We are back from a buying trip to Rwanda, and what an incredibly scenic and beautiful little landlocked country it is, full of freshwater lakes, volcanoes, green misty capped mountains, and warm tropical temperatures, and with the craziest progressive food scene.
I think if you were playing a word association game with “Rwanda” most of us (before we said Gorillas or coffee) would say genocide. Personally, I couldn’t bring myself to visit the Genocide Memorial. I’ve read a lot about it and knew that it was going to be too much for me. But Matt from RAW, and Nick Mabey (who we were traveling with from Assembly and Volcano coffee UK, and the current SCA Roasting Champion) did visit and said it was unbelievable, but a very emotional experience. The genocide happened in 1994, so exactly 25 years ago, and followed the shooting down of the Rwandan President’s plane; this was the result of more than four decades of bad politics and ethnic injustice. In just a short period of 100 days, more than 800,000 Tutsi & Hutu lives were lost, when neighbors turned on neighbors.
There are two public holidays each year to mourn the genocide, and denial or historical revisionism of the genocide is a criminal offense. National recovery following this horrific war has focused on forgiveness and reconciliation.
We all really felt there was an air of hope and unification, and everyone we met were so proud of their country. It is the smallest country in East Africa, but the first thing that strikes you when you travel around is how amazingly green and fertile it is and, how clean it is. Amazingly clean! If you comment on this to a Rwandan, they would proudly exclaim “Rwanda is the cleanest country in Africa” We learned that the last Saturday of every month is “Umuganda” which translates to “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome”. In 1974 the Government organized an official program that saw friends and families come together, from all works of life, to donate their time (at least 3 hours) to benefit the community where they live. Wow! We couldn’t help but think about how all countries could benefit from a program like this.
Another reason the country is so clean, is due to the total ban on plastic bags, since 2008. Businesses have transitioned to paper bags and at entering Kigali airport or crossing by land from neighboring Burundi all plastic items are confiscated. I know this as I had my trainers and our duty-free in plastic bags inside my luggage when we entered the airport & both the plastic bags were confiscated. Big warning signs saying “Nonbiodegradable Polythene bags Prohibited” were all over the airport.
It wasn’t so much the use of the bags that the country had an exception to, it was the way they were being disposed of, as most of the plastic was being burnt or ended up with floods, in the water systems. Only 40 nations out of 195, have restricted, banned or taxed the use of plastic bags. As severe as a total ban sounds, please trust me, this is groundbreaking and 100%, it works. It was nothing like other African or Asian countries I have visited while buying coffee, where littering and terrible rubbish management is a complete eyesore and a national problem.
We get to travel to the most beautiful rural areas when we are on buying trips, Rwanda is jaw-droppingly beautiful. All the tourist promotions you hear about, with the misty topped mountains and tropical mountainous scenery, are true. I can’t wait to go back!
And that’s before we even mention how amazing the coffee is….