Skip to main content
Life Reflections

Three Cheers to the City of Kigali!

By January 22, 2022June 6th, 2023No Comments

January 21, 2022

Talking of transformation, some parts of Kigali have done something else. We may say they have undergone metamorphosis or mutation because methinks they’ve turned totally ‘unKigalian’.

I remember coming from exile in August 1994. From Gatuna Border we zigzagged our way up and down, as darkness gathered, till we reached a valley and our foreign driver casually points out: “There is your Chigali!”

“What!” I exclaimed involuntarily. I could only see a mountain looming in the dark.

The minibus taxi got us at what was known as Radiyo and ‘poured us out’. Somebody had assured me I wouldn’t fail to find a friend there but what they hadn’t bargained for was that it’d be night!

I was seized in this confusion when a dog nearby ‘growled me’ out of my trance – remember those human-flesh-fattened dogs? Trembling, I tiptoed towards a flickering light, a place called Tam Tam, where, indeed, I found acquaintances. One led me to my nephew’s ‘hangout’, a street strewn with plastic chairs, where people were carousing under the light of stars.

After greetings, my nephew pointed to what seemed to be a shop up and nonchalantly says: “That’s our new home!” Well, I’ll be buggered! But what the heck! I took his offer of a drink and joined the carousal.

Fast forward. Last Wednesday in the same place, after a while without visiting, I could hardly recognise it; it’s now called Imbuga City Walk. I got a spot near those big letters spelling out K-I-G-A-L-I and sat down but could not hold myself. I burst out laughing, startling youths taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi to surf the internet. After my sheepish “Sorry!” I moved to a secluded place to think back and freely enjoy my jollity.

Surely, who, in their wildest imagination, could have believed that the carousal place of then would turn out to be this beautiful garden and a cobbled walk interspersed with elegant plants?

That place that’s today KN4 Avenue has seen drama upon drama and you can say that again.

In the late 1950s, it’s said to have been the only street with a building that could accommodate the Belgian royal couple, when they visited. The accommodation? An improvised dingy post office building that was the only storied one in Rwanda! Says volumes about Belgian colonialism.

In 1994 when a new ministry, Minitraco, made it an office it found it had gathered such a stench that it struggled to clean it without success.  Matters were not improved by an even stronger stench that wafted across from a ‘new’, storied building on spindly legs that housed the Foreign Affairs ministry. Their occupants had to go in search of other homes.

Where the post office building stood is the very spot that hosts the majestic M. Peace Plaza today. The Foreign Affairs ministry land is the seat of the range of modern skyscrapers you now see.

Just before 1994, our carousal place would have been under the gaze of the infamous hate-speech radio, RTLM, and all those revellers would’ve been eliminable undesirables.

That’s until one of a duo of hate-speech announcers yelped an “Arrr! Those cockroaches have cut off my leg!” From a Nyarutarama hill, RPF liberators had sent a rocket that penetrated the studio to silence the radio. But that was then.

Still, the avenue didn’t acquire that Imbuga City Walk overnight. From an appropriated merrymakers’ street, it became a survival-for-the-fittest jungle, as the new government tried to bring order. The disorderly driving by a wave of returning refugees was a menace to everybody but the mother of all menaces was a monster known as “karaningufu”.

Bakaraningufu were youths who took care of all your needs but when they cart-pushed your market purchases, woe unto whoever was in their way. When their “Tsiiii!” sounded behind you and you did not hop out of the way in time, you were dead meat. They’d be caught and punished but your body would’ve become indistinguishable from the road surface.

That “dog ‘growled me’ out of my trance” place today plays host to a modern block of high-end flats that’s lined with beautiful trees. We used to mock City Council about them thinking trees could grow out of concrete but, today, they are having the last laugh!

As to “flickering light….Tam Tam”, the area has been given a turnaround by the Mayoral Parlour. The City Council building hugs the area between KN3 Avenue and KN4 Avenue, to create a thing of beauty. The buildings lining one side of KN3 Avenue defy description, you’d agree, no?

What I can say; one week without visiting the city centre and you’ll be lost. But then again, we have only talked about one spot.

Treat yourself to the contrasting vistas of Kigali during the day and then at night from the highest summit around and tell me if this city does not deserve more Bloomberg-like awards.

Three cheers, our city in the hilly heart of Africa!

Leave a Reply