During this month, I had the opportunity to visit several African countries. And as I hopped around, it occurred to me that I could be more deliberate about these trips and have my observation antennas up. In Nairobi, Kenya, for example, we were caught up in the dark for more time than I expected as we were being checked out. When they took power supply, I knew the people who shouted were Nigerians. When power was restored, the usual suspects were at work.
It was in Rwanda that I spent the most time, so I have decided to stick to sharing my observations from there.
Before delving into my observations, a quick disclaimer: While travel is a form of higher education, the anecdotes I’m about to share do not substitute for concrete evidence. They are personal impressions gathered during my stay in Kigali, and I encourage fact-checking where necessary.
1. First thing you notice when you get to Kigali is that no one is asking for your visa. The place is visafree. Big deal. It was as hasslefree as moving from Abuja to Lagos without anyone asking, “Anything for the boys?” Just get on the plane and land. Intra Africa trade stands low at just 14.4% of total African exports compared to other continents which have as high as 50%. You cannot be championing PanAfricanism and not praise stuff like this.
Before leaving, I was told there is visa on arrival, but no one bothered to issue one. Paul Kagame, the country’s president had announced his visafree policy on November 1, I think, so I guess it was of immediate effect. I will talk of its effect later. Well done, Rwanda.
2. MTN did me shege. Interestingly, while there is no MTN in Kenya, I was able to roam my network there, they have a partnership with Safaricom. But I was unable to do that in Rwanda and South Africa even though they have MTN there. All I did online were done through WiFis at the airports and at the hotels.
“MTN, everywhere we disappoint”.
3. When I landed, one of the first things I did was to ask where I could change my dollars to Rwanda Francs (RWF). I was charged 1250RWF for one dollar. From there on, I started mentally calculating everything I bought as an equivalent in Naira. Right now, a dollar changes for 1135, so the difference is not so great. In terms of pricing of things, Abuja pricings aren’t much different from what they have in Kigali. I found a local restaurant and paid 2500RWF for a local meal (yes, I am adventurous. I took plenty of flaggy tablets along though. Thankfully I had no use for them). Other everyday stuff is not much different.
4. Got into Kigali around midnight. And thinking this guy was my African brother, I approached the normal-looking face-smiling cabman to take me to the hotel. That was the first mistake I made. Guy told me 30,000RWF, I priced it to 25,000RWF and he started doing ‘alaanu’ face, so I left it at that. To my surprise, we were at the hotel in 20 minutes. Later found out, I should not have paid more than 15,000RWF. Price of being a JJC.
But so much for a brother, huh?
5. While on the trip to the hotel, the guy confidently said I am a Kenyan. I didn’t correct him. He kept going on and on about when he was in Nairobi for his Canadian Express Entry Visa interview and how racist the officials were because of the Westgate terrorist attack at the time.
For a background: One Saturday in 2013, four armed men from the al-Shabab terror group stormed Westgate Mall (a big shopping complex), attacking shoppers and killing anyone on sight. The attack was followed by a siege, wherein the attackers engaged security forces in a gun battle for days. In the end, 67 people were killed and more than 150 were injured. Among the victims were Canadians, British, and the French.
In his estimate, that was why he was refused immigration to Canada. I asked why he’s not tried again. He said he is good in Rwanda now and sees no need in leaving his country. He seems satisfied with his life. I remember a survey carried out by BBC in 2022. Rwandans polled the highest in Africa as their “country going in the right direction” at 60%. For Nigeria, only 5% think so. 95% think they have to move abroad to achieve their dreams. If you think the problem is these young Nigerians, you are really not so wise.
On a light note, after I found out the cabman overcharged me, I told myself, “Why won’t you be satisfied when you can always find mugus like me.” Smh
6. Still on the airport-to-hotel trip, I noticed how we kept going up and down hills. When I told him about my observations, he smiled and reminded me why Rwanda is called ‘land of a thousand hills’. Kigali has hills all over. It was when I woke up in the morning and looked down from the window of my 6th-floor hotel room that I realized how truly magnificent the views were. Trees were all over the place. Truly stunning scenery. I enjoyed just sitting at the balcony and watching the beauty of the city.
7. And I didn’t sleep well. Lagos is only one hour behind Kigali (we are 2 hours behind Nairobi and 1 hour behind Johannesburg), but I found it difficult to have a sound night sleep. It was strange. Something I noticed though is that by 5am, the sun is already up. The first day, I forgot to close my large window blinds and light came straight into my eyes. Imagine getting to the hotel around 1am, sleeping around 2am, and you have light in your face at 5am, and then unable to sleep again. It was strange I functioned properly that day because I didn’t get back into the hotel until around 7pm ish.
8. You already heard that Rwanda is the cleanest country in Africa. I don’t doubt it again. On my first day in Kigali, I went on a personal tour. As I guessed, people in Rwanda are as poor as in any African country (at $900 per capita though from $130 in 1994), but what shocked me is that even in untarred inner streets/roads, the level of cleanliness is incredible. Rural areas are as clean as the well paved city areas. Like I told someone, it’s better experienced than told. The government has implemented strict policies and regulations to ensure that citizens and businesses properly dispose of waste, and there are regular city-wide clean-up campaigns. The government has also invested in infrastructure such as waste management facilities and recycling programs. As I spoke with the people, I realize that it is considered a civic duty to keep the environment clean. I’m sure it’s contributed to the life expectancy of Rwandans being one of the highest in Africa at 69 years (it was 47 in 2000). Nigeria’s is 54, it was the same 47 in 2000. See?
9. During my tour around the city, I went hiking inside the Meraneza forest on Mt Kigali. Our wonderful guide could speak four languages — English, French, Swahili (for the entire East African region), and the local Rwandan language. Before then, I didn’t know they recently changed their official language to English from French. The older people do not speak English, only French. Why the change? Because of the genocide.
10. The genocide was a terrible thing. The cloud still hangs over the country. In just 100 days in 1994, about a million people were slaughtered. I was at the Kigali memorial center, a well-documented museum of a brother’s inhumanity to another. All aided by the actions of the French colonialism. I left the place somber. And possibly thinking of the bleakness of the Nigerian situation with the trajectory the country is going.
11. I had gone to Kigali to facilitate training for a group of oil and gas professionals in Africa on organizational leadership where I introduced the concept of Agile which has been spreading in many industries. Imagine my shock when I stepped into the lift on my first day on the way to the third floor, and these men in suit were ‘blowing’ Yoruba. “What is happening here?” For the days I facilitate trainings in that hotel, all the conference rooms were booked for training by Nigerians. I met professors of medicine from Nigeria. I met people from the educational sector. All kinds of professionals from Nigeria. The hotel had three floors dedicated to conferences, and all were in use every day, mostly by people I hear speaking Nigerian languages. One wicked person told me that Nigerians are flooding to Kigali because Dubai has banned us. Unlike what Nigerians said when we were banned, Dubai does not miss us. So, Kigali with its free visas is now a darling. But many still miss Dubai because there is just no shopping like Dubai offers. And yes, there are Nigerian investments all over the place. Of course, you can’t miss GTB and Access banks’ presence. There is also Jollof Kigali operated by an Igbo-speaking man which is selling so much that we had to book two days ahead. I was told that Nigerians are now buying a lot of real estate in the country. Abeg, make una no spoil the place o.
12. I was passing on my own when I heard in loud Nigerian voices,
“And they paid these guys $56,000 to organize training. They cannot even give us $500 each.”
I have no way of verifying this information. I am not an investigative journalist. I only tell you things I hear. But I heard training is a great way to make money if you are in the right circles especially towards the end of the year when companies want to spend their budget for training. And of course, you must know how to manage the hawks. LOL
13. Motorcycles are everywhere in Kigali. It was from one of the bike guys I found out that fuel is 1800RWF per litre. That’s about 1500 naira. Una go fit pay? No wonder motorcycles plenty pass cars. More importantly, all the commercial bikes are equipped with helmets for the driver and his passenger (‘his’ because I never saw a woman driver). I always make friends with all of them and even took pictures with a couple of them. They take me from my hotel to where I facilitate my training. And they bring me back. Sometimes, I paid 600RWF. Other times, I paid 700RWF. It was from them that I got the 100RWF coins. One of them told me he could take me to the airport for 2500RWF. Compare that to the 25000RWF that guy charged me. Lagos boy has carried last in small Kigali. And yes, on my last day, I got to the airport from my hotel on a bike for 2000RWF. Just imagine!
14. That reminds me. What I got at the airport were a bunch of 5000RWFs notes. When I got talking with someone at the restaurant and I told him Nigeria’s exchange rate, he said I should brace up for a 5000 naira note. I rejected it for the country. Say, Amen.
15. It was the bikeguy who took me to the local restaurant on the first day who went away with my 300RWF. I gave him 1000RWF and he said he would go get change. He said he would be back in 30 minutes to not just give me my change but to also take me back to the hotel. I waited and waited. Then I smiled and left. LOL
“Scam is universal, opportunity is not.”
16. It was at the restaurant that I met Emeri. A Burundian, he immigrated to Rwanda in search of the good life. Full of life, he works as a server at the restaurant, and he regaled me with life in Rwanda and Burundi. He says he considers himself one of the ‘lucky’ ones from that country. Until he mentioned it, I had forgotten that the country even exists. When I got back to the hotel, I decided to read about Burundi, which shares a border with Rwanda and is also made up of the Hutus and the Tutsi. What I read almost made me tear up. Check this excerpt from Wikipedia:
“Burundi remains primarily a rural society, with just 13.4% of the population living in urban areas in 2019. As of 2023, the country had a population density of 473 people per square kilometer, making it the 17th most densely populated country. One of the smallest countries in Africa, Burundi’s land is used mostly for subsistence agriculture and grazing, which has led to deforestation, soil erosion and habitat loss. As of 2005, the country was almost completely deforested, with less than 6% of its land covered by trees and over half of that being commercial plantations. Burundi is the poorest country in the world as per GDP per capita, and is one of the least developed countries, facing widespread poverty, corruption, instability, authoritarianism, and illiteracy. Burundi is densely populated, and many young people emigrate in search of opportunities elsewhere. The World Happiness Report 2018 ranked the country as the world’s least happy with a rank of 156.”
As I am fond of saying, ‘Talent is universal, opportunity is not.’
Fate has dealt the young people of Burundi a terrible terrible hand.
17. When I hear people say that Rwandans are tall, what do they mean? I am not a tall person so I should know when a group of people are tall. And I tell you that I did not feel out of place in Kigali at all. Go around Kigali and you will not think that these people are particularly tall. In fact, on average, I do not think they are taller than Nigerians. I thought I was crazy, so I decided to ask another Nigerian who was there recently — Vic is Igbo, female, and tall. In her words, “I didn’t notice their heights, tbh.” There, you have it. That’s the problem with using outliers to judge the whole. You see only tall Rwandans in the media and automatically think all Rwandans are tall. There is a term for that. Who knows it?
18. Everywhere I go on the continent, I make it a habit to ask people where they think I come from. I have a really dark skin, so no one ever confuse me for North Africans. More people have wagered I am from West Africa than not. Most say Ghana or Kenya. Others say Mali. A couple have said Uganda. I take these as compliments.
I thank my parents for making me look Pan-African.
19. When I tell them I am Nigerian around the city, the Rwandans light up. Almost always, they start calling the names of musicians. Burnaboy usually come first. One guy said, ‘I know Burnaboy, the superstar!’ When I tell them I don’t like Burnaboy, they say they also like Wizkid and Davido. And Tecno. Emeri told me Rema was in their country in February and he had a great time. In Rwanda, music is our greatest export. We have something to cheer, I guess. Who remembers the economy when others are happy about other things?
20. Another wicked person said Kagame has 4 houses in the city, and no one knows where he is per time. He ascribes it to the occupational hazards of a (benevolent) dictator.
21. I spoke with this guy called Fiston for about 2 hours at the hotel. He works as a barman and is currently studying International Relations at one of the universities. He is so passionate about his country. He was the one who lectured me about the government structure. There are 5 provinces — East, West, North, South, and then Kigali. The provinces have a governor, and the city has a mayor. He told me about the genocide and how he was taken to Burundi and did not return until 10 years. He spoke of seeing massive graves when he returned. He says all those who ran away because of Kagame should stay abroad.
“Rwanda is at peace. We do not want any destabilization efforts again.”
22. Talking about Kagame, his name kept coming up throughout my class. Africans love strong (effective) leaders. That’s the thing with evidence, they have all come from different places and they observe a country that is working. They see motorcycles and cars waiting for people to pass on pedestrian crossings. They can see the zeal with which people do their work. The roads are not filled with impatient people honking horns at every turn. (I remember one of the first scenes I met upon arrival in Lagos were a bunch of folks blocking the road because someone had hit the other, and it became a huge shouting march. I started laughing so loudly my Bolt asked what’s wrong. He would not understand.) The participants speak with the people, and they appear satisfied with their government. They see the people do not care who rules as long as they are at peace and cared for. As I always say, a benevolent dictator is great to have, the question is how to get it. What if you think you are getting a Lee Kwan Yew and what you get is an Isaias Afwerki? What playbook do you have to differentiate a monster from an Angel? And like I told my Rwandan friends, I hope the country’s direction is sustained after Kagame leaves or dies. He will not be there forever.
Long live the Republic of Rwanda! Murabeho!