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.