The year 1884 marks the beginning of colonial times for Rwanda when it became part of German East Africa. During this time no significant alteration were made to the social structure of the country, but exerted influence by supporting the king and the existing hierarchy and delegating power to local chiefs. During world war I Belgium troops invaded Burundi and Rwanda, both German colonies, beginning a period of more direct colonial rule. Belgium simplified and centralised the power structure and introduced large-scale projects in education, health, public works, and agricultural supervision. Both the Germans and the Belgians promoted Tutsi supremacy, considering the Hutu and Tutsi different races. In 1935, Belgium introduced identity cards labelling each individual as Tutsi, Hutu, Twa or Naturalised. While it had previously been possible for particularly wealthy Hutu to become honorary Tutsi, the identity cards prevented any further movement between the classes.
Belgium continued to rule Rwanda as a UN Trust Territory after World War II, with a mandate to oversee independence. During this time tension escalated between the Tutsi, who favoured early independence, and the Hutu emancipation movement, culminating in the 1959 Rwandan Revolution: Hutu activists began killing Tutsi, forcing more than 100,000 to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. In 1961, the now pro-Hutu Belgians held a referendum in which the country voted to abolish the monarchy. Rwanda was separated from Burundi and gained independence in 1962.
Cycles of violence followed for the next ten years or so, with exiled Tutsi attacking from neighbouring countries and the Hutu retaliating with large-scale slaughter and repression of the Tutsi. In 1973, Juvénal Habyarimana took power in a military coup. Pro-Hutu discrimination continued, but there was greater economic prosperity and a reduced amount of violence against Tutsi.
In 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a rebel group composed mostly of Tutsi refugees, invaded northern Rwanda, initiating the Rwandan Civil War. Neither side was able to gain a decisive advantage in the war, but by 1992 it had weakened Habyarimana's authority; mass demonstrations forced him into a coalition with the domestic opposition and eventually international pressure led him to sign the 1993 Arusha Accords with the RPF, which would create a power-sharing government with the RPF. This agreement was not acceptable to a number of conservative Hutu, including members of the Akazu, who viewed it as conceding to enemy demands. The RPF military campaign intensified support for the so-called "Hutu Power" ideology, which portrayed the RPF as an alien force who were non-Christian, intent on reinstating the Tutsi monarchy and enslaving Hutus. Many Hutus reacted to this prospect with extreme opposition. In the lead-up to the genocide the number of machetes imported into Rwanda increased. The cease-fire ended on 6 April 1994 when Habyarimana's plane was shot down near Kigali Airport, killing him as well as the president of Burundi. The shooting down of the plane served as the catalyst for the Rwandan Genocide, which began within a few hours. Soldiers, police, and militia quickly executed key Tutsi and moderate Hutu military and political leaders who could have assumed control in the ensuing power vacuum. Checkpoints and barricades were erected to screen all holders of the national ID card of Rwanda (which contained ethnic classification information introduced by the Belgian colonial government in 1933) in order to systematically identify and kill Tutsi. These forces recruited and pressured Hutu civilians to arm themselves with machetes, clubs, blunt objects, and other weapons to rape, maim, and kill their Tutsi neighbours and to destroy or steal their property. The breakdown of the peace accords led the RPF to restart its offensive and rapidly seize control of the northern part of the country before capturing Kigali in mid-July, bringing an end to the genocide.
Over the course of approximately 100 days staring on April 7, 1994, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu were killed in well-planned attacks on the orders of the interim government. And an estimated 2,000,000 Rwandans, mostly Hutus, were displaced and became refugees.
The international response to the genocide was limited, with major powers reluctant to strengthen the already overstretched UN peacekeeping force. In the aftermath, the United Nations and countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Belgium were criticized for their inaction and failure to strengthen the force and mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) peacekeepers. Other observers criticized the government of France for alleged support of the Hutu government after the genocide had begun.
The leader of the RPF Paul Kagame is currently the president of Rwanda. He is currently serving his second term as president. A referendum in 2015 allows him to run for a third term by changing the constitution. Although Rwanda has been stabile political, some old members of his government claim he ordered the shooting of the plane of president Habyarimana, which was the event that heated up the violence leading to the genocide of many Tutsi’s and moderate Hutu’s.
Kigali and the genocide museum and monument
Finally aware of the speed limits for Rwanda (city 40km/h, outside 60km/h and in some places 80km/h when indicated), we kept crawling through the hills towards Kigali. This time it is however because we want it. The road is perfect and the scenery incredible. When we were overtaken by a BMW Z3, Judith asked the rhetorical question: “I guess you miss the Beamer, don’t you?”.
In Kigali, our first stop was the Inema Art Gallery. As it turns out, next to being an art gallery, it also functions as a community centre that provides amongst others (painting) workshops to local children (who’s works are also shown). After a cup of coffee, we took a tour through the gallery. Most art works were from the two founding brothers Emmanuel and Innocent that are living their dream. We were once again tempted, but managed to convince ourselves that the works were too big for our house and certainly to carry around…
As already planned month ago, we would have lunch in ‘Hotel des Mille Collines’ (a thousands hills). This hotel which history is basis for the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’ documents Paul Rusesabagina’s acts to save the lives of his family and over a thousand Tutsi and moderate Hutu refugees by granting them shelter in the hotel. It has to be said that the hotel in the movie (more like a colonial building) had a much higher appeal than the business like, two wing, five-story modern hotel it really is. To end the day, we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Although we had already read up on the genocide after seeing Hotel Rwanda, it still made a very deep impression on us. The fact that the lights went out at two third of the exposition and we had to finalize with the light of our iPhone, did give it an extra dramatic ending. Quietly we left the memorial to find a place to sleep.
The next morning we visited two of the churches that have been converted into genocide memorials south of Kigali. The history around both churches is equal. During the years leading up to the 1994 genocide, they provided shelter to those that made it to the church. However during the start of the April 1994 murder spree, the militias bombed the churches with hand grenades and afterwards killed everyone inside. At both churches we saw many clothes covered in blood, cracked skulls and bones. The two guides we had are older than 30 years and have experienced the genocide themselves. While sharing the history with us you could see the sadness and emotion in their eyes.
It was our idea to continue south and take a shortcut to another main road, but our GPS indicated that it would be faster to go back to Kigali and follow the main road from there. With an average of 40km/h on the main road in mind, this meant that the short cut was likely a not to best road Rwanda... We decided to go back to Kigali for lunch and actually found a Japanese restaurant that is working towards its grant opening at the end of January. Although they were not open today, they offered to open the restaurant this evening ‘just for us’… After finding out that the youth hostel had no camping place for us (other than next to a huge Overlander truck that planned to leave at six in the morning), we went back to the restaurant (where the manager was very enthusiastic about our overland trip) and asked a cheeky question…if we could camp on their secured parking for the night…a bit to our surprise, this was no problem at all J
Part of the authentic Japanese diner was, of course, sushi… Not having been to Japan (yet), we think we never had sushi made by a true Sushi master… Was it the atmosphere? The fact they opened ‘just’ for us? We had a real nice experience and the sushi, especially with torched salmon, was phenomenal. After diner, we had some drinks with the owner, and got invited to Sake tasting. We have our fingers crossed, that their shipment comes in, while we are still in Rwanda (and of course we could sleep again on their drive way).
Huye (formerly Butare) and Nyangwe Forest
Huye and Nyangwe Forest
Next morning, we went in the direction of Huye. On our way, we visit Kings Mutara III Rudahigwa’s old and new Palace. The first being of reed and the second build by the Belgium from brick and mortar. King Mutara III ruled Rwanda from 1931 till 1959 when he died under suspicious circumstances. It was a pleasant stop that we shared with a large group of Rwandans that arrived at the same time as we did. We later found out that the last king of Rwanda had recently died in October 2016 and successor was announced in January 2017… although very sure the new king was not part of this group, we do think we almost hit his heavily guarded Land cruiser when it was parked at the wrong side of the road in front of a government building.
We continued to Huye where we planned to do a hike at a coffee plantation. On our request, we started with a cup of coffee and some sandwiches. Guided by Mr Coffee Aloys, we drove to the plantation and walked up the hill while he explained all the steps in the process of coffee production. On the top of the hill, we smelled a fire and it turned out that we would roast our own coffee beans the traditional way. After roasting, we continued our hike passing the ‘ancient seat’ where the kings would prepare for battle and the highest point with a 360 view of the area. The tour ended at the washing station, where the beans are cleansed fermented and divided in quality levels (floaters, sinkers A, B and C grade). After the tour, we decided to set up camp at the washing station. Being somewhat of a tourist attraction for the local children in the village we started preparing our meal and only after dark the children went home.
The next morning we visited the Ethnographic museum, formerly known as the National Museum of Rwanda. It was built with help of the Belgian government. It first opened in 1989 and it is a good source of information on the cultural history of the country. It is also known as the site of the murder of Queen Dowager Rosalie Gicanda and several others during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994. It is a nicely set up museum with good explanations in three languages.
After our visit we drove the scenic route to Nyangwe Forest, which is located in southwestern Rwanda, bordering Burundi in the south and Lake Kivu and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. The Nyungwe rainforest is probably the best preserved montane rainforest in Central Africa. It is located in the watershed between the basin of the river Congo to the west and the basin of the river Nile to the east. From the east side of the Nyungwe forest comes also one of the branches of the Nile sources. The park is renowned for its 13 different species of primates and 26 endangered birds (only found in Rwanda). During our drive we were very lucky to see 5 chimpanzees close to the road and one even crossing the road 15 metres before our track. The next day during the waterfall hike we saw L’hoest Mountain monkeys, Mona Monkey, Grey Cheeked Mangabeys and the Angola Colobus monkeys. But, dam, those monkeys were really fast, so hopefully we have some nice pictures.
Lake Kivu (Kibuye) and the Congo-Nile trail
From the Nyangwe Forest we drove a brand new tar road all the way to Kibuye, but from Kibuye to Gisengy we wanted to drive the Congo-Nile trail. This trail is 227 kilometres long passing beautiful landscapes, including rolling hills and clear water. And you can either hike (10 days), mountain bike (5 days) or drive 4x4 (1 day) on this trail, obviously we opted for the last.
The south part of the track is mostly stones and some tracks through grassland. The views along this drive were very nice and we were enjoying it tremendously….that was until after one hour we got stuck in some muddy grassland…one hour later with the help of local people and using our highlift jack for the first time ever…we could continue our drive…but we only left after taking a picture with the people who helped us. Our next challenge were motorbike trails not even wide enough for a car. Friends that we met in Zambia had driven this track as well (so we know it can be done !) and we doubted that other overlanders have driven it after them. Some of the bushes are 50cm high and we just drove over them, while continuously looking at our GPS to see if we were still heading in the right direction.
Fortunately, after 45 kilometres the second part of the trail is much better. Driving is easier and Wilfred got to enjoy the scenery as well instead of hard work to navigate the car on the trail. At the end of the day we arrive at the lodge on the shores of Lake Kivu and we will take a couple of days of R&R and do some chores before we head to Park The Volcanoes.
Rusumo, Kigali, Huye, Nyungwe National Park, Lake Kivu, Parc National de Volcans.
Border crossing and Kayonza
Since a couple of months, the Rusumo Falls border, is a one-stop border, meaning we headed right into Rwanda and got all paperwork processed in one building. It was probably the smoothest border crossing ever (no touts or money changers hassling us and truly helpful staff).
Winning an hour on the clock helped us to still arrive at a reasonable time at the Women’s Opportunity Centre lodge and campsite in Kayonza, but did still mean we had to drive about an hour in the dark… It did not help either that the maximum speed in Rwanda seems to be 40km/h. Although we doubted this, there was some reason to believe this as the roads are winding and there are people and houses next to the road for kilometres at a stretch. The Women’s Opportunity Centre is nicely situated in the rolling hills and is aimed to create economic opportunity and rebuild social infrastructure for women. The eco-designed centre offers a market and retail space, a meeting space, some storage and workspaces, special event facilities, lodging, and restaurant services. To recover from the long drives of the last couple of days, we decided to stay at this nice location for two nights before heading towards the capital Kigali. And sorting out the essential logistics every time we arrive in a new country, buying a SIM card (where would we be without mobile internet…) and getting some cash (the first time without standing in line for more than one hour, it seemed it paid of not crossing during the last days of the month).
Mbeya, Iringa, Ruaha National Park, Mikumi, Dar es Salaam, Kilwa Masoko, Dar es Salaam/Mahaba Beach, Lushoto, West Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Tarangire National Park, Arusha, Lake Manyara National Park, Serengeti National Park, Ndutu, Ngorongoro Crater, Karatu, Arusha National Park, Pangani, Stone Town, Pangani, Arusha, Babati, Mwanza.
KM’s driven : 6387km
Total liters of fuel : 955lt (of which 200lt for driving through Rwanda)
Fuel consumption : 7,2km per litre
Average diesel price : 1820TSH
Nights Camping : 36 nights
Nights B&B/Hotel : 15 nights
Fines : 1 (of course again for speeding)
Bribes : 0
Theft : 1 attempt (while staying with friends in Arusha; fortunately we woke up and nothing was taken)
Highlight : Visiting the Serengeti with Judith’s family and seeing leopard cups
Pangani and Stone Town
Our taxi driver was right on time and we left for a long journey from Arusha to Pangani through the Usamburu mountain range. A route we had already driven, but fortunately a scenic route. We finally saw Mount Kilimanjaro in its full beauty (although the best side is from Kenya). Talking about Kenya, we almost drove into it… just before the border post, we realize that our GPS had stopped beeping to us (or had we put it in silent mode…). Unfortunately, there was no shortcut available through the mountains and we had to drive the 15km back to the junction.
When we finally arrived at the junction towards Tanga, we were pleasantly surprised by the change of scenery. A good road winds through the rolling hills with nice views on each side with the mountain range in the back. We had learned during our stay at Simba Farm, that we should not take the road towards Pangani and moved onward to a small town 15km before Tanga before turning into a small road through the pineapple and sisal (looking like pineapple, but much larger plants and the fibre is used to make ropes) fields. Once arrived at Peponi beach resort, we learned that the rest of the family had already arrived and settled in their banda’s (little thatched huts).
As it was Christmas day, the resort had planned a large English style buffet for everyone that wanted to join. The Christmas crackers were a nice touch and the buffet, including typical English dishes such as ham and turkey as well as local fish and veggies, was really good.
The next day, the relaxing started… the day after we had our first kite surfing lesson. After the first day kiting on the training kite, we were relieved; we expected it to be much more difficult. The next couple of days the wind had taken a holiday too and we just relaxed at the resort hoping each day it would pick up again. One morning, we visited Pangani, that started as a German settlement next to the Pangani river. There are some old buildings left and the US Governor program has funded some restorations. The harbour building is brand new and only opened a few months ago, but the day we were there, there was very little activity.
After celebrating the New Year, the wind had returned from holiday and we had some more kite (surfing) lessons. Empowered by the advise of several other travellers (if not all other travellers), we decided to alter our plan and added a four day trip to Stone Town, Zanzibar to the itinerary.
Stone Town, Zanzibar
Having cancelled the boat ride to Zanzibar already some weeks ago (after having read some horror stories of rides up to 9 hours long and worse), we bought 5 one-way tickets from the Pangani airport airstrip to Stone town airport. Since there is a ferry crossing before we could get to the airstrip, we planned for some extra time… After all, this is Africa J. When we got to the ferry, we could however drive on immediately and we arrived at the airstrip hour and a half early. How lucky we were that the airstrip has a VIP-lounge! After about 2 hours waiting under the large shadowy tree (it still is Africa…) and Joop having walked the runway up and down at least twice, the airplane finally arrived and brought us to Zanzibar in less than 30 minutes.
At the airport, we said goodbye to Judith’s family who would stay at a resort at the east side of the island and we were brought to our hotel in the heart of old Stone town. It turned out that we were very close to the Zanzibar Coffee House, ran by the coffee plantation in Mbeya where we had stayed five weeks earlier, so we decided to have a small bite there to make up for a missed lunch and to bridge the gap till dinner. The hotel manager offered to have one of her staff bring us to the Coffee House. Her offering it, without any hint from our side either meant she did not think highly of us or that it would not be easy to find. On our way from the taxi stand to the hotel we were reminded of the Moroccan King Cities and their Medina; Stone town is also like a maze at first glance... (esspecially with the horrific tourist shops selling the same cheap (Chinese?) imported junk everywhere). As we were more interested in a bite than an adventure, we decided to welcome the help and less than a minute later we were sipping a nice coffee while waiting for our Zanzibari pizza.
Our hotel turned out to have the highest roof terrace restaurant in Stone Town. We were encouraged to come up to the roof at six o’clock for a drink during sunset before enjoying the traditional Swahili (pre-wedding ceremony) three-course dinner the Swahili way, sitting on cushions.
The views from the terrace gave us some orientation for the next day when we walked through the old city. With the map in hand we crossed the old town from the old slave market and monument, to the fish and fruit markets towards the Forodhani gardens for a small lunch. After lunch we visit the old fort and the House of Wonders museum (first building with electricity and an elevator in Zanzibar).
Having seen most of the old city the previous day, we spent the next day debating on the next destination and sorting out the visa’s requirements for the countries after Kenya. The next day, Judith’s family joined us in Stone Town. After a short walk through the old town, we had lunch on the rooftop and visited the Sultan’s Palace museum. After a sunset drinks at another roof terrace and diner at the House of Spices, they headed back for their resort.
After another rich breakfast on our own balcony overlooking the old town, we headed for the quarters close to the Hyatt. After some sightseeing, we once again used the Hyatt’s perfect internet connection during lunch afterwards we went to the airport for our flight to Tanga and the Peponi beach resort to collect our car.
Driving south of Serengeti towards Rwanda
Sick and tired of the Kite schools planning and communication skills, we left the next morning for Rwanda, via Mwanza at Lake Victoria. We broke this 1700km stretch in Arusha (Snake park), Babati and Mwanza.
At the snake park campsite was also a small Maasai museum and a reptile farm. We spent some time wandering around and where most surprized by the picture of what a python can actually do...in the Amazon a worker from a oil rift while sleeping was eaten by a python...after colleagues reported him missing, a search party found the python. They cut open the snake and found the man inside. Babati is nothing more than a small village next to Lake Babati, however the drive was very scenic through the surrounding hills.
In Mwanza, we stayed at the Yacht club with a perfect view of Ryan’s Bay, but very poor ablutions…so poor that Judith even washed her hair using our own outdoor shower ! Other than being a large African town, Mwanza has not too much more to offer than nice lake views and some stunning rock formations. But it did have some god supermarkets and we could buy some gas canisters (the only place in Tanzania we could find them). After two nights, we headed for Rwanda using the shortcut via the Kikongo-Busisi ferry. This turned out to be a perfect choice. When we arrived at the ferry, it was ready to go and we were squeezed on it with three others late arrivers. A mare 45 minutes later, we continued for two hours over a smooth tar road via Geita to Bwanga where we decided to take the shortcut to the main road again. Wilfred was very pleased as he was allowed 60km/h through the villages, a much better pace with our truck than 50km/h (which is just in between 3rd and 4th gear). This road is now 50% tarred, 25% prepared for tar and the last 25% doable gravel, however still unpleasant with our truck, let alone with a saloon car.
Once on the main road, we were surprised that the road was again smooth tar as we had read this would be a horrific stretch till the border with truly deep and wide potholes that are impossible to miss as if a bombardment had taken place the day before. It being just after three, we already started planning to cross the border a day early…little did we know. After twenty-five kilometres we reached ‘the warzone’. This road immediately made it into the top three of worst roads ever. Luckily it is ‘only’ a stretch of about fifty kilometres (taking almost two hours) and we still arrived at the border before five. Not really liking the places we could have stayed on the Tanzanian side, we fueled up the front and back tanks (to save us $25ct the litre, a nice meal if you can carry about 200 litres of diesel).