EAST AFRICA SAFARI 2017 – twelve


Swansea versus Leicester tonight. Football: it is endless, omnipresent and inescapable and the ONE thing everyone in Africa knows about my country.


I dedicated today to the Kigale Genocide Memorial and Museum – and very sobering it was too. Enough to consider for one day as a tourist in Africa.

The one aspect of Rwanda that commands the most respect is the fact that they have faced their appalling crimes and the horror of the 1994 rampage of vicious slaughter and the madness that inspired it. The Genocide Memorial is a testament to that honesty. It is a museum and graveyard, for over a quarter of a million Rwandan bodies – of men, women, children and babies – are buried on the site. It sits just above the valley bottom behind the main ridge of the city, overlooking the shiny towers and glass of the banks that pile up over the opposite hill top. It’s a well designed museum with gravitas but not overtly sentimental; it allows the facts and stories to speak for themselves. And they are so appalling that they cry out incredulously. Man’s inhumanity to man has seldom been better expressed than in those 100 days of 1994; man’s violent animal instincts seldom more exposed. Alongside the museum of events in 1994 is a more general exhibition of genocides of the past 100 years, and it does nothing to elevate the dignity of humankind – Namibia 1907 (see last year’s journal January 27th), the Armenians, the Serbs, the Jews, Cambodia and Pol Pot – millions of people butchered in the last century for imagined ethic jealousies instilled by evil, crazed politicians. And my over-riding thought at the end of the day: that mankind doesn’t learn by its folly, horrors and hatred. To this day it votes for hate-fuelled policies and bigotry. Do not fool yourself that Trump’s rhetoric is far removed from that which I learned today; or of 1933 in Germany, or 1907 in Namibia or the Armenian, Serbian, and all the other hatred and genocide of the last century. They all started with the same bragging pride, sectarianism, fanaticism, blame, untruths and manipulation of the ignorant.

My world travels do little to inspire confidence in the future of mankind on this planet.


Germany colonised what is now Rwanda between 1895 and 1916, then during World War One the land was occupied by Belgian troops, who in 1923 were given a mandate by the League of Nations (league of self-interested rich nations…) to govern Rwanda-Urundi. The mandate was soon turned to colonial occupation, which lasted until independence in 1962. During this time the Catholics (never far from the seat of these conflicts, it seems to me…) influenced education in Rwanda, increasingly teaching a racist ideology that the Tutsis were a superior group. ID cards were introduced in 1932 to further discriminate between the previously peaceful peoples. Believe it or not, anyone owning ten cows or more was classified as Tutsi; with less as Hutus. (There were also the Twa, a small tribe of peoples who lived quietly in the deep mountains, whom we know as Pigmy, now something of an insulting term). The racial delineation of Hutu and Tutsi applied to the descendants of those first classified peoples in 1932 and the division began, encouraged by the Belgians, who instituted forced labour to build roads and infrastructure, favouring the Tutsi minority. By the 1950s the Catholic church was further instrumental in encouraging the divide, the (Belgian) bishop supporting the division of the largely invented ‘race’ discrimination, portraying the minority Tutsis as oppressing the majority Hutus. Jealousies festered. There were massacres in the late 50s and in 1967 the first prime minister led a party for the emancipation of the ‘oppressed’ Hutus with fascist policies, persecution and ethnic cleansing. During this time 700,000 refugees left the country and formed a Patriotic Front, the RPF. They invaded in 1990 and civil war followed.

The Hutu ‘Ten Commandments’ of 1990 read just like the Nazi propaganda of the 1930s: racial purity, division of business interests, social divides. The then president, a Hutu, intensified the hatred, while making specious peace moves in peace conferences, meanwhile quietly pushing through the biggest Rwandan arms deal ever – with a French company guaranteed by a loan from the French government – for $12 million. On April 7th 1994 the (Hutu) president was killed when his plane was shot down by a missile as he approached the runway at Kigale – the wreckage falling in the ground of his own palace, and Rwanda turned into a nation of brutal, sadistic, merciless killers and neighbours rampaged against neighbours, colleagues on colleagues, family on family, fuelled – as always – by propaganda and a ruthless media (heard that anywhere recently..?).

In one story related on screen in the memorial museum, a woman told of her neighbouring family: all the children played together and the fathers were godfathers to one another’s children – until the killing started, when the one father caused the slaughter of most of the children of the other. He was a ‘GOD’father and he failed his GODchildren whom he had stood in church and vowed to protect! Can anyone explain to me as an increasingly convinced atheist how you can justify these actions and then profess to be Christian and go to ‘confession’..? Sorry for the aside, but it constantly staggers my belief in humanity. The vast majority of the killers were ‘Christians’ – Catholicism is a major influence here – and presumably believed they had authority from their god for this slaughter, and felt justified in bashing out babies brains against walls… Catholic churchmen and women weren’t blameless, although a few stories of bravery stand out. One ‘Father’ with 2000 people sheltering in his church, gave the command to bulldoze the church – with his congregation inside; others are known to have collaborated and at least a couple of nuns were tried and found guilty of war crimes… One church, convent and school became the killing centre for 20,000 people and another church saw 10,000 raped, abused and killed. Terrified people took refuge in churches and other Christians threw in grenades to destroy them. Religious belief becomes more impossible to me the more of the world and mankind that I witness.

Over a million innocent people were butchered by their friends and neighbours in three months. The UN and the world shamefully withdrew, and now admit their inaction exacerbated the incredible suffering. The general of the UN forces reckoned that 5000 soldiers could have controlled the outrage, but they were never sent. Tens of thousands were tortured, mutilated, raped and murdered; babies were dashed against walls, children cut apart by machetes, women forced to watch their children killed by bludgeons filled with nails, raped and then killed themselves, others intentionally raped by the HIV positive. Tens of thousands more suffered bullet wounds, infection, starvation, disfigurement. 300,000 children were orphaned and 85,000 children ended up as heads of families of orphaned siblings. A UNICEF report reckons that 80% of Rwandan children experienced a death in their family in 1994; 70% witnessed someone being killed or injured and 90% believed they would themselves be killed.

This didn’t happen in the Middle Ages: it happened 23 years ago. It’s put a new light on my observations that Rwandans have a reserve and detachment from me as a tourist…


The efforts to reconcile all this – and so many survivors and perpetrators are around me as I write – have been impressive. 12,000 local community courts were set up, called Gacaca, meaning ‘grass’, to investigate the crimes and bring together the accused with the survivors, many of whom only then found out what had happened to their family members and, in some cases, were able to trace their remains. It stands as one of the most comprehensive attempts to bring reconciliation in modern social history, bringing together those involved – on both sides. There are many very moving stories, not least of the sense of forgiveness inculcated by the process of the open local courts. The political perpetrators were tried under a UN resolution for crimes of genocide and many are still in jail around the world. As recently as 2013, they were still being brought to justice by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Some extraditions are still sought.


My visit was emotionally disturbing and ultimately disillusioning. As I wrote above, nothing changes despite the horrors. Trump vilifies innocent Moslems and Mexicans; Brexit thrives on fear of immigrants and outsiders; Shias and Sunnis; Arabs and Israelis; Catholics and Protestants; and at any time, about fifty religious wars rage around the world: MY religion is truer than yours’, ‘God is on MY side’. Huh. The language of hate never really changes and as times get hard, people look inwards, close ranks with the known and fear the unknown, and pull up the drawbridges. No, my travels don’t make me look at the world with much hope… We are really only animals with a thin veneer of learning and civilisation and deep-seated Darwinian instincts for self-preservation.

By coincidence, I had an email from Rico while I was at the Memorial. The cafe at the back – and by then I needed refreshment – had a wifi connection and I had the iPad with me to look for just that for the first time in some days. Rico, now in South Sudan, was working in Rwanda in 1994 and admits it was a deeply emotional time. I’m going to copy some of his email here. It adds so much to what I saw today:

‘…Reading about Rwanda reminds me of my intense time there during and shortly after the genocide. I was based in a place called Gikongoro. You most likely pass through there after you have left Lake Kivu behind at Cyangugu, (now Kamembe where I stayed three nights ago. JB) at the border, a narrow bridge, with the Congo.

I did spend time in Cyangugu as there were quite some child casualties, caused by special land mines, designed to attract children. If they picked up their new found toy, it would explode. Many kids lost limbs and the sight in at least one eye. It was of course also the (bottle-neck) border crossing to Congo. Tens of thousands passed every day, prompting us to set up refugee camps in and around Bukavu. I was working for the “Fund” (Save the Children) that year.

The road to Gikongoro goes straight through the forest, but no more elephants there! I remember the small but refreshing waterfalls coming from the mountain sides. I always enjoyed travelling through the forest, despite the long lines of people escaping the massacres walking to Congo.
We also supported many displaced people camps deep into the interior. We always used the main road from Huye to Kigali. The capital is so much unlike Kampala or Nairobi. However, as we were always a bit in a hurry and while the road was sometimes littered with bodies… we never looked for an alternative route.

Anyhow, many memories come back, it was definitely my most emotional year. 1994!’

Rico’s memories also give me an insight into the number of wheelchair-bound amputees I have seen in the past days… I don’t find people here interact much, so it was an introspective day filled with melancholic thoughts on mankind.


Well, I’d better try to end my entry a bit more upbeat! It was a warm, humid day and I walked a lot, leaving the bike in the hotel yard. This city is SO quiet and SO clean.

I need to think about the next three weeks, for there’s not much more than that left of my journey now. Sadly, I won’t meet Rico again on this trip, as he’s going to northern Congo next. I am thinking of keeping the little blue bike in his garage in Kitale for another winter trip, having started to bond a bit more with it and having invested SO much in it. It’s silly to sell it again without trying to get to Ethiopia! So we’ll get together again, all being well at the end of the year. Meanwhile, I have pretty much decided to head round the south of Lake Victoria through Tanzania back to Kenya, mainly because I fear the rains may be coming in the middle of Uganda by now. But I think before that I will ride back to Lake Kivu as I enjoyed the scenery and riding there so much. So tomorrow I am heading back to Kibuye and that lovely view of the lake from the faded hotel balcony…


Some rides and places are so good it’s worth repeating them. That’s what I thought when I set off from Kigale this morning so that I can enjoy the road south that I took last week and the ride through the forest that I so loved a few days ago. I hadn’t expected the bonus of a wonderful ride today as well!

I was quite content to leave Kigale, a fairly tedious city without a lot of attractions. Quiet and orderly, clean and disciplined – but not very engaging. The guest house was basic and very ‘concrete’ so I was happy to get back into the countryside. Rwanda’s roads are so quiet and empty that I rode along very relaxedly back to Muhanga, the town where I slept on Friday. From there I was onto new roads for me, a fine road to the west, over a surprisingly high range of mountains, terraced and cultivated from the bottoms of the valleys to the tops of the hills. I rode slowly and in delight, happy that I’d decided to ride back to Kibuye. It was only a seventy mile day but a very fine ride.


Stopping to take a photo of an intricately terraced valley, I was soon surrounded by a crowd of local people, who seemed to appear from nowhere. It’s always like that in Africa: you think you are all alone, and then someone pokes a head over an embankment, appears through the banana trees, walks round the corner carrying a load. I took my photo, laughed with the group of mainly young men and children; one young man keen to try on my goggles – and then began the demands: “give me money!”, or food, or the clothes off my back, or cigarettes. It seems no Rwandan can resist the chance that my capriciousness might just render something for free! Rico concurred that this is a very Francophone problem in Africa, and he has probably more experience than me by now. He wrote, ‘If somebody doesn’t give to you what you consider to be entitled to, then you must demand it’. A couple of Rwandan people to whom I have mentioned this endless frustration, have independently put forward the opinion that the French (and Belgian, in this instance) paid money to their colonial subjects while the British taught them how to earn it. I wonder if this is the root of the habit? It really DOES get irritating and it is pervasive in Rwanda, an otherwise fine and proud country. However, I try to rise above it because this is such a lovely country in every other aspect, not least the cleanest through which I have ever had the pleasure of travelling.

My, that was a magnificent ride, on empty, high roads in grand scenery, twisting and curling about the mountains. But I am even more delighted with my decision to return to Kibuye by my walk this afternoon, out onto one of the straggly, convoluted headlands by the small town. It is a splendid place, is Kibuye! Steep wooded slopes fall away to the calm lake, the sun was softening into the late afternoon, making a silver pathway across the water into which a series of large fishing canoes, tethered three together like trimarans with long poles arching out fore and aft from which nets will be winched and lowered, paddled smoothly, their crewmen chanting rhythmically to maintain their strokes. The evocative noise of the chants carried far across the gleaming water as the paddles dropped rings onto the mirrored surface. Small islands dotted the lake as it disappeared into distant haze that obscured the Congo such that one could imagine this to be a great ocean, not an inland African lake. As I sit later on the darkened terrace of the hotel, with a view worth hundreds more than my fifteen pound accommodation bill, I can make out the lanterns of those heavy plank canoes winking in the night, the same vessels I watched paddle so picturesquely below my wooded headland.


When I stayed in the Eden Rock Hotel last week I enjoyed my best night’s sleep of the trip. I am back in the same room, with its balcony above the tranquil bay and the scattered wooded islands. Most of the hotels hereabouts are expensive and really no better placed than this one. I was remembered and welcomed back and I have no doubt that by morning Munvaneza, the handsome, kindly security man, will have my little blue bike gleaming again, as he did the other day. When a service is done so willingly, with such a wonderful smile, it becomes a gift rather than a merely mercenary activity. He was delighted that I recollected his name.


Bicycle taxis are more common here than the ubiquitous motorbike ones. Out in rural areas I see so many straining cyclists, frequently resorting to pushing their heavily laden Chinese cycles up the long slow hills. With either passengers or goods, they ply the roads, a padded seat on the rear carrier, often piled high with heavy branches of green bananas, milk churns, sacks and bags, crates, firewood, baulks of timber, doors and frames, stacks of plastic chairs, water containers, crates of beer and soft drinks, trussed pigs and goats, dangling chickens, steel rods dragging the road behind, crops, tables, furniture and all manner of goods. And you may have kilometres to push, sweat and toil uphill to enjoy the rush down the other side. All this for a few pence each day.


Rwanda and Uganda would be a bird watcher’s delight. I’m sometimes sorry I know so little about them, for I see some startling birds. There are many vast raptors swooping about the hills and valleys on sharp updrafts; exotically hued birds flitting about the bushes; ungainly storks and herons, hideous vultures, pretty darting finches with bright heads, dazzling shiny birds, the brightest feathers imaginable and, today, the smallest birds I have ever seen. I doubt they were as much as two inches from beak to tail tip. Tiny, tiny birds, smaller even than hummingbirds. Nature has many extremes on this continent.


In a country in which the majority of the populous has no access to power and which is having to harness the noxious gases of the lake to generate electricity, Kibuye town council (one supposes) has installed modern lamp standards out into the beauties of the headlands and along the dust tracks frequented only by goats, pedestrians with the habit of sleeping when darkness comes, and an occasional expensive 4X4 with headlights. The result is useless waste and light pollution. It’s even more ridiculous than Harberton being bathed in light through every night when nothing but cats on the prowl are moving! Maybe it suggests ‘sophistication’..? I have seen these new lights in many rural villages and towns in this small mountainous country. I wonder if they will be maintained or left to wither like the plumbing in every hotel and guest house in which I have stayed in the last couple of months. Not ONE bathroom has worked fully! Loose taps, broken shower heads, terrifying electrics, blocked drains, loose lavatory seats, ineffective flush mechanisms, leaking joints – I’ve seen it all, everywhere. Africa in general has a problem with maintenance – or lack of it… Instead of fixing things before they break, they are left and become unmendable. It’s a sort of mental blockage shared by all Africa.


Pulling into a garage leaving Kigale, eight under-employed mechanics were much entertained while one of their colleagues effected an oil change on the little blue Suzuki for me. I have ridden about four and a half thousand kilometres (2800 miles) so far. I’m used to the bike now, and it’s getting me around cheaply and reliably. It’s certainly an easier bike for a ‘senior citizen’ to ride, and sufficient for the distances that I need to cover in these relatively small countries. I wouldn’t want to be riding round the big expanses of southern Africa on it though. Yes, it’s doing quite well on the whole.


A day of rest today, not, I hear you mutter, that there’s much from which to rest! It just seemed, as I gazed at the lake over breakfast on another sunny morning in Africa, that leaving this lovely place was unnecessary for a day. It’s not often that I find places like this: tranquil, exotic, beautiful – and affordable! So I stayed. Time allows: I have just over three weeks left of my safari and only have to get back to this side of Kenya.


About twenty kilometres south of Kibuye I turned off the sweeping tar road onto a bad rock and gravel track that climbed through the steep terraces towards the Gisovu tea estates and the Bisesero genocide memorial, about six or seven miles off the road. At Bisesero many thousands of Tutsis put up resistance against the Hutu killers, gathering en masse on a mountaintop and using spears and rocks to defend themselves. Of course, the resistance failed: the ‘genocidaires’ were armed with guns and grenades by the manipulative Rwandan government, courtesy of France… Many thousands of people were butchered on that mountain in the rural landscape that looks so charming today. The complicity of the French government in arming the butchers and orchestrating the genocide can’t be ignored, nor the evil machinations of the Belgian Catholic church in fostering the sectarianism, or the folly of the UN in choosing not to interfere. These all can be seen, with hindsight, to have caused the horrific massacres. The stadium in little quiet Kibuye was the scene of another mass killing of thousands. It was everywhere. To this day French diplomats do not join in the commemorations at the genocide memorials in April, although all the other diplomatic missions are represented. That seems significant.

The Bisesero memorial is built on the adjacent hillside to that on which the battles took place and climbs the steep slopes with three ossuaries, each split into three sections, to represent the nine communities of the locality. Hundreds of battered skulls and leg bones stand testament to the abomination of April 1994. You can see the machete cuts, the bullet holes, the crushed bones from the nail-filled clubs. You can see the skulls of children and adults. You can see the charred skulls of those burned to death. It’s thought-provoking indeed. At the summit of the hill is a mass grave of tens of thousands of people whose only crime was to be judged of a ‘wrong’ tribe of peoples, despite being the former brothers and friends of the opposing warriors… The world is full of evil. And it doesn’t go away…

…Glinting on an opposite hillside a mile away are the tin roofs of a massive camp of Congolese refugees, fleeing political infighting and civil war in the country across the lake. It made even more of an impact, looking across from the bones of the memorial to the waste of thousands of displaced people confined to a refugee camp by such similar jealousies, sectarianism and self-interested politicians. Mankind does NOT learn. We are no better than animals in the final assessment.


I began to write a short time ago, down on the narrow beach by the calm lake, with a Turbo King at my side. Suddenly a HUGE storm and torrential rain crept up behind me. Fortunately, I was under a large sun umbrella. Soon I ended up standing on the log table as the rain cascaded and bounced all around. It’s been threatening all day, and in fact I cut short my ride to the tea estates because I could see rain clouds gathering and don’t choose to ride on sandy, earthen tracks in the rain if I can avoid it. Thunder is rolling very atmospherically around now, deeply reverberating above the lake. Maybe it will clear the air for a bright day tomorrow… I’ve said it before: I don’t care if it rains while I am drinking my evening beer. These storms are usually short-lived and reduce the humidity. A kind young waitress rescued me with a dripping umbrella so that we could run splashing across the flowing road to the hotel.


Perhaps If I had realised the quality of this hotel I’d have been embarrassed to bargain so hard with the manager. (Perhaps..!) I seem to be in the best hotel in town, a ‘real’ hotel; new, I should think as it hasn’t had time to deteriorate yet… I have a pleasant modern room with a balcony with an extensive view across the western mountains. There’s a large swimming pool set in well kept gardens with a thatched bar, a proper dining room, waiters in smart uniforms, green grass (not dust!) and all the accoutrements of a proper hotel. £16 B, and then, Andrew the manager, eventually threw in the other B with a laugh! So long as I do it with big smiles, it just about always works!


All the roads I have ridden today, 150 miles of them, are roads I rode last week. Sometimes it’s just worth riding them twice for the sheer pleasure of the scenery, the sweeping, curling roads and the joy of being in a very beautiful part of this African continent. I had a good day, and today I quite enjoyed the little bike.

The road through the Nyungwe national forest are some of the best fifty miles of East Africa, twisting and climbing to 2500 metres through lush, dense forest of towering creeper-hung trees covering steep slopes above and below the road. Monkeys scamper about the verges and here and there huge vistas of misty ridges thick with trees are disclosed between the foreground trees. There’s a refreshing smell of dampish undergrowth and brief showers are frequent but so localised that I seem to avoid them, each one little more than a condensing cloud dropping its new rain back onto the forest below in an endless cycle. Maybe this is what the world was like before we built roads and concrete hotels, just this exuberant, luxuriant greenness?

The approaches to the forested area, down along the silver lake to the west, are pretty striking too, with panoramic expanses of terraced mountainside peppered with small brown homes with their brown pantiles or shiny zinc. Growth is prolific, bananas, cassava, coffee, tea, vegetables, onion fields, even rice paddies in some of the low flat valleys, backed by sharp ridges. The water sits still below, calm and misted, Congo pretty much invisible across the looking glass lake. People wave or stare dead-pan; it’s a toss up, some are excited, some completely expressionless, whatever my reaction. I can’t really make head and tail of the Rwandan people. In one area I was like a passing celebrity: everyone, young and old, waved and smiled; a few miles further on, laughing at such extravagant reactions, I passed into another area entirely, where people stared blankly and no one returned my smiles. I can’t account for it. In the friendly region, fortunately also the most beautiful, where tea cloaked the hills and gentle blue eucalyptus leaves made a magnificent and photogenic counterpoint, I stopped a few times, unable to resist another photo. Each time crowds gathered, mainly small children, for school had finished for the afternoon and they have long roadside walks home, but with adults, hoes across their shoulders, babies on backs, too. They crowded round excitedly, watching and commenting, joking with each other at the cheerful expense of the old granddaddy on the motorbike. It’s just a shame their waves always turn in a reflex action into an outstretched palm and the Rwandan National Greeting: “Give me money!”, often abbreviated to just “…money!” I keep reminding myself that these are uneducated people who have been taught this irritating habit because, at some time French people have done just that: paternalistically and imperiously handed out pennies to the natives. Since entering Rwanda this has become a sort of soundtrack to my travels: choruses of “give me money! Give me money…”

And in other stretches of the beautiful road, totally blank reaction… It’s beyond me. Not a smile, not a wave, just a stare… But no one means harm by it, it’s just the way they are, it seems. Sometimes it is difficult to be such a casual observer of foreign cultures, understanding only a little, knowing few of the influences and social habits, comprehending manners only in reference to my own instincts or comparing to other, disparate people.


All day the clouds have gathered and dispersed, leaving me dry, but chilly on the heights. Apprehensively, I have watched great blue storm heads gather and disappear. I suppose the seasonal rains are on their way. An email from South Africa today tells me how much it has been raining this year. Happily, here a thousand miles north, I have not actually been properly wet in all these weeks, only a couple of brief showers not even worth getting out the waterproofs for. Here, a couple of degrees from the Equator, altitude makes the difference. As I write, I am sitting in the hotel garden beside a thatched bar complete with pool table – and the inevitable British Premiere League football on the box. I have had to race back to my room twice for long trousers and then a fleece. I am determined to eat my supper beneath the stars!

In effect, my journey home began today. From now on I shall be travelling generally eastwards, back round the bottom of Lake Victoria to Kenya, to return the little blue bike to Kitale for future travels.

Crikey! The first of my supper just arrived: a mixed salad. It is HUGE, a plate piled high. At this point in my journey, it’d probably be entirely sufficient – without the spaghetti I ordered! My appetite reduces so much on these journeys. I had a night of fitful sleep last night punctuated by bad dreams, then I remembered: I took my weekly malaria prophylactic yesterday. It’s known to affect some people with psychotic disturbances. The British Army has been fighting against all sorts of accusations from soldiers affected. Still, having suffered cerebral malaria – and only survived, according to the hospital specialist, because I’d been taking anti-malarials, I guess a night a week of disturbed sleep is acceptable. “Yes, well, you’d probably have died last week if you hadn’t been taking the prophylactics..!” I can still hear charming Pakistani Dr Ijaz in Bedford Hospital when I complained that I had contracted malaria despite the pills. But I am tired tonight, after poor sleep and 150 miles of fine roads and fresh air.

I’ve spotted a road on my tourist map that avoids riding all the way back through the capital city on my way to the south east of Rwanda and the Tanzanian border. I must try to find out if it’s a viable route. Mile upon mile of gravel and rock isn’t a short cut…

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