If the word ‘Rwanda’ only reminds you of the genocide in the mid-late 90’s, think again. Rwanda is not the same today.
We can actually draw similarities between Rwanda and Finland, if we compare the education system and building of internet connections, for example, but forget about the cold, snow and the tropical highland climate and the mountain gorillas.
I had the opportunity to interview Venetia Sebudandi, the ambassador of Rwanda, while she visited Helsinki during Friday.
At a hotel in Eastern Pasila, we talked about Rwanda’s fast growing economic sector: tourism.
Sebudandi said that Rwanda has made significant changes over the past 20 years making it today one of the premier destinations on the African continent.
Somewhat similar to Finland, the public education model offers children free basic education for 12 years and at a very young age access to computers and basic programming languages to better prepare them for their own future.
Meanwhile, the government has laid a foundation of fibre-optic cable ensuring that broadband internet access is available nationwide for anyone who wants to learn and work.
Local area networks are even in some of the most rural areas of the country.
“They come back”
As the interview continued, a man listening to us, Gabriel Gabiro, the communications officer for Sebudandi, grabbed his mobile and showed me a real-time map of the active networks.
With a genuine look of satisfaction, he clicked through each hub and we were able to see not only the hundreds of schools where children were using their laptops, but other simultaneous internet users as well.
The communities are quickly developing into highly educated populations with access to school, both domestically and internationally, which is leading to careers in IT, foreign trade, eco-tourism, and sustainable agriculture.
It’s easy to see the people of Rwanda are serious about their future.
Of the ones studying internationally, what do they do once they’ve completed their degrees, I asked?
“They come back. A great majority of these come back because there are very good opportunities for young people in Rwanda, and when they return, they are able to move into the middle class,” Sebudandi said.
For visitors to Rwanda, this means services like five star hotels, beach resorts, and tasty locally-grown food.
The tropical highland
Rwanda is also home to specialty coffee and tea production.
Small farms, sustainable methods and passion for their products have put Rwandan farmers on top of the world when it comes to coffee and tea.
Besides receptive locals, their traditions, and Rwandese culture, the country offers some of the most unique biodiversity on the eastern side of the continent.
Situated only a few degrees South of the equator Rwanda’s days are filled with sunlight but with the elevation (the lowest point being approx 1000 metres above sea level) extreme heat isn’t typically a concern.
Rwanda has a temperate tropical highland climate, with lower temperatures than are typical for equatorial countries due to its high elevation; temperatures range from 16-28 degrees of Celsius.
The country has very low pollution, four distinct seasons, and a potential list of outdoor activities that is seemingly endless.
Visitors will find ample opportunity to explore volcanoes, caves, coffee and tea plantations, or simply pack a lunch and take a day hike with a camera in tow.
Helicopter tours as well as watersports can be arranged for those looking to do a little less walking. For anyone with five days to spare and a real passion for landscape, bicycles can be rented for traveling the Congo Nile Trail.
Greet the mountain gorilla
The 227 kilometres long trail weaves its way through the country exposing the visitor to beautiful coastal views and is the solution for the adventurous.
Still, the biggest draw is probably the mountain gorillas.
Scientists estimate there are less than 800 in existence, and Rwanda is one of the few places in the world where you can still see these remarkable creatures in their natural habitats.
The hikes can be booked through the tourism and conservation office and can last up to four hours.
Experts guide you through the Volcanoes National Park and the Virunga Mountain Range and put you face to face with the gorillas.
Chimpanzee and golden monkey tours are also available but be warned: the smaller primates could be elusive.
At the end of the day, any activity you choose will leave you with an experience to remember, and the satisfaction of knowing that you’re investing in a beautiful country and the passionate people living there.
I asked Sebudandi and Gabiro when they’re away from Rwanda, what do they miss most?
“Many things,” they said almost in unison, as if to say that explaining the magic requires more than a condensed, an hour-long interview.
“Have you been? You have to come and see Rwanda for yourself, “the ambassador said.
Maybe she’s right …
[divider]Rwanda in a nutshell[/divider]
- Like an undiscovered jewel, Rwanda, officially the Republic of Rwanda, sits peacefully in a Central-East African location sharing borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, and Burundi.
- Rwanda has a population of about 12 million citizens; the capital, Kigali has about 1 million inhabitants.
- A Finnish citizen traveling to Rwanda needs to apply for a visa.
- The flight time from Helsinki to Kigali is about 12 hours.
- Before visiting, medicine against Malaria and proper vaccinations are necessary.
- The crime rate in Rwanda is relatively low. Pickpocketing and small robberies are among the common crimes. One should, however, avoid travelling alone after dark.
Source: The Finnish Foreign Ministry