New Year’s Day in Kigali: How I saw it

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Hundreds of revelers converged at the Kigali Convention Centre to usher in the New Year on Saturday. / Nadege Imbabazi

Giporoso is where the countdown to 2017 started for me. Giporoso is that bustling mid-urban stretch on the outskirts of Remera as one heads to the Kigali International Airport in Kanombe.

In anticipation of the long night ahead, my first stop was a Ugandan-owned eatery with such a mouthful of a name –Mirembe Mix Step Up Restaurant.

There were a handful of diners, most of who were Ugandan young men digging into steaming hot bowls of kinono (cow hoof) and bantering loudly.

Kinono is a meal that people mostly eat either to treat a hangover or to “lay a solid foundation” ahead of a marathon drinking binge.

It was about 7:20 when I stepped out of the restaurant and already the hustle, bustle and frenzy of New Year countdown was in the air.

I decided against jumping on a taxi moto and instead strolled from the Giporoso roundabout to Gisementi in Remera, just to suck in the mood. The first thing I noticed was the surge in the number of motos, much more than the increase in car traffic.

This created a permanent bee-like buzz. The motos seemed a little less patient than cars.

Then there was the human traffic as obviously people were out and about. What I found a little scary though, was the sight of many young people walking on the street but with their heads buried in their phones –obviously chatting with friends on social media.

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At most shop fronts, decorative lights twinkled. Hair salons and barber shops were at their very busiest.

The choirs of the three churches I bypassed were in varying stages of fine-tuning their equipment and voices.

By the time I reached the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) offices in Remera, I could hear loud music emanating from the Gisementi stretch of bars.

Remera:

The Gisimenti roundabout was much less chaotic than the jostling scenes I had just witnessed at Giporoso. Actually the only difference I noticed was the increase in vehicular traffic, but the usual order prevailed.

I jumped on a moto and in the next three minutes or so was at the entrance to the Amahoro Stadium parking.

Here the atmosphere was carnival-like, thanks to the noisy sound check on the PA system ahead of the East African Party the following night. Music from The Ben, Charly and Nina, Yvan Buravan and Bruce Melodie, the musicians lined up for the gig thundered from the speakers.

This got a few people confused, thinking the gig date had changed.

People were out and about on the street, some dancing, some singing a line or two.

A large crowd of revelers and onlookers had formed at the stretch of bars that sit astride the stadium entrance –popularly known as Migina.

It teemed with people seated in large groups on Coca Cola-branded plastic garden chairs and tables, drinking and watching an English Premiership match on giant screens set up outdoors.

Beer-branded pick-up trucks took up most of the off-street parking. Several tables were “black” with small bottles of Primus packed close to each other. Promotions on several local beverage brands run simultaneously.

I sat at a bar called Nganda Weke Weke, and next to it was Amahoro Bar belting out Boney M Christmas music with just a few hours to the New Year.

Shortly after 9:00 pm I hopped onto the next bike for the five-minute ride to the Kigali Convention Centre, where the main countdown and fireworks display was going down shortly.

Here, there was no hustle, bustle or New Year’s frenzy as had been at Remera and earlier, Giporoso. People going for Koffi Olomide came, got checked thoroughly, and walked through. There were no lingering crowds as security was at its tightest.

With a colleague, we walked from The New Times offices across the road from the Convention Centre and towards the Meze Fresh restaurant with a view to accessing the Kimihurura Roundabout but were told this route was out of bounds.

We went to a small bar behind the Ninzi Hotel and sat there till 11:30 pm and strolled back in readiness for the fireworks display in 30 minutes.

At the stroke of midnight the gun shot-like sounds started to pop off, and this went on for about four minutes. People snapped away on their phones, while others let out mild screams of excitement.

This is how Kigali ushered in the New Year! Happy 2017.