Ponder any connection between Kigali and tourism and folks will most likely recall the Rwandan Civil War that formed the backdrop of the gripping 2005 movie Hotel Rwanda, nominated for three Oscars. But in the 20 years since the war ended, Rwanda has done an about-face, with its capital, Kigali recognized by tourists as the most inviting city in all of Africa.
The genocide that ravaged Rwanda 20 years ago remains a sobering memory to its citizens but determined to press on, the nation is a vast improvement from those dark days with a far more stable government and a bustling economy. Now, Rwanda's capital, Kigali is quickly getting a reputation for being a major arts hub, a bustling hospitality sector, and an incubator for a rejuvenated entrepreneurial spirit.
The result is a far more accommodating municipality, home to some of what is reportedly the best restaurants and coffee shops on the continent, serving everything from the skewered goat meat known as brochette to a concoction of boiled beans and sweet potatoes, a highly-lauded national dish.
Fashion boutiques and clothing shops offer high-quality clothing that can be customized within a day for fussier consumers. And there is no shortage of art galleries and museums in the city that celebrates its take on African culture.
Safer than the U.S.
Federal law forbids locals from referring to others as part of the Tutsis or Hutus, the rival movements responsible for the civil war that claimed 800,000 lives. But tourists are advised to visit the Genocide Museum to get a detailed account of what nearly tore Rwanda apart in 1994.
After visiting the complex, Kigalians encourage visitors to check out the nightlife in some of the more bustling after-hours areas in the city. It turns out Rwandans find the best way to live through a tragic event is to live it up. Even with a population of 1.2 million, Kigali's also quite a secure environment, given that Rwanda is now the ninth-safest country in the world. Put in perspective, the U.S. is ranked in 128th place.
Besides a vibrant atmosphere, the other major element that's contributed to Kigali's rebirth is the legislated activity known as Umuganda, meaning community service. It's required that an adult member of every household get up on the final Saturday of the month and clean up or fix anything that requires maintenance outside, including items on public property. That service translates to pride and an eagerness to show off their part of the city to the rest of the world.
Despite the impressive accolades from tourism media who have visited Kigali of late, getting the word out is still a work in progress. Nonetheless, the city and the rest of Rwanda have come a long way since 1994.