Rwanda is a tiny landlock African country, with a land area similar to Albania, and a population of about 12 million. But what an incredible small country it is, and Kigali is an incredible city. Situated on seven rolling hills and also occupying the valleys between them, Kigali is one of the cleanest, safest, and friendliest capital anywhere in this world. Like most of the East African capitals, thanks to its altitude, its weather is enjoyable, the city is spotless, and Rwandans are some of the nicest hosts and most civilized citizens I have ever met. Different from its neighbors such as Kenya or Uganda, in Kigali you don’t inevitably bump into market swindlers everywhere who jump on the first chance to make a few extra bucks from foreign tourists. Rwandans are always smiling, warm and kind, even the police are polite and pleasant to talk to. There was not a single piece of garbage on the street, perhaps because every first Saturday of each month is a national cleaning and tidy-up day, and everyone, from President Paul Kagame to school students, came out to sweep the streets and clean public squares. It really put some of the “developed countries” to shame.
When visiting Rwanda, an unavoidable thought on everyone’s mind is of course the genocide in 1994. It is one of the darkest pages in Africa’s recent history, one that should never be forgotten. I also went into the country, fully realized of this chapter and was expecting to see its damages lingered on everywhere I went What truly amazing was, that was anything but reality. Rwandans have quickly and positively shaken off that dark age to nirvana into the state it is now today. It has one of the most efficient governments in Africa, fair and clean elections (I am looking at you, Murica), an innovative economy, educated labor force, and policies that support green and sustainable developments. A prime example is the treatment of plastic garbage in Rwanda: for years, single use plastic bags were banned in the country. This was seriously enforced, to both citizens and tourists. I got lectured on at the immigration checkpoint at Kigali International Airport, because I used plastic bags for my clothes in my luggage – even that is illegal. In my experience, no countries have turned recent history around this quickly and effectively. Most, including motherland Gina, dwelled on to the history with hate and reluctance, taken on a victim role, without ever looking into the future and finding ways to shake it off. Rwanda took a different route, one that worked and promised its citizens a bright and hopeful future. For that, Rwandans have earned my uttermost respect.