Kanombe, a Kigali city suburb is not your average suburb; this neighbourhood is home to the biggest airport in the country, Kigali International Airport. A few kilometres from the airport is a Military police headquarters, a military hospital, military high court, schools, churches and also a former presidential palace.
The former presidential palace is located at about 4 kilometres from the airport. This larger than life house was inaugurated in 1980 and the then head of state, Juvenal Habyarimana, occupied it from then until 1994, when he died in a plane crash.
In 1995 his successor, President Pasteur Bizimungu, occupied this house until 2000.
Entering through the gate of the residence which once hosted two presidents of this nation, you can’t help but look around to see if there are CCTV cameras, presidential guards armed with metal detectors or the chilling sniff canines.
But today, the empty guard posts outside the gates are the only aide memoire that this was once a regal place.
In 2008, the cabinet meeting announced its decision to convert the residence of the late Habyarimana into a museum. Today gone is the stately aura that once hovered at the palace and its environs.
Tourists from all over the world visit the house especially the crash site where the plane carrying the late president and his Burundian counterpart president Ndadaye crashed.
Though this place has been through ups and downs, it’s still holding on to life and has a lot to give. The house got a facelift and was refurnished converting it from a ghostly, haunted house to a warm lively place.
The huge old compound is well manicured but the somewhat overgrown trees give an ancient and eerie appearance to the once most beautiful and dazzling abode in the country.
When you walk to the back, you are met with a vast garden with modern huts where the first family used to chill and laze around in the freshest of air. The place also boasts of a tennis court. There is also a huge empty crater that used to be a swimming pool.
Near the pool still stands a small humble domicile in which the late president lived in before becoming the head of state.
Today, the premises besides being a museum double as a venue for wedding receptions. The tennis court is also open and free for all to utilize. On our visit we found a karate class in session and a traditional dance troupe in practice.
However the most fascinating was the museum. It’s true one can’t know where they are going until they get to know where they are coming from. A visit to this place can be more than an eye opener, it exhibits hairstyles and clothes Rwandans used to put on, from 1900-1906. And like most museums, it provides a unique interactive experience of getting up close to things we usually only see in books.
In terms of education, visiting such a museum brings what is taught in schools to life. If you are a Rwandan citizen, visiting this presidential palace museum will cost you only Rwf500, students part with Rwf 200 while visitors to country pay Rwf3000.