and the surrounding hills make the rooftop terrace special, while the house coffee comes from a cooperative that benefits over 2,000 farmers. The menu would do justice to any Western hipster hangout—think macadamia and chia seed granola followed by gluten-free brownies.
Even better, everything from the ingredients to the furniture is locally sourced. There's even a playhouse and kitchen for the kids. The café is open from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekends, making it the ideal spot for a leisurely brunch or evening drinks with a view. On Fridays, don't miss the café's weekly cocktail and tasting board event.
Shop for Rwandan Art at Inema Art Center
Founded in 2012 by two brothers with a passion for supporting and showcasing emerging Rwandan artists, Inema Art Center is now one of the best contemporary galleries in the city. It features the work of emerging and established artists from around the world and also serves as a studio for 10 artists-in-residence, who typically work across a broad spectrum of different mediums.
It hosts workshops and training programs for the next generation of Rwandan creatives, including weekly workshops for orphans with artistic abilities, traditional dance programs for children, and a crafts program for women. Visitors can peruse the artworks in the gallery, or shop for jewelry, linens, and leatherwork created by the center’s students at the gift shop. Keep an eye out for regular music and dance performances too.
Try Your Haggling Skills at Kimironko Market
For a truly immersive shopping experience, head to the vast warehouse complex known as Kimironko Market. This is the busiest and most popular market in town with vendors selling wares from all over Rwanda as well as East, Central, and West Africa. You’ll find souvenirs and crafts for rock-bottom prices and swathes of kitenge fabric that can be transformed into unique clothing by the market’s on-site seamstresses.
Kimironko is also a market place for local Rwandans with different sections selling colorful fruit and vegetables, clothing, home supplies, and pungent meat and seafood. It’s chaotic, loud and often overwhelming, but the kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and smells serve as an authentic insight into everyday life in Kigali. Prices are negotiable. The market is open from around 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
Enjoy Rwandan Food and Drink at Repub Lounge
Known amongst expats and locals alike as the place to unwind after a busy day, Repub Lounge has a loyal following in Kigali. Its African interiors use kitenge fabrics and hand-crafted furniture to create a convivial atmosphere while the outside deck impresses with mesmerizing views of the city lights. The menu features Rwandan and East African cuisine with a focus on grilled meats there are options for vegetarians.
The curry coconut fish is a particular highlight while African-style sharing dishes are perfect for larger groups. Order a glass of wine or a local beer from the extensive drinks list, then sit back and relax whilst listening to Afro-inspired live music. Repub Lounge opens from midday to midnight on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays; and from 6 p.m. to midnight Thursdays through Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays.
Discover the Story Behind the Real-Life Hotel Rwanda
Once the grandest hotel in the capital, Hôtel des Mille Collines was immortalized by the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda. The film followed the story of Hutu manager Paul Rusesabagina, who sheltered hundreds of Tutsi refugees here during the Rwandan Genocide. Although Rusesabagina’s role is the subject of controversy, the hotel itself is a fascinating piece of Rwandan history.
Its pre-1994 glory has faded over time, but it remains a glamorous place to come for afternoon drinks at the poolside bar or to enjoy fine local and international cuisine at the fourth-floor restaurant. While sipping your cocktail amidst the garden greenery, consider that the pool was once the only source of water for the refugees trapped inside the hotel.
|Languages spoken||French, English, Kinyarwanda|
|Currency used||Rwandese Franc (RFR)|