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Kigali, capital of Rwanda

 Posted by Simon Laroche
Simon Laroche
, April 25, 2010 at 10:41:21 :: Rwanda

Kigali, population 965,398 (2009), is the capital and largest city of Rwanda. It is situated near the geographic centre of the nation, and has been the economic, cultural, and transport hub of Rwanda since it became capital at independence in 1962. The main residence and offices of the President of Rwanda are located in the city, as are the government ministries. The city is coterminous with the province of Kigali City, which was enlarged in January 2006 as part of local government reorganisation in the country. The city's urban area covers about 70% of the municipal boundaries.

View of Kigali and Mount Kigali, Kigali city in Rwanda

Kigali was founded in 1907 under German colonial rule, but did not become the capital until Rwandan independence in 1962. The traditional capital was the seat of the mwami (king) in Nyanza, while the colonial seat of power was in Butare, then known as Astrida. Butare was initially the leading contender to be the capital of the new independent nation, but Kigali was chosen because of its more central location. Since then the city has grown very quickly and is now the major political, economic and cultural centre of Rwanda.

Beginning on April 6, 1994, Kigali was the scene of the Rwandan Genocide — the slaughter of approximately one million Tutsi and moderate Hutu by Hutu militias (interahamwe), and some members of the Rwandan army — and of fierce fighting between the army (mostly Hutu) and Tutsi-dominated Rwandese Patriotic Front. Although damaged, the city's structure has recovered.

The city now has four international class hotels, built as part of the country's bid to increase tourism and better support business travellers:

Points of interest:

- The Mille Collines in the Kiyovu area. This hotel became a refugee centre during the genocide, as famously depicted in the film Hotel Rwanda (although the hotel shown in the film is in fact in South Africa). It is also the setting for the famous novel Un dimanche à la piscine à Kigali, by Quebecer Gil Courtemanche, and its movie adaptation Un dimanche à Kigali.

- The Top Tower Hotel Kigali, located in the Kacyiru area. Built in 2008, the hotel is known for its Crystal View Lounge Bar on the 8th floor which offers an open full wall windows with panoramic views over Kigali.

- The Novotel Umubano in the Kacyiru area. This was formerly a Le Meridien hotel, then known as Le Meridien Umubano. It was bought by Novotel after the genocide.

- The Kigali Serena Hotel, formerly known as the InterContinental Kigali. Formerly a Belgian-owned hotel known as the Diplomates, the hotel was briefly portrayed in the second half of Hotel Rwanda. It was later bought by the InterContinental Hotels group and remodeled in 2003.

Kigali houses several memorials, museums, and centers dedicated to the Rwandan Genocide, including the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre.

Kigali roftop - Kigali, capital city of Rwanda, Kigali City province

Is it safe to travel to Kigali?
(source: UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office:

Several series of grenade attacks in Kigali in February, March and April 2010 have prompted foreign governments to advise against any but essential travel to the Rwanda capital:

- Rwandan police have confirmed reports of grenade attacks on the evening of Saturday 10 April in Kigali. One person died and others were injured. The police are investigating, including considering possible links to previous grenade attacks. It is not clear what the motivation for these attacks may have been. We advise that all UK citizens remain vigilant.

- We had previously received reports of two previous grenade attacks, one occurring on 4 March in which two grenades were thrown in two separate attacks in the Kimironko and Kinamba areas of Kigali. 16 people were wounded. On Friday 19 February there were three grenades thrown in separate incidents in Kigali all of which occurred around eight in the evening. There have been grenade attacks previously in Kigali and other provincial towns.

- We advise against all travel to the rural border areas with Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), except to the towns of Gisenyi, Kibuye and Cyangugu. We advise against all travel to Eastern DRC except for Goma and Bukavu. We advise against all but essential travel to Goma and Bukavu. This is because of the risk of cross-border incursions by armed guerrillas operating from DRC’s Kivu provinces and ongoing instability in Eastern Congo. Please see the Local Travel section for advice on gorilla trekking in Rwanda.

- We advise against all but essential travel to the rural border areas of Burundi. The security situation in Burundi has improved but banditry remains a problem.

- Rwanda is generally safe but there have been recent incidents of street crime. You should exercise caution at night.

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