Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Rwanda's Rebuttal to New Claims of Meddling in Congo

Rwanda's relationship with its neighbor, DRC, is complex and resists simplification. Jason Stearns book on the recent wars in Congo provides important insight to the backstory over the past decade or so. In any event, Rwanda has submitted a rebuttal to the recent charges of its meddling, which is accessible through this link. (I cannot independently confirm the authenticity of the document.)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Naive Interview by CNN

CNN interviewed His Excellency Paul Kagame the other day. In a typical Western-style interview, the correspondent asked numbers of de-contextualized questions, almost prideful in showing ignorance of the historical, political context of, among other things, Rwanda's involvement in Congo. One series of questions centered on the ridiculous querying of President Kagame about his picture hanging some hotels in Kigali. The correspondent made fun of the President by saying that she had only seen such photos itotalitarianan countries. I certainly recall seeing such photos in Kigali, but I can't say I recall seeing them in other areas of the country, though it is certainly possible. But it certainly was not irksome. And it is nothing like photos and images of "Dear Leader." Really, for a mzunga reporter to "confront" the leader of a country this way is more than silly -- it is disrespectful and offensive. Faced with query about Kagame's margin of victory in the last election, Kagame tried to compare Rwanda with the US, presumably the latter being the paragon of democracy. Kagame struggled to make an argument along the following lines: if in the US voter participation is something like 60 percent, and if say Obama wins 51 percent of the electorate, then the democracy and the leader of the free world has something like 30 percent confirmed backing. Yet, the reporter would say that the US President is the democratically legitimated leader of the US, but the implied argument Kagame was making was that while given the current context the US President is legitimate. As Kagame was emphasizing, context is important.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Alleged Unreasonable Political Repression in Rwanda

Western liberal political philosophy emphasizes political rights over social and economic ones. From this perspective, the criticism of Rwanda stemming from Western human rights groups neither is surprising nor acute. Often forgotten in international law or legal debates is the UN Covenant on Economic and Social Rights. In speaking with other Americans after my trip to Rwanda, I find that I am too often educating Americans about their (our) own history, particularly the Alien and Sedition Acts. No doubt those statutes remain highly controversial and subject to just criticism, but their adoption in the early years of the Republic reflects a number of similiar exigencies that induce some of the limitations on sedition and ethnic divisionalism that is proscribed in Rwanda. I am not suggesting that one must lock-step embrace every step of the Rwandan government, but it is crucial to understand that there is a context and complex balance that should be considered. One might consider striking a different balance than any current policy in Rwanda, but we should recognize the shades of gray that are involved -- not some simplistic reaction to curbing of some political speech or dissent.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Rwanda Bonds

Among the things the State of Israel has done that Rwanda should consider emulating is a foreign-investor bond program. 

The way Israel bonds works is like this:  an individual buys a "bond", which means that the individual is leading Israel money in exchange for a promise of return during the period until the invididual's money is returned.  So, for a $100 bond, the idea is that you pay today, say, $82 and after six years you can exchange it for $100.  From Israel's perspective, it get financing for worth-while projects; the individual-investor knows he'll get some investment return, maybe less than he might have received in a commercial bond, but he or she can rationale the lost "opportunity costs" (that is, the smaller return from the Israel bond than what he might have received from a private corporate bond, by saying that this is essential a financial contribution to the State of Israel.

The American Jewish community has responded by using Israel bonds as gifts for bar and bat mitzvah, high school gradualtion, birth of a baby, or the like.  Separately, individuals use the purchase of larger denominated bonds as an element of a diversified investment portfolio (and conconitantly, an element of a diversified charitable giving portfolio). 

For Rwanda, the large community that lives today outside of the country might well be willing to put some of their "savings" into Rwanda bonds.  They might give them as gifts.

Moreover, I can imagine giving a combined Israel bond/Rwanda bonda instrument as a gift.  This could be developed as a single dual-sovereign bond whereby perhaps a small percentage of the other governmnet's risk of default is assumed by the other.  But the key would be the marketing advantage and how this would foster stronger ties between Israel and Rwanda and Jews and Rwanda.  Moreover, the large american Christian community that has proven so supportive of Rwanda over last dozen years or more likewise may be interested in buying either Rwanda or Rwanda/Israel bonds.

For American Jews who have participated in the purchase of Israel bonds, the reception and satisfaction has been uniform positive and welcoming.  Like Israel was when the bond program was developed, Rwanda is an emerging county with many viable projects it can use to build its future.

Manchester, England

I haven't been to Manchester, but it's what Rwanda needs.

Projections are that Kigali will reach a population of more than 5 million people in a generation.  This is the current population of Singapore, a country that the Rwanda government holds up sometimes as a model.  Buy Singapore is one of the largest ports in the world.  It's not landlocked, surrounding by mountains.

Kigali presently is the economic center of the country and its capital.  As more and more Rwandans achieve the benefits of higher and higher levels of education, the pressure to go to the big urban center to take advantage of white-collar, middle professional jobs and opportunities will impel ambitious Rwandans to go there.  As this city grows, it will naturally expand physical, at the risk of driving up costs for low income people and forcing them to move.  This dynamic usually produces social instability, sometimes leading to development of shantytowns, a phenomenon not really seen in Rwanda. 

Rwanda needs to provide mutli-dimensional opportunities for its young people.  It needs to develop a vibrant alternative city to Kigali.  Butare is a logical choice, given the placement of the national university there.  (Kigali has the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology, which I had the chance to visit, and which is a handsome campus that naturally will lead to spin-off technology enterprises and the like in Kigali.) 

But whether it is Butare, some existing city, or a newly designed information-technology center like Palo Alto, California, the plan for Rwanda's future must allow more than the alternative of (i) returning home to a rural community, (ii) moving to Kigali, and (iii) moving abroad to join the vibrant Rwandan expatriate community.  I am not suggesting, by the way, that farming does not engage the mind or call for great talents; I lived on a kibbutz in Israel where the person in charge of the orchards also was a colonel in the military and whose "business meetings" seemed like complex corporate strategy sessions.

Developing a light industrial, high value added manufacturing and quality-centric tradesman (and tradeswoman) community that provide opportunities to the upcoming generation -- and their children -- is crucial for Rwanda's longer-term development.  While some English youth might gravitate toward living in London, others will see Manchester as a different option might provide opportunity them. 

Decreeing the existence of a new city did not work so well in Brasil or Burma, but it has been successful in China.  Putting all the eggs in one Kigali basket is a strategy with high risk and, frankly, inadequate reward.  Rwanda needs to create viable, vibrant alterantives for the future of its wonderful people.  Manchester:  address --Rwanda, Central Africa.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What Can George Washington Teach Paul Kagame?

George Washington, the first President of the United States, plainly was a great man:  a great field commander, one who shared the burdens with his soldiers, and became the first elected President, and who retired after his second term.  Washington could have been king or President for Life.  Yet, he choose to leave office at the end of his second term.  Washington's retirement allowed for the peaceful transition of civil power in the US.

Will Paul Kagame, a man whom I admire second to none, emulate George Washington?  The temptation to stay in power -- for the noblest reasons to help heal his country and perpetuate the change he has spearheaded -- must be overwhelming.  He is indispensible, but so was Washington. 

Kagame's seven year term ends in 2017.  He has been somewhat coy on allowing calls for the constitution to be changed to allow himself to run for election again.  I think it is right for him to leave the question open; no one wants to be a lame duck, and Kagame genuinely has concern about the stability of his government and country.  The moment of truth is several years from now.

George Washington was a man of incredible personal courage and dignity.  As one reads his biographies and learns about him, one sees that the US was fortunate indeed to have Washington as its first President.  Paul Kagame is made of the same stuff as Washington:  a great man, a humble man, and a man who can be a paragon of virtue, one who can continue to make great sacrifices for his country.  His courage, and his virtue, should lead him to follow -- to follow the example of George Washington.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

News and Rwanda

Rwanda is a country where it is very important to understand the current news situation. 

Here's one site that helps do that:


I found that having a google news tracker for Rwanda, which gives you daily links on news stories, was very useful.


Travelers may want to have insurance, in part because you're health insurance might not be adequate.  It is worth buying personal travel insurance because it will provide primary health insurance and provide medical evacuation coverage.  You can purchase such insurance at a reasonable cost if you don't purchase the trip cancellation option.  On web sites, one fills in the "value of trip" as zero. 

There's another kind of insurance that one can consider, which is kidnapping and ransom insurance.  K&R insurance is not unreasonably expensive, but having been to Rwanda I don't think its purchase is necessary.  Rwanda is very safe, and kidnapping for ransom is not a modus operandi.

Genocide sites

What is genocide?  I think it is importantly an act of imagination:  conceiving of a world without a group of people.  The Nazis had the term Judenrein.  It it the act of imaging the complete eradication of man, woman, child of a group, and creating the world anew.  A millenial conception -- an apocalyptic convulsion -- that eradicates a people in an act of permanent "cleansing." 

This is what distinguishing mass killing and mass death from genocide.  There are many terrible tragedies of human suffering.  But as Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Even a dog knows the difference between being kicked and being stumbled over.”   This is why what happened in Rwanda is a single genocide against the Tustis, even though many Hutus suffered and died, especially in the refugee camps in Congo.  But it is not right to seek to equate the latter with the former. 

How Rwanda has dealt with the burden of memory is impressive and inspiring.  There are many genocide  memorialies in many places in the country.  Many are mass graves.  But the more formal museums and memorials are what is impressive especially, for the makers of these museums uniformly seek to take the experience and transmute it into something that is a lesson for the present.  How do you learn from a genocide, not as an effort to preserve history alone and remember the one million victims, but also to understand what are the conditions that allow for the possibility that genocide is a viable answer. 

The main genocide museum in Kigali serves as a burial site for 250,000 people.  It also is an account of what happened in 1994, and the years leading up to the principal events.  The museum provides a moving account of the suffering of individuals, and it does a good job in trying to reduce the overwhelming numbers into individual stories.  It also invokes the memory of other genocides, especially the Holocaust (Shoah).  But it also tries to inculcate that justice and economic stability, along with social mobility, are the building blocks for a future of amity. 

There another "minor" site in Kigali, which is the memorial to the Belgian soldiers.  This memorial is on the campus of the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology.  There are three or four rooms with educational content.  There is a room where the soldiers died.  There are outside several pillars, one for each of the solders, each bearing a horizontal groove for each year of his life.

Unfortunately, people in the immediate area unfortunately are unaware of this memorial.  We asked at a bank, located no more than 500 meters from the site, if someone knew where the memorial was (we could not find it) -- no one had any idea of what we were talking about.  The site is not well marked, but it is a lovely memorial once one gets there.  We went there not so much because we identified with the Belgians as white people, but rather in honor more of UNAMIR and its frustrated, failed efforts to avert death. 

What's more important is not these static memorials.  The perpetuation of memory, of the individual stories of suffering and loss, is important. How do you take genocide and make it not just a source of pain and victimhood but as a source of dedication and inspiration to build a future?  This is the challenge for Rwanda and for the world. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Travel Health

I'm more than a bit compulsive when it comes to travel health. 

1.  I think a pretty good overview for any traveler to read in advance is Wilson-Howarth, The Essential Guide to Travel Health.  I brought with me a first-aid guide that allowed me to diagnose a fellow traveler with a form of heat stroke.  I always bring a comprehensive first aid kit that I assemble myself.

2.  Go to a good travel clinic at least four months before your trip. 

3.  We did get rabies shots, but I don't think that is absolutely necessary.  The reason to get rabies vaccines is that if you do get bitten by an animal you may need to be airlifted out of the country to obtain an injection immunoglobulin; otherwise, if you get bitten you can certainly get the additional rabies shots in Kigali (note -- rabies shots are not in the stomach as they were half a century ago).

4.  We took antimalarials in Rwanda, but I didn't perceive the malaria risk where we were to be unreasonably high.  That said, I had my son get a prescription filled in advance of our trip for Co-artem, the leading malaria treatment today, though he is staying in the country for a couple of months.

5.  We took probiotics heavily in advance to avoid travelers' diarrhea.  We were reasonably careful in eating during our stay, but not quite fanatical.  Neither of us had any problems (but we only drank bottled water and used bottled water for tooth-brushing).

6.  I did get stung by a bee or wasp (not my fault).  It was very painful.  I traveled with a "Sawyer Extractor" which I used to remove venom on the first day and pus on the second.  The tissue appeared to me to later turn necrotic (i.e., it turned black), so I used my standby Cipro to guard against and control and infection.  Whether this was really necessary I don't know, but I then had no real problems with the area that was stung.

7.  I traveled with a prednisone/steroid pain pack.  As it turned out, I twisted my knee or hurt my knee on one of our hikes.  It was incredibly painful subsequently when I hiked downhill.  So, I used the prednisone and ace bandages (and pain medication), and I was then able to manage fine.

8.  All of our clothing was treated with permethrin in advance.  This is a tedious process, and ends up being expensive.  That said, we didn't have substantial insect bites (my sting notwithstanding).  I always do this before traveling to malarial areas.  The treatment  lasts about 6 weeks.  I strongly recommend doing this for peace of mind (and it reduces the need to slather on DEET).

9. We took Diamox to prepare us for the change in altitude.  There is also some new data supporting use of ibuprofen as an aid to change in altitude, and we used ibuprofen too (this is the active incredient in Motrin and Advil).  We had no problems from the change (other than trying to process oxygen), so no headaches or the like.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Since my son and I are both men, the comments her will focus on men's clothing.

1.  People tend to dress reasonably well.
2.  A sport-coat (with or without tie) for men is not needed unless one were meeting with high-level government officials.
3.  I uniformly warm long-serve collared button-downed shorts available at REI or LL Bean.  I purchased non-cotton, quick dry, materials.  Some of these are already pre-treated with insect repellent.  Virtually all these shirts are easy to roll up the sleeves (and have built in buttons and tabs for this purpose).  Consequently, I never wore a short sleeve shirt.  Longer sleeves are fine in during hot weather, even in cities.  I like these types of shirts because they are confortable and designed to avoid wrinkles, smell, and can be washed out and hung to draw over two nights and be dry (some are dry after one night).  So the three-short sleeved button down shirts and the four halfway decent T-shirts were not needed at all, except as a pajama top.

4.  All my underwear was quick dry (not 100 percent cotton), so I could wash out a pair or two easily if I wasn't having laundry done.  I also had quick dry hiking socks (which need to be at least "crew" high because of army-ant's potentially climbing up your leg to bite you.  It also gives you a way to tuck your long pants into your socks to guard against insect invation.  The socks I purchased were dedicated hiking socks, some of which look more that regular dress socks.  (You can find all sorts of socks at the websites AmazingSocks or SocksPerts.)  Look at the features and color -- i.e., designed for hot weather or cold weather, quick dry, etc.

5.  I brought along one hoodie sweatshirt with a zipper for a cold night (the coldest was maybe 40 degrees Farenheit).  I wore a T-shirt under a shirt one day.  Never a jacket, be it a sport jacket or rain jacket, was necessary.

6.  Deeping on whether you plan to do laundry, you can reduce the amount of clothing items you take.  (Though always travel in your carry-on luggage underwear, socks, and a change of clothes to mitigate the consequences from the risk that your luggage will not be successfully directed to Kigali along with your body.)

7.  My 17 year old son would often way short sleeve T-sheets during the day, and even at dinner.  He got sunburned.  He didn't feel conspicuous at dinner for example, but his shirts were not beer adds or torn up, and his were nice-looking cotton T shirts from, e.g., Old Navy or American Apparel.  That said, I think he should put on a long sleeve botton down.  What I did was use that clean shirt for dinner and hike in that same shirt the next morning.  Neither of us ever wore short paints in publc.  The locals certainly do not. 

8. The nicer hotels have laundry services.   But if you don't have that, then I would (and was equipped with)  (i) flat universal sink stopper; (ii) laundry soap (I like the Sea-to-Summit brand which uses shaved off strips of soap); and (iii) the "flex one" expandable laundry cord whcih you can attach in a few places in a room.  I would consider bring two inflatable hangars only because (i) some rooms may not have hangers for your clothers and (ii) you should want to dry out a shirt on a hanger with a broader sholder that is broader than a wire hangar.

Kinyarwanda (the local language)

I devoted a few hours largely unsuccessfully to learning some words in the local language, iKinyaRwanda.  (I don't claim that language acquisition is a particular strength of mine.)

1.  There are two words you should absolutely know:  (i) "muraho" which means hello/how are you?  and (ii) "murokoze", which means thank you.

2.  If you say "muraho", they may respond with either "bv-itay" or "amirkiru" -- both of which mean essentially "how's it going?"  The response is "ni meze" -- all's ok.  If you can do this and know how to say thank you, the people will think you;re great.

3.  There are some pronounciation differences, such as between "Kigali" and "Chigali" to refer to the capital city. 

4.  A website called SpeakRwanda has an online course you can pay to download to learn various phrases.  Note that the teacher uses some pronounciations ala "Chigali" rather than "Kigali."  They also sell a phrase book, which is the best one I found.  http://www.speakrwanda.com/  Profits go back into their work in Rwanda.

5.  I also purchased a book, Ikinyarwanda - The Language of Rwanda: Language guide for Travelers (2009).  This is helpful and provide a quick guide to sentence, grammar and usuage, but not
 so much in a way that gives you operational guidance in choosing how to combine phonemes.  A street vendor in Kigali tried to sell me a cross-dictionary betwen English and Kinyarwanda; I did not look at it to see if it were any good, but presumable such a book should exist in Rwanda, given that much of the instruction now is in English.

6.  People are extradinary happy with you knowing 10 phrases.  It is a gesture by you to dignify the local culture and language.   The words for 1, 2, and 3 are:  rimwe; kabire; gatatu.  I mention elsewhere that kids ask for empty plastic bottles with caps to be given to them by saying "agachupah". 

7.  If you are doing voluntary work for an extended period, then for sure make the effort to learn more than less, so purchase in particular the speakrwanda series.

8.  If you learned French in high school, I would brush up on my french.  Find a conversational French course that has two CDs of phrasing.  You can also try the old, free US State Department language instruction materials available at http://fsi-language-courses.org/Content.php?page=French  No doubt if you spent 3 or 4 years studying French this would be a helpful means of dipping back into the French language.  Only one menu was I offered used exclusively French language. 

9.  Even at fancy restuarants and hotels, I found English misspellings, which I decided I should point out to the proprietor because it undermines the credibility of the purveyor.  For example, there was an error referring to "tea leave" instead of "tea leaf" (recognizing that the plural of 'leaf'' is 'leaves').  It is not a big deal of course, but if the point is to position the restaurant at a certain elite level then such misuses or typos are not acceptable.   When pointing our such mistakes, I did it privately and with my apology for butting in.  The reaction, however, was uniformly receptive.

10.  You can find an old US State Department language-instruction guide on Kirundi, a close cousin of Kinyarwanda but which is focused on how language is spoken in Burundi, which is immediately to the south of Rwanda.   http://fsi-language-courses.org/Courses/Kirundi/Basic/FSI%20-%20Kirundi%20Basic%20Course%20-%20Student%20Text.pdf  A free audi course that is "old" but available through the state department site is available for swahili, http://fsi-language-courses.org/Content.php?page=Swahili.  While there are many Swahili words used throughout africa, the dating of this particular free course and its limited direct utility make me suggest that you don't try to "triangulate" the Kinyarwanda language via old Swahili but to start with SpeakRwanda series.
     -- if anyone is aware of other 100 percent language instruction resources for iKinyaRwanda language, let me know and I'll update this post.

People of Rwanda

The people I met in Rwanda were great. 

1.  People are generally friendly and open.  I guess that one-third of adults speak English (more in the major locales).  I really enjoyed talking with folks.

2.  It's very easy to joke around with people. 

3.  You probably know already that questions of Tutsi and Hutu background are largely off-limits.  I never had a serious discussion about the genocide against the Tutsi.

4.  Greeting involves giving a long handshake, that may morph into a "soul brother" hand clasp.

5.  It is common to see two men walking holding hands.

6.  Men appeared to be more comfortable talking with me than did women.

7.  Very few people asked for money or begged. 

8.  Many people wanted to know our details including cell phone numbers.

9.  In non-touristed areas, several people went out of their way to greet us.

10.  One waves "hello" to people side-to-side, like a beauty queen.

11.  Many kids waved to us.  Others run along side the car.  Several gave high fives.  Others wanted a hand shake as we drove by. 

12.  The children we met were wonderful and sweet.  My son and I stopped by a pre-school, and we were mobbed by 3 and 4 year old children.  They hugged us and shook our hands. 

13.  We gave empty bottles with caps to a number of children as we drove along (we stopped the car and distributed them).  We also gave some groups of kids soccer balls that we had brought with us.

14.  In the rural areas, it is clear that Rwandans walk for hours a day, and they carry things on top of their heads.  Its amazing how far and how much Rwandans walk.

15.  Caucasian tourists may be called "mzungu" or "rutuku"  but don't consider these to be insulting (though there might be a tinge . . . .)

Books about Rwanda History and Natural Wonders

There's a lot of material now available about Rwanda, and I tried to read a large number of the works.  There are other books of value that I did not have a chance to read before my trip.

1.  In the Kingdom of Gorillas (Weber and Vedder).  An entertaining, if long, book on the history of conservation efforts of the gorillas from two people who worked with Dian Fossey.  It is a personal account of a married couple, and it contains a wealth of information and is well written.  Kingdom has been recognized as a leading work on conservation efforts.  It's well written.  I think if you are going to the gorillas, this book gives you important context for the conservation efforts and its impact.  It also discusses Nyungwe Forest.

2.  Rwanda and Genocide in the Twenthieth Century (Destexhe).  This book is 75 pages long, so if you are not a reader, don't have time, or find everything too painful, this is the book.  It blows me away that this was published a year after the genocide, since this guy nails so much of the big picture and importance of the genocide.  In such a short account, published immediately afterwards, the author captures so much of the essential points and political-historical context.  It's amazing for that reason, but again it is a very accessible, cogent analysis.

3.  We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Familes (Gourevitch).  A terrific, moving account of the genocide that I read when it was published in 1998 and initiated my strong interest in Rwanda.  (I think that Jews, like me, have a special responsibility in this regard.)  Probably the best known, essential account.  Terribly painful to read.  An essential work.

4.  I'm Not Leaving (Wilkens).  Carl Wilkens was the lone American to remain in the country during the genocide.  I wasn't aware of his work until I saw him speak at a genocide memorial conference I attended this past spring.  It doesn't give a powerful overview, but rather presents a powerful, bottom-up account of being a mzunga living through the genocide.  Wilkens is one of the two great White heroes of the events during the genocide (with Gen. Romeo Dallaire being the other).  Not a great work of literature/publishing, but I'm so grateful to Wilkens to representing the best instincts of the West, of Christianity (I'm Jewish), and of humanity and compassion.

5.  Shake Hands with the Devil (Dallaire).  The autobiography of Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, head of the UNAMIR forces in Rwanda during the genocide.  This was a much better book than I expected.  It is very well written, and the story is poignant and incredibly frustrating.  Dallaire does not try to settle scores in this account, and he is a great man who faced tragic circumstances.  Wracked by guilt and the burden thereafter, Dallaire has tried to commit suicide.  As with Wilkens, Dallaire and his key staff (Maj. Brent Beardsley) represent the only bright spots for the West during the genocide.  Very well done and worthwhile, albeit a long account.  This is not a self-serving account, and I'm glad that I read it.

6.  Season of Blood (Keane).  A very well regarded account by a British journalist who was on the ground.  I thought this was OK, but frankly given its strong reviews I was a bit disappointed in this. 

7.  Me Against My Brother (Peterson).  I only read the introduction and the chapters on Rwanda (not on Somalia and Sudan).  This is another journalist who was on the ground during the genocide.  I liked this very much.  I prefer this to Season of Blood.  Trying to come to grips with what the eye is seeing and the incomprehensibility of it all is well told.  A personal account by a journalist but I think this was very worthwhile.

8.  A Thousand Hills:  Rwanda's Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It (Kinzer).  This is a biography of Paul Kagame, who is President of Rwanda today.  I think that Kagame is one of the two greatest people on the planet Earth (Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dali Lama being the other); I personally rank Kagame ahead of Mandela and Obama.  With that disclosure, you can understand how anything other than one of the great biographies of all time would be disappointing to me.  Kinzer's account is  very useful.  It is interesting and insightful, and appropriately is not the hagiagraphy I engage in.  I give this book a grade of "B".  Kagame deserves, however, an A+ biography.  That noted, I think it is important to understand how the English speaking, Uganda based, Tutsi forces and now the power in the post-genocide period returned to their homeland, which was French speaking and France-oriented before the genocide.

9.  A People Betrayed:  The Role of the West in Rwanda's Genocide (Melvern).  This is a terrifically documented account of the failure of the West.  Melvern provides a balanced, factual account that is well written and causes one to cringe often at the stupidity, cupidity, and ignorance of the West.  A great global overview.

10.  Consipracy to Murder:  The Rwandan Genocide (Melvern).  A companion work to A People Betrayed and this goes into greater detail of the internal machinations and planning within Rwanda to pursue genocide as a strategy.  A good book, but not necessary for the basic tourist.

11.  The Antelope's Strategy (Hatzfeld).  The author has published three books containing accounts about the genocide.  This is the only one I've read.  It is a compelling account of survival and adjustment post-genocide in the area around Nyamata.  I think this is a very useful book to ground one's understanding of the incomprehensibility of living through the genocide as a Tutsi and the complete strangeness of trying to live peaceably together in post-genocide Rwanda.  This is done with great sensitivity, using mainly quoted accounts from participants not unduly mediated by the author.  I'm very glad I read this.

12.  Journey into Darkness (Odom).  Only about one-third of this book really focuses on the genocide and refugee crisis.  It offers a good perspective  from a US military officer (and is his autobiography).  Definitely not a necessary work for the tourist, but I was especially pleased to learn that Susan Rice, the current US representative at the UN, performed well during the genocide, which is not something I had read in other accounts. 

13.  Genocide in Rwanda:  A Collective Memory (Berry eds.) This is mainly an academic oriented collecting a number of essays.  Not necessary.

14.  Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa (Stearns).  This is a book about the "world war" in the Great Lakes Region and the modern history of the wars in Congo.  Rwanda was forced to invade Congo which had provided a haven for the genocidaires after 1994 and threatened its stability.  I think it is very important to understand Rwanda and the Congo, which is the subject of present news reports in the north Kivu region.  During my trip, I visited a UN refugee camp for refugees from the Congo in South Kivu.  I was surprised that this book was not more critical of Rwanda and Paul Kagame (not that I think that is so much justified but a book from the lens of the Congo certainly could try to place a lot of blame on Rwanda).  Again, this book is really about Congo, and it is a readible, nuanced account of the forces in the Congo today and gives a perspective of why and what Rwanda has done since 1994 in its vastly larger neighbor to the east.

15.  Leave None to Tell the Story:  Genocide in Rwanda (Desforges, available online through Human Rights Watch).  This is virtually a blow-by-blow, hill-by-hill account of the genocide.  I was reluctant to read this because I think (with respect) that Human Rights Watch has been quite off-kilter about Rwanda over the past decade.  But this work is different.  It is a comrprehensive, documented account of the events during the genocide.  It is of more academic use (or for the complete-ist), and it is not necessary for the tourist compared to some of the other accounts.  This is not to deny that this is an incredibly important work that is extraordinary in its ability to drill down and document the terrible crimes of the genocide.

16.  The Silence (Peress).  This is a collection of photos of the suffering during and following the genocide.  It's as comprehensive a photographic account as exists, but it is not essential (especially given that it is difficult to track down and expensive to purchase).  Because the book is filled with static images, in some ways the book does not capture the flavor (in my opinion) of the genocide. 

17. Left to Tell (Ilibagiza).  This personal account of survival, largely in a tiny bathroom with other women, is well known and popular.  Ms. Iligagiza has emerged as an important, post-genocide, Christian voice.  The prose is easy to read, even if the story is painful.  18.
Deogratias, A Tale of Rwanda
This is a graphic novel about losing one's mind through the horrific experience of the genocide against the Tutis. I am a huge fan of the graphic-novel format, but think this one is merely ok. 19.  Other Books to Consider for Perspective:  The book King Leopold's Ghost is a fantastic account of the Belgian Congo, but doesn't involve the history of Rwanda.  Likewise, is In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz. I have not read The Zanzibar Chest (Hartley) which I am told has some coverage of Rwanda.  I thought "Exterminate All the Brutes" (Lindqvist) provided a cogent account of how Europeans conceived of Africa, but doesn't discuss Rwanda but does address the idea of genocide (but I note that Lindqvist's more important and interesting book is A History of Bombing).  I have not read the novel, The Optimists (Miller), which divides the critics and I can't decide whether to read, but it takes off on ideas about the Rwanda genocide against the Tutsi.  The famous and important (now deceased) Polish foreign correspondent, Ryszard Kapuscinski, has an insightful book about "Africa" in general (to the extent one is permitted to generalize) called The Shadow of the Sun, which I think helps Westerners understand sub-Saharan Africans in general, though not the particular issues confronting Rwandans.  Kapuscinski's most wonderful book, The Emperor, is about Ethiopia, and I often recommend as an amazing book though not relevant to Rwanda.  The book, The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Never Forgets (Rice) is about Uganda, but helps provide some perspective on Paul Kagame who grew up after age 3 in Uganda and participated in the revolt of Yoweri Museveni, whose ideology plainly shaped Kagame's perspective.  (And since this is highly personal list, I note that I hated Norman Rush's Mating, which concerns Botswana.)  I'd like to plug my friend, Tony Eprile who is a South African expatriate whose books include Temporary Soujourner and The Persistence of Memory; Tony is encyclopedic and incisive about African literature in general.

Movies and Videos about Rwanda

As part of my travel preparations, I viewed a number of movies and videos (some of which I saw when they were released because I had a long-standing interest in the country).  Rwanda is so fascinating a country, with such a difficult history, and miraculous recovery, that the more you know and understand the more you will get out of your trip.

1.  Hotel Rwanda.  This is a great movie, and I love Don Cheadle who is the star.  The violence of the genocide is not so much shown directly as implied.  There are many moving parts to the film, and I still think it is a reasonable, Hollywood-style account.  Note however that the character who is central to the film and played by Cheadle is now a controversial expatriate, given that he largely advocates the "double genocide" myth as opposed to the genocide against the Tutsis and mass killing of Hutu moderates and the terrible refugee crisis of the fleeing Hutus. 

2.  Frontline:  Ghosts of Rwanda.  This is a fabulous documentary that I think is essential.  It is virtually flawless in my opinion (there's one sentence that struck me as "off" in the whole production).  It  provides an excellent overview of the political context and worldwide failure in response. 

3.  Beyond the Gates (aka Shooting Dogs).  This is also a genocide film.  I think it is worthwhile but not essential and is based on factual accounts.  The terribly moving moment (spoiler alert) is when the Belgian soldiers are begged to shoot the children under their protection rather than allowing them to be hacked or clubbed to death when the Belgians withdraw.  John Hurt is good as always.  Not a great film, but worthwhile to see, especially to see the enumeration of the Tutsi and similar preparatory efforts.

4.  Sometimes in April.  Widely regarded as the best film about the genocide, though I might disagree (I think this view is a reflection of the controversial stature of the manager from Hotel Rwanda).  This was filmed in Rwanda using many locals as actors, which gives it a particular poignance.  This is a bit more directly graphic than is Hotel Rwanda.  The actor Idris Elba (whom you may know from The Wire) gives a wonderful performance.  It is directed by Raoul Peck, who is Haitian. 

5.  Nature:  The Gorilla King.  If you are going to the gorillas, then you should watch this.  It is an excellent account of devlopment of the gorilla preservation efforts and helps you understand the dynamics of gorilla groups.  I thought this was wonderfully done.

6.  Gorillas in the Mist.  Ok, Dian Fossey is genuinely responsible for many of the conservation efforts of the gorillas in Rwanda.  That said, I think this movie is not very good; Fossey is not the most empathetic character.  The movie is somewhat a necessary touchstone, since people know of the movie.  But if you had to choose to watch only one gorilla film, watch the Gorilla King. 

7.  History Channel:  Rwanda -- Do Scars Ever Fade?  This is a pretty good account and focuses especially on the mind-boggling challenge of having to live next-door to a genocidaire. 

8.  As We Forgive.  This is a bit too treacly for me.  It focuses on efforts to foster reconciliation and healing, but it is worthwhile in that its focus is so much on gaccaca (the community based court system that recently closed down in June 2012) and helps you focus on the concrete challenge of living with neighbors. 

9.  Rwanda:  Hope Rises.  Not really a necessary film, and a bit light-weight I thought. 

10.  Sweet Dreams.  This documentary is about a woman's collective that formed a drumming group and that started an ice cream shop in Butare.  I liked the movie, and I had a chance to visit the ice cream store, where I met several of the employees who were excited that I had seen the movie!

11.  Shake Hands with the Devil:  There are both a documentary and a bio-pic of Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, the head of UNAMIR forces during 1993-1994.  The documentary in particular is great, but both versions give important perspective on the genocide against the Tutsis.

12.  A wonderful film I just watched is Earth Made of Glass. This provides keen insight into the human emotional dynamic in post-genocide Rwanda. It pairs interviews with H.E. President Paul Kagame and one man's story to look for what happened to his family. The film is so understated and touching. It is the best treatment of post-genocide reconstruction in film. It is a documentary, and the landscape and personal interactions are really true to Rwanda today. I think you should see one or more of the "Hollywood" type movies, before seeing this, the real thing. It is a wonderful film.
13.  Other movies that you might look for but that I haven't seen:  100 Days; A Sunday [at the Pool] in Kigali; The Overwhelming; Munyurangabo; The Day God Walked Away; Kinyarwanda; A Generation after Genocide; Keepers of Memory: Umurage; Flowers of Rwanda; Intended Consequences; Flower in the Gun Barrel; My Neighbor My Killer; Gacaca Living Together in Rwanda; In Rwanda We Say; The Notebooks of Memory; Screamers;  L'Afrique en morceaux. And a TED presentation.

In the above list, I think you can confidently skip Gorillas in the Mist and As We Forgive (with due respect to the filmakers and casts of both).  Beyond the Gates is not as important as seeing both Hotel Rwanda and Sometimes in April.  While the History Channel's documentary is not as essential as is the Frontline one, both are worthwhile, but the Frontline Ghosts of Rwanda is essential.

If you can only see two of these, my votes go to Ghosts of Rwanda and The Gorilla King. 
Probably the next two to see would be Hotel Rwanda and Sometimes in April, followed by Earth Made of Glass. Put somewhat differently, without Earth Made of Glass, the Hotel Rwanda and, even, Sometimes in April, are complemented necessarily by Earth Made of Glass.

Wildlife Viewing in Rwanda

I have had the privilege of being spoiled by incredible wildlife experiences in Costa Rica and Peru.  Against that standard of comparison, the wildlife trekking in Rwanda was not as amazing as those two (notwithstanding that we were within several meters of gorillas).  That said, the Rwanda wildlife experience is very satisfactory.

1.  Gorillas.  Seeing the gorillas in situ is really cool.  They are actually not THAT huge.  The lead silverback we saw (from the Susa group) was maybe 2 meters tall and 500 pounds.  (In contrast, the average NFL lineman has got to be 6'6 and 325 pounds.)  So, while a gorilla can rip you limb from limb, they are not as physically imposing as I thought.

One needs to arrange to purchase a permit to visit the gorillas in advance.  These now cost $750 per person (think of this mainly as a contribution to supporting wildlife conservation).  The treks to the different habituated groups are divided into medium, hard, and easy.  We asked for a medium one, because we like hiking.  But what Rwandans might mean by medium, we would think should be rated hard, and hard must be extremely hard.

As noted, we visited the Susa group.  This group was located at 10,500 foot elevation.  If you live at sea level as I do, the altitude will kill you.  Now I'm not the most svelte individual and I would say that I'm only somewhat fit (and am age 51).  Our hike took several hours in a nearly vertical ascent of some 2000 feet (I thought it was much more than that actually -- I had an altimeter so the figures here are accurate).  For $10, you hire a porter, who will carry your backpack and offer a helping hand.  Purchasing this service also helps the local economy so I think that you should do this even if you don't think it will be necessary.  One porter per person. 

I stopped our group many times on the way up to catch my breath.  Don't be embarassed to do this (remember the outrageous cost you paid to "enjoy" this experience).  My 19 year old son, who has run a marathon, described our hike as "difficult, but not a challenge."  For me, it was a "challenge" -- fine to do, but not easy, given the combination of the steepness of the ascent and the effect of altitude.  Either would have been difficult for me, but both together really knocked me back.

Definitely have at least two bottles of water available per person (at least one liter total).  You must wear long pants and probably long sleeves, and bring a rain jacket (not a poncho) with you -- but the rain jacket is used mainly for the last portion of the hike when you are traversing the area near the gorillas to protect you against the stinging nettles you'll invariably encounter. 

You are supposed to remain 7 meters away from the gorillas but this is an aspiration.  You more likely will be more like 4 meters away from several, and you might have, as we did, the silverback Alpha-male stroll past you to establish dominance.  We saw a couple month old baby gorilla and one-year old twins.  We were able to see maybe 1/3d of the total group of this large family.

We thought it was cool to see the gorillas, but not a blow-your-mind experience (given our prior nature experiences). 

My pretty strong advice is to take the easiest hike.  The payoff is similar either way, and the hiking portion is really not that important (or is disproportionate in difficulty to the payoff). http://ecocentric.blogs.time.com/2012/06/06/how-to-greet-a-mountain-gorilla/

2.  Golden Monkeys.  In an effort to develop an additional stop for tourists at the Volcanoes National Park, one can trek to the golden monkeys.  This is OK.  It's $100 per person fee.  The monkeys we saw were in a dense bamboo forest, which means that it's hard to get great photos.  You spend an hour with the monkeys, and it's fine.  They are reasonably cute but while somewhat of a unique species they are not as interesting as, say, the colubus monkey or others.  Don't feel like your missing something if you elect not to do this.  On the other hand, if you're in the area and want to linger an extra day (given the difficult of getting there), the golden-monkey experience is fine.

3.  Chimpanzees.  We went to see the chimpanzees in Nyungwe.  Note that there two departure points to choose from, one very near the Nyungwe Forest Lodge where we stayed and the other at the main Uwinka center.  The hike we did was very difficult; at a fast pace we went down to where the chimps were, and this was a pretty difficult hike down.  The hike up also was difficult.  We heard of others having a better experience than we did, but the chimps we saw were mainly pretty high in the trees, though one did get sort of low.  Photography was well-nigh impossible.  (A gentleman we were with had a very large lens, and said of the 300 shots he took there were maybe 2 or 3 good ones.)  You have to leave whichever center you are departing from at around 5 am. 

4.  Other monkeys in Nyungwe.  We did a colubus monkey walk, which was very pleasant and we saw the monkeys.  You also will probably see L'hoest monkeys and others.  You should be able to get decent photos. 

5. Birdwatching.  The birding was pretty unsatisfactory, though one always needs a bit of luck.  But compared to Peru or Costa Rica, it was hard to see the few species we viewed, which we high up in the canopy generally.  In preparation for the trip, I purchased a guide to East African birds; this was totally unnecessary given how few birds we actually saw (and the two best sightings were of females lacking interesting plumage or coloration). 

6.  Canopy Walk in Nyungwe.  This is a pure tourist trap.  I would recommend blowing this off, even though it is the second-highest one in the world or in Africa.  I don't have a particular fear of heights (though I have a healthy fear of landing), and the canopy walkway is sufficiently well constructed that it is not death-defying.  In theory, one should be able to see birds better from this spot, but in practice, no.  Given that everyone will ask you whether you did the canopy walk, it's hard to avoid doing this, but again you should not feel like you're missing something truly special if you don't do this.

7.  Nyungwe generally.  The analogy that springs to mind about the Nyungwe Forest to me is the Smokey Mountains in the US.  You hike up and down through pretty thickly forested area, on reasonably well maintained paths.  The forest is dense, but is more like a decidious forest on the East Coast than an exotic african jungle ala Tarzan.  This forest is nice to hike in, but none of the hiking was particularly special (note we did not do the waterfall hike).  If we had not stayed at such a nice place as the Nyungwe Forest Lodge, I probably would not have been very keen on the experience, even if it is certainly acceptable.

8.  Orchids and Epiphytes.  I love orchids, and again I've been spoiled by trips in Costa Rica and Peru.  July is not the right season, but we didn't really see any interesting flowers.  To the extent there are epiphytes, they are high up, so at ground level you won't see much.  This was very disappointing for me, given that Nyungwe advertises this as one of its features.

9.  Bugs and Butterflies.  We saw one or two interesting bettles and one cool caterpiller.  Again, July is probably not the right time, and again I've been spoiled in this regard especially by Costa Rica and its unbelieveable profusion of butterflies.

10.  Miscellaneous animals.  We didn't see interesting spiders or other ground animals.  (There are two squirrel species in Nyungwe, one of which is kinda ok.)  Not any wierd "walking sticks" or other strange insect life.  My son did get bitten by army ants.  The mandibles on the "soldier/sentry" army ants are impressive (close to 25 percent of the overall body size or more I'd guess).  No frogs or centipedes.

11.  Quality of the Guiding.  In every place, one is required to hire a guide, which are available at the site.  I believe they see their role more as leading a walk than in being naturalist teachers.  Again, I've been spoiled by having two off-the-charts naturialist guides in Costa Rica (at Tortaguerro) and in Peru (the same person in the cloud forest and in the Amazon).  Of course, not everyone wants a lecture on the biome during a hike, but I do.

12.  Wildlife Photography.  Rwanda is strangely un-photogenic.  As noted, it is difficult to get great views of most of the animals, there is not an incredible profusion of wildlife or flora, and the nature of the dense forest and the topography interfere with getting incredible photos.  Again, I'm in particular comparing Rwanda to Peru in this regard, where in the latter instance the cloud forest and the Amazon river and jungle are incredible.

13.  Safari-style. We did not go to eastern Rwanda where there is savannah and more traditional lions, elephants, zebras, and giraffes.  That said, I have been told that the places to do such safaris are Botswana and Kenya.  Several people we met were en route to or from safari destinations.

Hotels in July 2012 (Central, North, South Rwanda)

Here's my thoughts and reactions to the places we stayed in during our trip in July 2012.

1.  Kigali.  (Note, some Rwandans pronounce the name of the city as "Ch-gali").  I stayed twice at Hotel Milles Collines.  This is a lovely place to stay.  The staff especially were WONDERFUL.  Our room (I was traveling with one of my sons who is in college) comprised two single beds, TV with cable, free Wi-Fi in room, shower, toilet, minifridge.  Breakfast is included at a continental-breakfast buffet on the 4th floor.  I ate dinner there twice, and I thought the food was excellent and reaonsonably priced.  The rooms could use upgrading/modernizing, but the place is very acceptable as is.  Just for sake of comparison, it would be a 3 star hotel in the US.

   I also stayed one night at InsideAfrika, an elegant boutique hotel.  Here, too, the staff was gracious.  This very small hotel is very pretty, but the room was not air conditioned.  The price was incredibly reasonable.  There is free Wi-Fi in the room.  There is no restaurant, though a continental breakfast is included.  There are a few restaurants in walking distance.  At the moment, there is street construction in front of the hotel.  It is also a bit difficult to find (it is very near the Hotel Gorillas).  The overall layout is really lovely, and Mille Collines is twice the price.  But because it is somewhat isolated, I wouldn't recommend it as a base of operations in Kigali for your first visit there.  (Again, this is not a criticism of the hotel itself as implemented but the nature of the place by design.)

2.  Gorrilla Trekking.  We stayed at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge.  This is a great place, but I think it is super-expensive.  That said, I rank this among the better places I've stayed around the world, not because it is the fanciest or has the most facilities but I really like the "feel" of the place.  Dining takes place at a large communal table, which is very pleasant given that the types of tourists who go there tend to be reasonably interesting.  The staff is exceptionally nice, and the innkeepers are delightful (a South African couple at the moment).  You will no doubt read that there is a terrible uphill hike from the parking lot to the lodge.  THIS IS TRUE.  I mentioned to the innkeeper that I couldn't recommend that someone who is elderly or who had a bad knee stay there, but he said they can carry you up by litter.  If you are comfortable with that, then go ahead.  Otherwise, be prepared to stop two or three times on your trek up.  But, because of the trek, you have a welcome feel of community and insulation.  Also, I will mention that the food is excellent, and always includes a vegetarian entree selection.  The cabin had a nice sitting room area, a desk, two beds, walk-in type closet, and very large bathroom with separate tub and shower and two sinks.  Each cabin also has a fireplace, which is needed because it is not heated, and a nice porch in front.  We stayed two nights here, and we definitely really enjoyed it.

3.  Lake Kivu/Kibuye.  We stayed at the Cormorant Lodge at Lake Kivu, in a town about halfway down the lake in Kibuye.  There is an absolutely absurd dirt road to get to this lodge -- it is dramatically potholed and poor and long.  The food was ok.  The room comprised two large beds (with needed mosquito nets), and a reasonable bathroom.  The shower was handheld, and in our room there was no hook on the wall to make it a conventional shower (the hole where the hook goes was empty).  The room has a nice balcony overlooking the lake and the complex of the hotel, which is very attractive.  The staff was ok but not altogether helpful or engaging.  It's hard for me to figure out what to say about this place.  It is nice, and I'm glad we had a half-way stopping point between the north and south.  Maybe if you're a water-oriented person its good (though there are some health risks associated with swimming in Lake Kivu and the Lake might one day blow up in a massively destructive limnic event (seriously, but that's similar to Yellowstone, the world's largest caldera)).  It's not like any other place in Kibuye is a wonderful option.  We weren't unhappy that we spent about 14 hours at this facility.

4.  Nywengwe.  We stayed at the Nywengwe Forest Lodge.  This must be the best deal in Rwanda.  The place is beautifully done.  It is a cross between mid-century modern decor and african.  (Think a "W" hotel with African influenced design.)  The main lodge is beautiful and tastifully done, with beautiful materials and ambience.  The rooms are in smaller outbuilding comprising 4 rooms or so.  Our room had two double beds, a balcony looking into the forest, a beautiful bathroom, and one of the nicest showers I've ever had (both the large volume of hot water and a window overlooking the forest).  Two sinks in the bathroom, and a separate bath tub and loo (toilet and bidet).  One closet.  The room itself is very large.  We stayed here three nights.  Meals are included.  The food is excellent, and the service is very pleasant.  It doesn't have the "warmth" of Sabyinyo, because it is a more conventional set up.  We also partook of their spa facility (me, a massage, and my son, a body scrub).  The spa prices are extremely reasonable (maybe $75 for a 90 minute treatment).  The price was little more than $300 a night for the two of us.  Free Wi-Fi in the room.  Our TV wasn't working (but it was a large LCD TV).  I enjoyed sitting on the porch at night (though I was stung by a bee or a wasp on my hand).  I have no hesitation in recommending this place if you are going to this area. 

5.  Butare.  According to the guide books, there aren't many good options, and we stayed at Le Petit Prince.  I wouldn't want to stay here more than two nights, given its lack of amenities.  There's no stopper for the sink, for example.  We had a bath tub with handheld shower, with not too much water pressure.  Each of our two beds had mosquito nets.  There is no fan or A/C.  No TV.  Free Wi-Fi in the room.  Breakfast was included at their acceptable restaurant.  We had dinner in Butare at the Hotel Ibis, which was excellent, though we didn't see the rooms.  Petit Prince is not conveniently located, but it is in a nice residential neighborhood (across from the main museum).  It appeared that some new hotels were being constructed, which surely are needed.  The level of this hotel compared to a US facility is maybe 1 1/2 stars.

Rental Cars? Self Drive? Rwanda

I rented a 4 wheel drive vehicle, and my son and I drove ourselves throughout central and western Rwanda.

It seems that most people who rent a car also get a driver.  We didn't want to do this.

Self-drive is a perfectly good option if you have the right attitude and preparation.

1.  A 4-wheel drive vehicle with a HIGH GROUND CLEARANCE from the road is necessary.  Many "roads" in Rwanda through smaller or remote areas are just potholes with no actual "surface". 

2.  Make sure you know how to drive a 4 wheel vehicle properly.  While we never had to use the low gear 4 wheel setting, we were switching between 2 wheel drive on real roads for better mileage and smooting handling to 4 wheel drive on dirt.

3.  Know how to downshift so you don't ride the brake.

4.  I guess that something like 40 percent of cars have a right-side steering wheel, but Rwandans drive on the right side (as in the US).  So, be prepared that your rental vehicle (like ours was) had a right hand wheel.  I have driven a right-hand wheeled vehicle before (on the island of Dominica in the carribean) but the driving side of the road was on the left so the wheel position was in equivalent position.  But driving on the right side with a righ-side steering wheel is a bit disorienting, especially in using the rear-view mirror.

5.  It is worth the investment to purchase two safety-reflector vests.  These cost about $5 dollars each in the US, and if we had our car break down I would surely have wanted these, because more areas do not have street lights or even sufficient shoulders to park on in case of emergency.

6.  It is required to have a safety triangle and fire extinguisher in the vehicle.  From what I researched in Rwandan statutes, it is also required (but nobody seems to know this) to have carry 4 bandages with pins or attachment, and a bottle of disinfectant. 

7.  Although not necessary, I think it is appropriate to have an International Driver's Permit.  Note that the only officially sanctioned US issuing organizations are AAA and an organization in California.  The point of this is to give this first to a law enforcement or other official and hold on to your US state driver's license.

8.  Speeding is prohibited!  This is taken seriously.

9.  I was stopped at  road-side check point once by Rwanda police.  I passed maybe a dozen of these in the country and usually was waived through.  The officer spoke English, was entirely appropriate, and I did not feel intimidated in any way.  NOTE THAT BRIBERY IS PROHIBITED.  I would never ever consider paying a "local fine" to a police officer in Rwanda.  You don't need to worry if you are stopped or stop for one of these.  Just be polite and respectful.

10.  Try to avoid having your fuel tank be less than 1/2 full.  It is possible to drive for hours without seeing a station.  Stations are full-service (i.e., they pump your gas). 

11.  If you rent a car, try to know where the different fluids go.  We needed additional brake fluid, and I had to be shown where to pour it in.

12.  No driving and talking on your handset.  Also, there is cell service virtually everywhere in the country.  But if you do have a break down, I really don't know how you would describe where you are if you call for help.

13.  In rural areas, you are likely to be greeted by children at the side of the road yelling "agachupa."  This is not the word for tourist or white-person (as I am, the word for which is "mzungu," which is more factual than offensive).  What "agachupa" means is "empty plastic water bottle".  Children know that North Americans and Europeans typically drink bottled water.  In poorer areas, they want you empty bottle (with cap) for them to use personally (actual reuse of the container).  It took us four days to know this, but afterwards we kept our empties and at one place distributed a dozen empty bottles to kids.  (Just pulled to the side of the road and handed them out to the throng of kids.)

14.  If you self drive, you will either get lost or feel like you are lost at times.  Rwandans were always available to help by responding to questions about directions.  However, there is a ritual for doing so:  Don't just be a typical American and ask "Hey, buddy, is this the road to Butare?".  Instead, you must first make a human, respectful connection with the person and only then ask about directions.  So, when you stop your car, shake hands with the person who comes over, ask them how they are today, tell them your name and where're you from, and then ask for directions.  It takes an additional 45 seconds, but you will find, I expect, it to be a refreshingly polite form of interacting (and much better than the American style).  Remember, you are asking that person to help you as a favor, and by recognizing his or her humanity you earn credit to ask for help.

15.  Road maps are lacking, but we found a few beforehand that were reasonably current.  I never saw a place to buy a road map in Rwanda, by the way.  Roads are inadequately marked.  Even in Kigali, there are not really road signs or meaningful markers.

16.  One time in Kigali, we hired a moto-taxi to lead us to where we were going.

17.  In towns, there are motorcycle taxis weaving in and out everywhere.  In some areas of Kigali, there will be cars everywhere, motorcycles weaving, bicycles laden with goods, and people streaming in the streets.  Driving in such circumstances is a bit of a challenge, but not really a problem once you get used to it (after maybe a day driving in Kigali, in my case).

18.  I always carried extra water and snacks in the car, because on several days we found we had to essentially skip lunch to be somewhat on time at our destination.

19. We found it always best to multiple whatever time or distance figure we were given by a Rwanda by 2.5.  So, if someone said it would take about an hour, it shouldn't surprise you if you drive 2 and 1/2 hours.  Ditto with estimates of distance:  3 KM is more likely 7. 

20.  Just for reference:  we pay $95 a day (US) for our 4x4 vehicle, plus gas but no mileage charge.

Travel to Rwanda: Introduction

I spent a lot of time preparing for a trip to Rwanda 2012.  The purpose of this blog is to share insights and information for others who want to travel to Rwanda.  Rwanda is a great country to visit.  I encourage you to visit!

(Note:  If you are reading this blog, please make sure that at the bottom of page you turn to the next page to see all the blog entries.)