Somebody told me that a foreign visitor could come to Kigali and do whatever business he came to do and go back home without stepping into Kigali’s city centre.
George is a journalist that I have known ever since I started out in Kigali. He has worked as a journalist for over three years, two of which have been in Kigali City. But to my amazement he tells me that he last stepped into what is known as the city centre over two months ago.
I ask him how he sources his information without moving around and he retorts that it isn’t of any necessity for him to go into the noisy area of town to do his work. Quite amazing from some one I expected to be ‘a man about town’.
Jason, a friend of mine, flew into the country and spent a week in Kigali. From Kanombe airport, he took a cab to the Novotel Hotel, where he stayed for the better part of his first visit to the land of a thousand hills.
After attending a conference at the same hotel, he walked around on his own. He told me that he had seen all the government offices after asking strangers in the Kacyiru area to point him in the right direction.
He also visited two night clubs and also spent an evening drinking beer at Kisementi. Out of curiosity he also ventured out towards the Nyarutarama area where he visited the famous MTN centre.
I met him after he had been around for a week and I told him to come along as I went to hang out at UTC. His reply: “Where the hell is that?”
“In the city centre,” I told him. He had seen the whole of Kigali and done whatever he wanted to do and it had not occurred to him that there is such a place as a centre.
He told me that he thought the city centre is somewhere round Kacyiru.
What on earth had made him think that? I asked. He explained. In his home city of Kampala most government offices and major hotels are located in the heart of the city. He thus deduced that where he was staying and operating from what was the heart of the city.
This took me back a few years ago when I lived and studied in Kampala. I remembered that whenever students had a strike or demonstration, they would walk from campus through the city up to parliament buildings to petition the speaker of Uganda’s parliament at times causing havoc in the central business district of Kampala.
Often business people would have to close their shops because to reach parliament chaotic students had to battle anti-riot police in the heart of that overcrowded city. Parliament, where students would be heading to, and other government offices are located within the heart of the city.
I could suddenly understand why my friend was confused by the way Kigali city is organized. Many think that the Kimihurura-Kacyiru area is what constitutes the city centre, because most government offices are domiciled thereabout.
Feliciano tells me that even most of President Bush’s itinerary on his recent visit to Rwanda did not require him to go into the city centre.
After landing at the Kanombe airport, he went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre at Gisozi, then to Village Urugwiro, and later proceeded to the American embassy all located outside the city centre.
It is only his last stop at Lyce de Kigali that brought him closer to the city centre. So what is a city’s centre?
It’s the heart of the city, you reply with conviction. And where is the heart of our capital? Somewhere around Kwa Rubangura or around the Kigali city main roundabout, you reply with less conviction.
History tells us that Kigali started around the Nyarugenge area where the main city roundabout is now located. Around one hundred years ago, the German colonial administrator Dr. Richard Kandt set up camp in Kigali’s Nyarugenge area.
The city developed from there in an outward fashion and it’s probably based on those origins that the city centre is widely believed to be that area.
In fact many businesses are located in the Nyarugenge district. From retail shops to big super markets and roadside hawkers, one is sure to find them located in that place.
Jimmy, a resident of Ubwiza in Remera district, always finds an excuse to venture out into the city centre. He says working in Kacyiru and living in Remera is enough for him to feel as a “city guy” or “man about town”.
But although he can easily access all his shopping needs in Remere, once in a while he has to move to the city centre “to get a feel of the city pulse”.