Kigali vs Kampala

by Olive Nakiyemba

From the very first time I visited Kigali, Rwanda in 2009 – I couldn’t help comparing it with my good old city of Kampala, Uganda’s capital. I had never been on a bus for long in my life! It took us about seven hours to get to the border in Gatuna. There wasn’t any incident at the Ugandan immigration office but when we crossed to the Rwandan office; things changed.

First of all, anyone who carried anything in a polythene bag was asked to buy a paper bag or carry that stuff in their hands because of the plastic bag ban that was implemented in 2007; it prohibits all manufacturing, use, importing and selling of all polyethylene bags in Rwanda! This ban is part of Rwanda’s 2020 Vision and Strategy which states 100% of the Rwandan Population will be in a good hygienic condition by 2017. This initiative was well thought out. The Umuganda; the term they use for community work that is mandatory for every Rwandan between 18 and 65 years old, even the expatriates residing in Rwanda are also encouraged to participate in community works. It takes place every last Saturday of the month. During the Umuganda, citizens are educated of the advantages of doing away with the plastic bags, good hygiene… It should be noted that Rwanda was the first country in the world to implement a total ban on plastic bags – making it an extraordinarily clean country thereby boasting her tourism!

Meanwhile, back home; the ban was only implemented on 15 April 2015 for polythene bags below 30 microns. A visit to the market a few days ago, the tomato lady insisted on giving me a polythene bag despite having carried a paper bag, arguing that the factories are still manufacturing the little devils and wholesalers are still selling them in bulk down in downtown Kikubo – which is really a little corridor brimming with hustle and bustle.

While at the Rwandan Immigration office, we also discovered that our bus driver wouldn’t drive us into Kigali because his licence was expiring that day. So we had to wait for another driver from Kigali to come and drive us. It’s about a 2 hours drive from the border to Kigali. So we waited. In Uganda, he would have been waved off with a warning and or a bit of Kitu Kidogo; a little something something but not in Rwanda! The driver eventually arrived and soon we were off.

Because I am uber hopeless with direction, I was completely caught off-guard when the bus changed lanes to keep right as we keep left in Uganda. It felt so wrong. That entire weekend – while I wasn’t busy getting mesmerized by Kigali’s cleanliness, cool temps, pothole free roads, the boda bodas aka motos that follow rules; my head was curving in trying to figure out which side to look first while crossing the road!

Two weeks ago, I went back to Kigali. I was able to appreciate it more as I consider myself older, wiser with a taste for the finer things in life. LOL

Since all the streets in Kigali are labeled, it makes it very easy for even the tourists to find their way around. For the first time, I was able to direct someone without using a mango tree or trench as a landmark!


I also had a chance to watch Uganda play Rwanda for the Olympics Qualifiers U21 at their – again- super clean Stade Du Amahoro. There’s something quite unique about signing your national anthem in a foreign land. The sense of pride and patriotism; like look at me! I’m Ugandan and we are going to whoop your bottoms! We won the game!

I need to point out that the sprinklers were turned on during half time and after the game. The grass is definitely greener in Kigali… But like they say; East or West…

I was on the bus that Sunday evening to return home. Got to Kampala at 5.30 Monday morning, took a thirty minute nap at the bus terminal. Back to the beautiful, dusty, potholed Kampala with lawless boda boda riders… I eventually made it to the office situated at Central Building, right in the heart of Kampala!

photo: Wikimedia Commons


2 Thoughts to “Kigali vs Kampala”

  1. But Nairobi can’t even compare. The City cartels are slowly eating away the beautiful City in the sun. Nairobi is the only city in the world with a National park. Now there is a railway in the park, human wildlife conflict, Nairobi river is not any different from open sewer, paper bags blocking drainage causes serious flooding, corruption right left and center. But anyway, we still love it as is, East or West… 😁😁😁. PS, some places are really nice and clean. Just that the mishandled areas give the rest a bad name.

    1. I love Nairobi sooooo much. I remember the first time I truly explored it with a good ole map, half way through the jouurney I was told by kind stranger that I was looking at my map upside down. LOL
      Good times!

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