The origins of Kigali as the Rwandan capital can be traced back to 1907. When the country gained its independence on July 1, 1962, the capital was like a small village when compared to what it is today.
The population stood at about mere 6000 people and the urban area was approximately 3 square kilometres with only a handful of permanent building. Society Magazine’s Martin Bishop introduces you to the structures that have stood the test of time.
Kandt House, 1909
When Dr. Richard Kandt (called ‘Kantayoge’ by locals) was appointed the Resident Governor of Rwanda he selected a hill at Nyarugenge and constructed a structure that became both his residence and headquarters. This building is located near the current market of Gakinjiro in Cyahafi sector next door to Kigali Central Prison.
After more than 100 years it still stands proudly. The building does not look as old and rickety as one might imagine it would. This vintage edifice, which was turned into a Museum of Natural History, looks sturdy and shows no sign of wear and tear. Even though Dr. Kandt died in Nuremberg at the end of World War I his name is still very much alive.
Sainte Famille Church, 1913
Its red brick façade embellished with white panels is found in Kiyovu, downtown Kigali. Know as ‘Misiyoni Bwahirimba’ by the older folk, the structure we see today was inaugurated in 1913. In fact, on October 19th this year, the church will celebrate its centenary.
The church started with 30 men of the cloth known as the Frères Blanc (White Brothers). The first one was Brother Max Theodore Franz who closely worked with Xavier Evembriell and Alfred Bruden. The last White Brother to lead the church was Andre Perraudin.
Belgian House, 1928
Built by the Belgians, Belgian House (Inzu y'Ababiligi, as it’s known locally) has, from 1982-todate, been home to the office of the ‘Cooperation Rwanda-Rhenanie Palatinat. This stout looking building with asbestos roofing nestles next to the Kigali Serena Hotel.
Kigali Central Prison, 1930
Kigali City Prison (known simply as 1930) is located in Muhima, Nyarugenge District. Local laborers, without cranes or wheelbarrows to simplify their work, took eight years to complete it, commencing its construction in 1922.
According to Kigali City officials, the prison will, this year, relocate to Butamwa, Nyarugenge District, in order to pave way for land development. According to the Vice Mayor in Charge of Economic Development, Alphonse Nzeyimana, the expansive property will be transformed into a heritage hotel.
Former headquarters National Bank of Rwanda, 1936
Currently occupied by Fina Bank Main Branch, this old edifice is located on 20 Boulevard de la Révolution. Built by the Belgians in 1936, it’s where the Belgian King Baudouin 1 resided when he visited the country in 1955. It later served as the Central Bank headquarters after independence.
Bernardine Sisters home
Originally known as Ecole Internat de Jeunes Filles and located on Boulevard de la Paix between Lycée Notre Dame de Citeaux and CHUK, this nunnery was built in the early 40’s. Mary Mariya, a Belgian sister teamed up with Bizuru Pascal a local contractor, and together they put up this building. Today the nuns who teach at Notre Dame de Citeaux secondary school and other places in Kigali call this place ‘home’.
La Sierra restaurant, 1938
True to its name La Sierra, (which means ‘mountain range’), still stands majestically. Little is known about its original owner. It was later bought by Deborche Grave a.k.a. Le Comte d’Athene, Patron de Ets, le Colon du Rwanda cut-throat Belgian business man who dealt in beef and cow hides. Locals who had problems pronouncing his name had baptised him ‘Rugarave’. Sembedeko Isaac, an octogerian who knew him, describes the Belgian as a giant bully. “Many songs were composed about him. We used to sing ‘Rugarave uwamaze inka’ (Rugarave who finished all the cows)”, he recalls with a tired smile. Grave later ventured into car importation and started ‘La Rwandaise Ets (the building that acted as his office and show room is still standing, opposite Union Trade Centre and occupied by Akagera Motors). Deborche died in 1987 and was buried at his home in Gatsata.