The end of the 1994 genocide saw political calm return to Rwanda. And many Rwandans journeyed from exile home. Fourteen years after they settled, there are still visible tendencies that depict their lifestyles when they were in exile.
Remera, located in the suburbs of Kigali City, is an area that harbours a considerable number of former exiles. The small restaurants in the area are faced with the task of identifying with the diverse customer preferences.
Vision Good 2020 restaurant, is one of the diverse eating places in Giporoso, Remera, that is torn between the those who did not go to exile and the Rwandan returnees.
The owner of the restaurant, refusing to disclose her real name says that she is commonly called ‘Mulamu’ by her customers.
“It is hard to tell the count of former exiles but they are many in this place,” she said. The sole proprietor, who is also a former exile from Uganda, says that most of her dishes are Ugandan.
“I prepare matooke, posho and other food but I add chips to capture those who remained,” she says.
Charles Rukundo is also a former exile and a student at St Martyrs Secondary school. He uses the proximity of the school to the restaurants as an advantage to have meals at Mulamu’s restaurant.
But before he identified a restaurant that appealed to his taste, he experienced one of the restaurants specific to local dishes.
“I went to one of the native restaurants and found that instead of mashing the matooke they pound it. Since then I have been eating from Mulamu’s restaurant,” he recalls.
However, Rukundo says that the foreign cooking has over the years drawn the attention of the natives. After his meal at the restaurant, Bosco Nzeyimana, a businessman is more drawn to the foreign dishes than the Rwandan ones.
“I always have lunch here and I like the food. It is well cooked. Growing up, I never liked obugari,” he says.
But in Kimihurura just at the outskirts of the City, the one year old Afrika Bite, poses as a restaurant that captures an all round East African taste with endeavors to meet every Rwandan’s taste.
“We alternate meals on a daily basis. You can’t please everyone but we serve ten dishes. Most of the East African dishes are more less the same,” says Daphne Kajugiira.”
In Kacyiru, a city suburb, the four year old Barbers’ restaurant located on Kigali Business Centre building is faced with the haggles of differing tastes.
“We have people who want different dishes,” Tofilo Mukasa, the assistant manager of the restaurantsaid. But he says Rwandans love the retaurant.
“The Rwandan who never went to exile prefer cassava beans, peas, groundnut sauce and chips. Those who where exiled in Kenya like posho, meat and peas. Those from Tanzania have the same tastes as those from Kenya. And those from Uganda love matooke ground nuts and meat,” he says.
However, there are restaurants that despite the diverse tastes of the populace they opt to focus on a specific customer base.
Amos Kalisa is seated at Mirembe restaurant also located in Giporoso, having an early lunch.
“I got used to posho in Uganda where I was born and I have failed to eat obugari (local cassava bread),” says another former exile.
“Their groundnut sauce is prepared well,” says Kalisa and adds that it is the reason that would keep him missing some of the local dishes cooked by the wife.
“I married my wife here but she doesn’t cook that food I was used to when I was in Uganda,” he says. But the reality is that after the genocide, most of the former exiles returned with divergent cultures.
“I can’t eat obugari,” Kalisa reitarates.
Birori Juma, is the owner of Mirembe restaurant that started operating in 2005. He says that most customers are attracted by the Ugandan way of cooking.
“I can’t estimate the (customers) but they are many returnees who eat from here compared to the natives.” Making entry into the restaurant the atmosphere feels foreign with the common presence of an alien dialect.
Already served and enjoying their lunch, some of the customers are chatting using Luganda, a popular tribal language in Uganda. But as I continue listening there are traces of Kinyarwanda though the mainstream is the foreign lauguage.
Hajati Annet, the head cook recalls that when the restaurant started, all the customers were former exiles, before the then owner died and they had to shut down for a while.
“The place was small and they used to make long queues and as some ate others had to wait outside.”
It is exactly lunchtime and outside Tam Tam restaurant, compared to other restaurants there are many people eating. The customers are occupying both the inside and outside of the restaurants.
Chez Innocent , the owner says that the eatery’s dishes are local.
“Here we usually receive mostly the Rwandans who did not go to exile and the cooking is purely local,” Chez says.
The owner of the one year old restaurant says that his choice of targeting native customers is a competitive strategy directed at a larger number of restaurants in the same area that seem to be targeting former exiles.
So with a past that dictated that some Rwandans make a choice to leave their homeland into exile the consequences are that some have stuck with foreign cultures even in their native land.