Friday, 10 January 2014

Syokimau - Imara Daima train stalls severally in 7 days

The Imara Daima station, where train passengers spent an hour
on Thursday Morning
The foul smell in my house is a lingering reminder. See, I did not take out the garbage for the second time in a row. No, I'm not in some feat to break a record. The first time I overslept, or rather, slept through most of the day.

Yesterday, I only remembered to take the garbage when I was out of the gate. I would have gone back to do it, but time waits for no man. We were two men, son and farther, and the train we were going to catch runs on scheduled time, which again as I just mentioned, waits for no man, or even men.

My dad was excited, see, the previous night he had sat through Mombasa Road traffic, which takes hours for those who ply the road and days for those who aren't accustomed.

There was an accident, a friendly motorist had hit another one's rear bumper, spinning the vehicle such that it faced oncoming traffic. It's hard to understand why its is a national hobby in Kenya to drive millimetres from the bumper ahead of you.

So, my dad wanted to travel to town the following day at a time when they would not be as much traffic. I suggested the train. He seemed eager to enjoy it, see we come from Matuu, where the closest rail line, used or unused, is in Thika.

Previously, I have nearly missed my last two trains. The second last time, I actually ran the last 200 metres, was handed a ticket like they hand batons in an Olympics relay race and dashed into the train just in time. For a moment, I almost pulled the Usain Bolt pose in celebration.

Then I sat next to this dark, beautiful lady. She had a mini dress that fell just to her knees. Then it started pouring. The running, the hot sun, and the hot lady - a bad combination for one's biological functions. Well, I did borrow some courage and talked to her, for a good 10 minutes. Apparently you can talk to hot ladies the first time - I didn't know this.

The second time, I got my timing wrong again, and arrived at the station just as the train arrived. This time, I had a ticket (since they issue a 2 trip ticket for most trips). This time round, there was no hot lady on the train to reward my effort, nor a seat to rest in.

You now understand why my poor garbage was left in in the rush to get to the railway station, though we had a good 30 minutes.

We got to the railway station 10 minutes before the train was to arrive. My father offered to pay the fare, probably wanting to enjoy the whole experience. Who was I to refuse. As an adult, such offers are usually rare.

The train did arrive on time, and we all boarded. I was surprised at the increasing number of people and cars in the station from the last time I had used the service.

We boarded the train, and waited for 9:19 am, the scheduled departure time.

A goods train pulling up at the Nairobi station yards just as we did,
probably the train whose locomotive had broken down,
obstructing the rail path
9:21 am, 9:22 am, tic, toc, time went by. I was surprised - the train usually left on time.

It is then that they announced, a goods train had stalled between Imara and Makadara, and would be cleared in 15 minutes. Probably, after a gruelling trip from Mombasa, the ageing engine had decided that spot was the equivalent of any where else in Nairobi.

In typical Kenyan fashion, 15 minutes was drawn into a few minutes short of an hour.

Ironically, when waiting for the train, a matatu conductor had shouted at us from the GM flyover that he was charging KSh. 20 to town, in jest. Such foreboding.

Well, we passed the 1 hour representing our generations, him reading the paper, me reading all sorts of stuff on my phone - who reads papers?

The other passengers, unlucky enough to have smartphones or papers, spent the hour staring, like noticing what shirt the person next to them had, or walking around, or complaining.

The 20 minute ride ended up being an hour's, probably shorter than it would have been by matatu.

Apparently, the same train we were in had stalled twice since the beginning of the year. I am aware that the Monday evening train arrived 20 minutes late. This makes it for 3 stalls for the first 9 days of the year Rift Valley Railways.

I wonder why they don't ask those on the train to help in pushing and jump starting the train.

See my first post on a ride on the Syokimau - Imara Daima train.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Pussyfooting with the IMF

Christine Lagarde at Mindspeak
(image: @bobcollymore)
On Monday, 6th of January, 2014, I attended my first Mindspeak at the Intercontinental.

Like everyone else walking out of the packed room, I had a smirk on my face, and no, this was not due to the croissants that people were going to have for tea.

They wanna know, Who's that girl? (La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la)

Christine Lagarde had done an awesome job there, I was impressed. I'm quite surprised that Lagarde is not a diplomat, for she is quite good at the art of wooing people and making them look forward to the idiomatic trip to hell. But then again, that's her job, and I it looks like she really does earn her salary.

See, being in the same room as the International Monetary Fund and what are respected economists in this country, I expected that we would ask the hard questions, that Lagarde would break a sweat. That never happened.

I don't know what the issue was, we did not do our homework?

See, living in a country like Kenya, IMF  does impact your life a lot. In her talking notes and in answering questions later on, Lagarde made it clear that her trip here was not a courtesy call, she was here for work. She then went ahead to say that the IMF is in the business of bailing out countries, and doesn't come in if a countries policies are on the right tracks.

But what's IMF's business exactly? IMF stepped in to bail the Asian countries in the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Then, something to do with the real estate and lack of enough trade to support the exchange rate of Thailand's currency saw its value collapse. This in turn led to the collapse of currencies in neighbouring Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, South Korea and even Japan.

Then, IMF came in to support their currencies, with most currencies losing their value against the US Dollar by between 30 percent and 40 percent. The Indonesian currency took the crisis personally by losing 80 percent of its value.

A country like Kenya is a chief importer, which means that were we in Asia then, stuff would have increased price wise by at least one third of their current values to almost double. For every KSh. 100, you would be paying between KSh. 130 and Ksh. 180 the next year . (Medicine worth Ksh. 2,000 now would cost between KSh. 2,600 and Ksh. 3,600 in 12 months).

The IMF already assists Kenya, since we also do have a kaslight kaproblem in terms of production and export.

But then, IMF just doesn't help us like that. They give you money, and conditions.

Who's the IMF? Wikipedia is your friend here, though I will even suggest the good work done by Action Aid with their report here, which goes ahead to tell you why IMF is bad for us. (Yet we thought NGOs do nothing other than stop our political ambitions!)

I will base most of the remaining article on the Action Aid report.

The report lists IMF's key policy as below:

The SAPs Conditionalities in Kenya
  1. Low one-digit inflation rates
  2. High IMF-determined currency reserve levels
  3. Decreased public expenditure by the Government
  4. Reduced Government budget deficits 
  5. Ceilings on overall national resource envelope: the IMF determines money supply which in turn determines how much foreign aid may be accepted by the Government of Kenya in any given period
  6. Privatization of Parastatals/state owned corporations
  7. Trade liberalization
  8. Labour market reforms 
  9. Foreign investment deregulation, and
  10. Focus on production of goods for export rather than domestic production.
SAP is technical talk for "Structural Adjustment Programmes", or rather loans from IMF and their terms. 

Key IMF Fiscal and Monetary Policies promoted through SAPs

Inflation Targeting Policy

Low single digit inflation
10 and 20 percent are bad for economic growth
Reduging inflation below 10% will not reduce economic growth

Reduced Government Spending

Wage ceilings/caps–freezing of employment/salary increments
Sector ceilings especially for social sectors e.g. health and education
Cost Sharing Policy – people to pay for basic services previously provided by government

Currency ReservesPolicy

Floors (lowest level) on net foreign reserves to be mantained
Higher foreign exchange reserves safeguard against panics in financial markets and sudden reversals in capital flows

The Problem of Sacking workers and Reducing their Wages

Kenya has about 1 public servant for every 52 Kenyans, almost half of
whom are teachers (Image copied from the Business Daily)
The biggest impact of IMF policies has been a freeze on employment by the government and the continuing threat to reduce government workers. In the Moi eras, a good number of civil servants were actually sacked retrenched ( - a better term from the donors for the barbaric act of cutting a bread winner from their source of income). 

They also want wages for the remaining workers reduced. 

The issue here, as IMF rightly notes, is that we have economies that don't produce as much. For Kenya it's worse. Lagarde kept praising our economic growth rates of 5 percent, yet countries like ours normally grow at 10 percent. 

If you sack civil servants, you are basically taking away money from the economy. Civil servants have a guaranteed income, which is what drives bank loans and consumptions for a good portion of the private sector. 

I don't think reducing civil servants or their wages is as good an idea as IMF makes it sound like, unless you mean the civil servants who earn KSh. 3.7 million a month. The move is likely to hurt those that earn less than Ksh. 50,000 a month. 

Mind you, they want us to reduce government employees in a country facing a shortfall of doctors, nurses, police officers, and teachers. The IMF still thinks they are too many. 


And this is in a country why joblessness is becoming a big headache. 


Pay for government services

Another bone to pick, from Action Aids report, IMF is a staunch fan of you paying for government services. 


As if you don't pay income taxes, and Value Added Tax, and Railway Development Levy, and Fuel Levy, and contribute 6 percent of your income to the NSSF. 

Contrasting with the Nordic Model

The Nordic Countries are the most developed in the world. Guess what they do? They employ a high number of government workers and ensure that health and education are available for free or at a very affordable cost. 

Put it, if you got a very bad accident in these countries, you would not need to hold several harambees to raise your hospital bills. You would end up in a hospital with enough doctors and nurses. 

Why is the IMF that important

IMF investing in a country convincing "leaders" of a country to accept its money and policies when the currency hasn't  fallen overnight is apparently a good sign for Western donors and investors, that they can trust in the country. 

The IMF has more than 180 members who vote on its policies. Major IMF decisions require an 85 percent majority vote. The United States of America has a 17 percent say. 


Back to Mindspeak

I was also surprised that Vimal Shah, head of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, in his address (I'm confused who it was to, he kept glancing back to Lagarde and rarely speaking to the hundreds facing him) didn't really say much, or raise any issues. 

The closest questions to real issues was one Aly Khan asked by proxy, of how IMF benefits a pastoralists in North Eastern. 

Surprisingly, the other close "real issue" was asked by a Somali who described himself as a business man from Eastleigh. (Sorry, I can't remember the question, but I did not it down as a notable question - ha!)

As for the rest of us in the room, we probably don't feel the policies IMF advocates are injurious 

As for Madam Lagarde, she does a brilliantly good job representing the IMF, we just failed to take her to task!

I'm not an economist, but I speak my mind. 

Monday, 6 January 2014

Why Kenyans love Kigali (Part 2)

Part of Kigali
See part 1 of why Kenyans Love Kigali, which this articl is a continuation.

Rwandair should be cheaper if going to Kigali via air from Nairobi
In my previous post on why Kenyans love Kigali, or Rwanda for that matter, I had mentioned on the security of the city. The post however widely dealt with the feel and appearance of the city, and a little bit of the country.

Both of my visits to Kigali have been through the airport, though you may opt for a more adventurous journey by road. Getting to Kigali then required a Kenyan passport, but no visa. Now, all you need to go through both Uganda and Rwandan borders are a National Identity Card.

For travel by air, Rwandair is a cheaper option for Kenyans as compared to our national flag carrier, Kenya Airways. Ironically, most other Africans get to Kigali via Kenya Airways, thought most Kenyans will opt for the cheaper Rwandair. The flights are comfortable and the service on board the 1 hour 15 minutes flight is great.

Depending on the weather, your landing can be quite full of turbulence in Kigali. The airport is located on one of the five hills that make the city, and its runway may not be as long as other runways. The airport terminal is somehow in the middle of the runway.

Landing and checkout was a breeze for both of my trips to the city. Well, the immigration officials did question my purpose of visit due to the fact that my passport says I'm a journalist. Rwanda does have a heightened sense of security due to presence of those linked with the 1994 genocide in neighbouring countries.


The streets are very clean, and neat, and airy, and uncongested
You will however note that the country does not accept paper bags (polythene), including shrink wrapping around your luggage, which you have to dispose off at the airport. The same is banned across the country, with actual paper bags (made of paper) being used in place of polythene bags, which I think is a move Kenya should emulate.

It is for the same reason that you will not come across the familiar pieces of artwork of polythene bags strewn all over, and the same stuck along fences in country sides, as you would do in Kenya. In fact, you will not come across garbage heaps in Kigali. It is a meticulously clean city, as if it goes for manicures every weekend. I have read of monthly clean up exercises where everybody takes part, but I have never seen this in place.

I only ever came across some construction material dumped at the Vision 2020 Estate in Gacuriro. This looked more a case of illegal dumping which might have escaped the eyes of the authorities. It is quite an exception, and you may not even get lucky to see such a site.

Getting Around 
You can get around by motor (motorbikes)
which are dirt cheap, or by taxis

Taxis are easy to get in Kigali, especially around clubs. They are also quite affordable, or maybe. It did cost me RwF 3000 for a 3 kilometre ride (about Ksh. 400). A cross city ride for the better part of the morning cost RWF 10,000 (KSh. 1,300), similar to what a different taxi charged for a distance of 7 kilometres (the taxis are not metered). The taxis can however be a little old.

You can choose to have a standard taxi and save their number. Alternatively, you can choose to take the "motor" (bodaboda motobikes), which are usually dirt cheap. The KSh. 400 journey ended up costing me about RWF 500 (or less) on a boda (KSh. 70 or less) while the Ksh. 1,300 journey cost me about RWF 700 to RWF 800 (KSh. 10,000).

There isn't a lot of traffic, though there may be traffic jams on a few roads, especially during peak hours, such as at the junction of KK15 road and KN 3 road. Traffic is however way much better than Nairobi's.

Currency (Forex)
Sometimes there's traffic, but not as bad as Nairobi's

You can change currency in a number of bureaus or even in clubs for smaller amounts. I have changed Kenya Shillings into Rwanda Francs in a club. You can also change dollars in clubs. For large amounts of cash, I would however advise that you do your trading Forex bureaus such as Dahabshill. There's also a Kenya Forex Bureau (UAExchange) at the UTC mall in the city centre.

Buying Kenya Shillings however proved to be hard, though I didn't try UAExchange, which did offer quite a good rate for those buying Kenya Shillings.

Alternatively, with an Equity Bank card, you can withdraw RWF at Equity Bank ATMs around the city. This charges an equivalent of KSh. 30 per withdrawal.

Visa and MasterCard

Another alternative to paying via cash and thus reducing your forex costs is paying via credit or debit card. As of 1st January 2014, MasterCard is not  accepted across Rwanda. 

Visa is accepted in a number of outlets, including supermarkets, some shops, restaurants, clubs and pubs. The experience however  can be wanting, including slow processing of transactions, to my card totally refusing to process any further transactions (there might be a limit on number of transactions a day). You may therefore prefer to keep a tab for your consumption and pay at the end of the night, or have another card just in case. 


Nakumatt is one of the supermarkets here. Note, no pesky
For retail stores in Kigali, a variety of supermarkets exist including the familiar Nakumatt supermarkets, and Simba Supermarkets. At Nakumatt however, supplies will vary and you will find different products. Also note that imported products may be costlier, though you can find cheaper items in other outlets.  

Clubs and Pubs

Car Wash/Kwa Wahome

A variety of alcohol at Car Wash. Wine is interestingly served in what
look like lab beakers
For Kenyans, Car Wash, also known as "Kwa Wahome" is one of the most popular places. Here, you can find lots of Kenyans who work in Kigali. The place has more of an outdoor setting, with plastic tables and seats set around the place. There's good parking and also a barber shop, and a small supermarket (convenience store) amongst other outlets. The barbershop closes about 9 pm while the supermarket closes either at 7 or 8 pm. 

There are also two bars in the establishment, which also serves Kenyan delicacies, including a sharply pointed ugali with steep sides, mukimo and beef and goat stews. 

The food pricing at Car Wash is a bit steep, with a single meal setting you back in the range of KSh. 300 to KSh. 500. 

Mud houses do exist in many areas even in the city indicating
low income levels, but housing is more organised than cities
like Nairobi
Here, you can also get a number of Kenyan beers, including Tusker, Tusker Malt and the Smirnoff Ice vodka mix. Also available is Heineken, with the main brewery in the country being owned by Heineken. 

Rwanda's national beer should be Primus, which has a close semblance to WhiteCap, though people do prefer Murtzig. Skol is also another beer. Rwandan beers are usually available in a large 750 ml bottle. 

The music at Car Wash does vary and may be sub par at times. However, not to be missed is a karaoke session held at the establishment every Thursday night. This does get packed. Rwandans are quite good at karaoke, and I would strongly recommend you attend this. 

Sundowner, Planet, Papyrus, KBC 

More show of orderliness
If you are looking for music and company, I would suggest that you try clubs such as Sundowner and KBC. I did go to Sundowner on a Friday night, and the clientèle and music were great, with a busy dance floor. 

Papyrus is also another popular establishment, which includes a basement disco hall, a third floor sort of lounge and a rooftop pub. The discohall here was quite packed when I gave the place a visit. The clientèle included lots of whites. 

Planet ended up being my option. It was quite spacious, though loud. A number of Kigali clubs will have lots of prostitutes in them, and can be quite confusing. Planet for instance almost a rare 2 to 1 ratio of ladies to men. 

Traffic at some junction, but more orderly than Nairobi. Note the
lights, zebra crossing and street naming
Also note that  Papyrus and Planet did charge entrance fees, whose amount I can't recall. Sundowner didn't have one, and I didn't get to visiting KBC, though was also highly recommended. 

Music ranges from hiphop to dance, and also to dancehall, East African music including Rwandan music. Kigoma Allstar's 'Lega Dutigite' was a popular song in the club scene there, probably due to Rwandans identifying with a Burundian rapper in the song and also due to the fact there' a Kigoma in Rwanda. 

Language and culture

Kigali is a multilingual country, with most of the population having spent time in other East African countries. They do speak French, though English is widely understood and an official language. Kiswahili is even more widely understood than English, though mostly spoken in a broken form. 

Establishments and streets may however still have their French names. 

Kinyarwanda is the local language spoken by the Hutus and Tutsis. Do note that it is offensive and rude to ask a Rwandan which of the two tribes they belong to. 

Most of the population is Christian, though Islam has been growing popular, especially due to mass killings that happened in churches during the genocide.

Order and Leadership

A rice paddy in rural Rwanda
Another thing that will make you love Kigali is that there is the feeling of hope, order and leadership. Here, you feel things are getting done. There are no excuses, traffic has order to it, the city has order to it, and even the country side shows this. 

As an example, the highway to Tanzania had modifications done to avoid a stretch that was notorious for accidents. The highways and roads are mostly marked,  too. 

Having an argument with a Kenyan on a countryside visit, I told him than in Rwanda, you don't have the common "somebody should do something" phrase that we do in Kenya. I'm told that government ministers are mandated to see any citizen who wants to see them in their offices. 

The country also pioneered the use of Twitter by government agencies years ago, with the accounts being actively manned and in communication. 
District headquarters in Rural Rwanda

Communication wise, lots of establishments in Kigali do have WiFi in them. 


Pays des mille collines
Kigali does stand out from Nairobi due to the orderliness and cleanliness of the city. There's also security, with the heavy police presence and private guards armed with shotguns (though not sure if these are usually loaded). A guard I chatted to seemed to have orderliness a problem understanding my question, though also acted as if his shotgun wasn't loaded.  Police and security guards drive around in open pickups with benches along the back, which I'm not sure how the avoid falling off. 

The cost of life is also quite affordable, especially to Kenyans due to our higher average income. The level of poverty is also higher in Rwanda, with the country basically starting from scratch after 1994. This makes things like transport cheap, through as pointed out, imported stuff may be costlier. 

The Rwandans are also quite friendly, and do have a vibrant night life as pointed out. There is also the orderliness, the sign of leadership and the fact that someone seems to be in charge of things. These are the reasons why Kenyans love the city of a thousand hills (Pays des Mille Collines

Traffic stops at traffic lights at a junction

A residential area in Kigali

Development near the Vision 2020 Estate

More traffic, the 'motors' do weave traffic and jump unpoliced lights at night

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A ride on the new Nairobi Commuter Railway from Imara Daima Railway Station


Boarding the train at Imara Daima Railway station 
Today morning found me walking to the bus stop as usual. This usually involves crossing the highway we call Mombasa Road, where we don't have foot bridges. Perhaps, there would be foot bridges if the government did not have to spend money on designing logos, branding stuff and Mercedes Benzes for visitors.

Government aside, I usually check if there are lots of people at my bus stop, and if so, do a 10 minute walk to the next one. See, our bus stop has too many people at peak hours which means you have to spent 30 minutes there or start off your day with a short run, after a bus.

Inside the train, with one of the guards employed to watch the trains
Today, it did look busy, they didn't appear to be many people, but there were police officers. A lorry carrying ballast had tipped over by the side of the road, and this was slowing down traffic, probably people stopping by to watch. 3 officers, these are too many for an understaffed force  (in a country where dozens of them will line up the highways when the president is passing by?).  Maybe covering the truck up with something might have helped :-)

Oh, yes, train.

I decided to walk to the next bus station, and pass by the Imara Daima railway station. Today, it might be operational, unlike yesterday when it did not operate.

See, government and parastatal (and parastatal-like-private-firms) employees are notorious for doing much, much of nothing. But guys underestimate their importance. One of these guys may fail to turn up at work, and a whole government body will grind to a stop, which will cause another semi dependent body to not work etc.

At Imara Daima, the station manager of some important person with a title that doesn't sound as critical had failed to turn up, and therefore the station was to remain closed for its first day.

Train schedules
It had just being opened the previous week by one Daniel T. Arap Moi, Kenya's former president, under whose exemplary leadership (The irony of the words "leader" and "leadership" is usually totally lost on Africans) the rail system ground to a halt.

The three new railway stations at Imara Daima, Makadara, and Syokimau were all built under Moi's successor, one Mwai Kibaki. He did do well, to be frank, but I feel stuff could have been built faster.

The Train Ride

We did get our tickets at ticketing windows at the train station. Ticketing services are offered by KAPS (Started off as Kenya Airport Parking Services before demand for their services went beyond the airport, their competitors are ), who also do offer parking ticketing services at most malls and parking lots in the country.

Tickets are dubbed as "return tickets" but what this means is that a single ticket is valid for 2 trips in 7 days (or 5 working days as the train does not operate weekends and public holidays). The bottom of the ticket was printed a 'Free' WiFi password "1234" which does not work as most WiFi routers do not accept passwords less than 8 characters.

The 9:19 am train charges KSh. 80 for a return ticket. Interestingly though, this one sold me a one way KSh. 40 ticket, rather than a 2 way KSh. 80 ticket.

Edit: I've gotten one way tickets at KSh. 40 both times I've used the 9:19 am train, will try to see if one way tickets for the 7:10 am peak train. 
Further Edit: All tickets at 7:10 am seem to be two way. The evening trains though sell one way tickets.

A shack market along the line 
We were a bunch of us, somewhere between 50 and 100. There was however only 1 car in the "pay, park and ride" parking lot which is supposed to handle 150 cars.
The train schedule says the train departs at 7:10 am in Imara. It arrived at 7:07 am. The train cars have been refurbished with new interior, with what should be steel floors and upholstery. It is however designed such that most of the passengers will be standing, with seats along the side of the train, and standing bars and handles in the middle.

The front of each carriage has 3 seats reserved for people with disabilities.

Being December, volumes are low on the train, but the 7:10 am train mostly has standing space by the time it gets to Imara. I'm told that normally the train is full when it departs from Syokimau and in the evenings for both the 7:50 pm and 5:50 pm trains.

There are plans to increase the number of carriages by about 2, but this might not be enough. This also presents another challenge in that the steel platform in the CBD can not fit all carriages at the moment, though one can make their way to the next carriage to alight.

Edit: The first week of operations also saw issues in ticketing. I once arrived just in time for the 9:19 AM train and found a long queue of people at the ticket line, which seemed to be stuck. They were issued with blue slips, which they redeemed for the remainder of the tickets (having been sold 2 way tickets) at the Nairobi Railway Station. The same day also did not see us queue to have our tickets scanned once we alighted. 

The journey to the CBD makes its way mostly through informal settlements between Imara and Makadara. The mabati structure have encroached the rail line, with a mabati market at some point going over a bridge alongside the railway.

Makadara to the Nairobi Railway Station is mostly railway land. The Makadara Railway station is quite a large station, but with most of the rail lines disused and overgrown with grass. Theres a short stretch of line that goes along city stadium. This, like most of the line has shacks along the line.

The train's motion consists of a lot of swaying, which starts immediately you leave the Imara Daima railway station. The swaying is not as bad to throw you off balance, but you can observe the carriages sway in opposite sides, possibly due to the narrow railway line.

Mukuru informal settlement along the railway line
The ride itself is a slow to medium speed one. Interestingly, the train still gets to the next station on time, and takes a maximum of 25 minutes to get to the Nairobi Railway Station from Imara. It is still the fastest way to get to town, including the 25 minutes it takes me to get to the station.

At the destination, you still have to queue and scan your ticket. Apparently, this is to counter fraud where people may pay for a shorter trip than they intend to take, and also to check on instances where 2 people share a ticket. I am told that if you scan your ticket at the barrier, and quickly dash when they open, 2 of you can make your way through before it closes. This, I feel can be tackled by installing a footfall counter - which counts how many people pass by for every scan.

To wind up, hopefully, we will have more train schedules,

say an extra train around 8 AM and another around 8: 30 AM. Scheduled construction of a line from Syokimau to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport may see more trains,
The  disembarking platform at the Nairobi Railway Station
but this may take another 3 years, seeing how long it  took for the Makadara, Imara and Syokimau stations to come up.

Also read up on my write ups of my trips to Istanbul and to Stockholm, where I rode the Istanbul Metro and the Arlanda speed train which hits 200 kph

The Imara Daima Railway Station shortly before it was opened

Monday, 25 November 2013

Why Kenyans love Kigali (Part 1)

Part of Kigali by night, including part of KG 7 Avenue
My Kenyan pal came and sat next to me at a conference. She rummaged through her bag, before suddenly standing and heading out of the conference room- she had left her expensive camera at the table where she was having tea, outside the large conference room. she came back a while later with her camera. She told me if this was Nairobi, for we were in Kigali, she would not have found it.

The Size

Kigali might be a small city, of 1 million residents, in the country of 12 million. Rwanda's 12 million might not seem many compared to Kenya's 40 million, Ethiopia's 90 million or Nigeria's 168 million. They however are the most populous country - by virtue of population density at 400 to 407 people per square kilometre, due to the country's size.

Kigali though, small as it may look like - It appears built out over a series of hills surrounding one hill - is quite spacious compared to Nairobi. A good number of streets are wide, and there are few people and cars on them. This contrasts with Nairobi, where sections of the Nairobi are so full of people, it resembles ants scampering out ot of an anthill in times of trouble.

Standing at Telecoms House at KG 7 Avenue as the sun sets, one can clearly see that Kigali spreads over four or five hills (Wikipedia says they are four). One would swear that Kigali is a small city in size, but many will be surprised to hear that  Kigali, at 700 kilometres squared is the same size as Nairobi.

Part of Kigali, more of residential as seen from KG 7 Avenue
Nairobi as an administrative unit goes as far as the Northern By-Pass on Kiambu Road, just before Ruaka on Limuru Road, Kabete Campus (School of Business) on Lower Kabete road, Uthiru Market on Waiyaki Way, Dagoretti Police Post on Dagoretti Road, Deliverance Church (after Embulbul on Ngong Road), and he river after Laiser Hill School on Magadi Road. Also just left out are Mlolongo, Syokimau, with the border crossing Kangundo road at Deliverance church(before Makongeni AP camp) before getting onto Thika Road at Clay Works (between Kasarani and Githurai 45). It then runs along Thika road all the way to the end of Kenyatta University, before heading to cross over Kamiti Road after Kahawa West.

As such, some populous areas off Lower Kabete road, Waiyaki Way and Thika Road aren't considered as part of Nairobi. Still, a large part of Nairobi is still contained within the administrative unity of the city. That should give you a rough estimate of Kigali's size.

However, with 3.1 million people in Nairobi, the city has four times as many people as Kigali in a square kilometre.

While Kigali is spaced out - the Centre of the city is just about four to five streets across, with the large glass structures spread over three streets. Another district is situated on another hill, around KG 7 Avenue. So while the city centre might be small, the city is a mix in terms of use - with multi-storey buildings spread around the city.

Roads and Transport

Off the roads, you will spot the better side of Kigali, but branching off the road may lead you to one or two room clay houses, without electricity. If I am not wrong, there is a government programme to replace some of these buildings with better off structures, especially those located in more frequented areas.

Second thing about Kigali is the organisation - yes, there may be lots of low income areas with not well-to-do houses, but these are better off than your average Nairobi slum. The roads are well organised, and there is some sort of city numbering system for the roads. Roads in the city are wide, well marked, and well lighted at night.

The streets are also numbered by district and categorised by avenues, streets and roads. The centre of Kigali is KG for Gasabo district while a number of government buildings are in KN (Nyarugenge District (

Running down most Kigali roads are reflectors, or cat's eyes that glow yellow at night, guiding you as to where the lane separator is. Junctions and places where the road splits are marked with red reflectors that blink. Exits are marked with green reflectors.

The traffic flow here is also a far cry from what we have in Nairobi, vehicles are well driven with not much of the unnecessary lane switching we have in Nairobi. Speed limits are also given some thought. They also have lots of motor cycles in Kigali, which they refer to as "motor", but these do follow lots of rules, and stop at traffic lights like everyone else.

Yes, they do have traffic lights in Kigali, and they are quite functional. Being a cheapskate, I once evaded my taxi driver (in the guise of my phone running out of charge) and took a motor back to my hotel. Motorcycle users are mandated to wear a helmet, but  lifted my visor (the glass bit) cause I wanted to  have a view of the city. The helmets are cheap with the visors being barely transparent .

The inside of one of the old Kigali buses. There are newer and more
organised Kigali Bus Services
The windy ride saw my visor almost blown away by the wind. The rider stopped and broke into laughter, clapping his hand and uttering something in Kinyarwanda. He did understand a bit of Kiswahili, enough for us to settle on the fare.

Along the way, he did jump a few lights especially in deserted areas, but stopped at lights as we approached the city centre.

Besides "motors" , you can travel around the city in a number of Toyota Rosa buses, which can be quite old with the interior needing some fixing, or in newer, shinier Kigali Bus Service buses.

Travel to the country side involves 14 seaters and the same Rosa buses. Large buses are not common in the county, though. In the country side, you will notice that matatus (commuter vehicles)will flash lights and wave at each other as is common in Kenya when communicating about police whereabouts.

Accidents are also a bit common in the countryside, especillay on highways such as the one leading to the Tananian border. The roads here are narrower (6 metres such as in Kenya) compared to those in the capital. Such accidents will usuallu involve trucks, mostly foreign registered trucks and will usually result in deaths.

We spotted an accident on the highway to the Tanzanian border - the remains of an accident 2 days old, and another accident later in the day. This was despite reduced traffic in terms of trucks - there were virtually no trucks on the road owing to cold diplomatic elationships between Rwanda and Tanznaia - which had expelled thosuands of Rwandans who have lived in Tanzania for decades (see the genocide section).

Accidents here are taken seriously though, and will result in arrests of the offender - typically truck drivers.

Police, Security and Hawkers

A street in the city centre with a skyscraper
coming up. Kigali is a fast growing city
Armed policemen are stationed along junctions and pedestrian stops, though fewer locations are manned at night. I once remarked to our taxi driver that the only time one saw such a number of policemen in Nairobi, you are guaranteed that a president will soon be zooming by in a large motorcade.

A few months ago, while doing the night rounds in Kigali, I did spot an armoured personnel carrier on the roads - not sure if this was just a random sighting or the army does patrols with them at night. I have also spotted army officers on motorbikes escorting motorcades - the army here also handles functions that are normally handled by the police elsewhere, such as security functions for some dignitaries.

There is also the sense of security - when in Kigali, one feels quite safe - the city, or rather parts of it, are alive through the night, and people go about their business. One also hardly comes across conmen in this city - probably something to do with the smaller population in the city and the increased security.

While there is isn't much corruption in the country, I am told that Kenyans are usually targeted for bribes by policemen, who can flag you down and ask to see a form of identification. For Kenyan passport holders, the demand was not outright, but rather suggestive. The same policemen however will rarely demand bribes from Rwandans, who do give the bribes, then go ahead to report the incident. Action is taken when such incidences of corruption are reported.

Also, as mentioned above, you are unlikely to lose stuff as easily as you would in Nairobi. One however should not throw caution to the wind.

Kigali also does not have hawkers, or rather, does not have as much of a hawker presence as in other cities. I did encounter a number of hawkers, some around the CBD, who will usually have items hidden in coats, then approach you with an offer. A few streets in down town, there were lots of people idling around in the street, a good number who were would approach you hawking some Chinese smartphone.

KN 3 avenue in the city centre

The Genocide

While the city is safe in terms of what we refer to as "normal robbery" in Nairobi, there have been occasional incidences of grenade attacks, especially around the city's main bus terminus. The issue may be political and linked to the 1994 genocide.

The genocide was the culmination of years of tensions between the Hutus and minority Tutsis. Under Belgian colonisation, the Belgians instilled a division between the Hutus and Tutsis, issuing separate identity documents for each and favouring the Tutsi, who were in power.

Hutus took power in a 1959 uprising, which drove some Tutsis into the neighbouring countries. Successive Hutu governments continued with the policy of discrimination, further driving it even in schools. The Belgians continued with their influence, this time round backing the Hutus against the Tutsis.

The early 1990s saw the Hutu government begin importing and stockpiling machetes for elimination of the Hutus. Government supported militias also emerged, with the sole aim of eliminating the Tutsis wherever they may be in the world. Then, the Tutsis had started demanding recognition and equal rights - things had started going bad in Uganda, where most of the Tutsis had fled to and Museveni was been forced to favour his countrymen as the demand for resources including jobs increased.

A small number of rebels had fought with the government then, before coming to an agreement, where a number of diplomats and rebels would be stationed at the parliament buildings in Kigali.

The Hutu government then had speeded up its preparations for the genocide, which was triggered by the shooting down of a plane carrying the Rwandan and Burundi presidents, both who died in the incident.

The genocide then spread out, with the government using government officials to spread machetes and other arms. Notable for their role in the genocide was the government supported Interhamwe militia. Targeted in the genocide were Tutsis and moderate Hutus( Hutus who refused to take part in the killing of Tutsis) . The media was also used to drive propaganda and fan the genocide.

The Rwanda Patriotic Front, led by current Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, brought the genocide to an end.

The Interhamwe and other parties that took part in the killing fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo, then Zaire, where the Hutu - Tutsi conflict continues to date. This has resulted in Rwanda being on a continuous heightened sense of security - as there are extremists who are still keen on continuing with their role in the genocide in the region.

For more on the genocide, there are a number of memorials across the country, with the Kigali memorial being one of the larger ones.

KG 3 Avenue, a business and administrative district in Kigali
The parliament building, which was attacked by government forces when the genocide began still has bullet holes and shell marks, and a gun mounted at the top. You may also visit this while in Kigali.

To note, is that when many foreigners cannot tell the difference between Hutus and Tutsis, it is deeply frowned upon to enquire from a Rwandan if they are either of the two. As I have narrated above, there are scars that remain from almost 50 years of the two being driven against each other, despite speaking the same language.

Things have improved a lot since the genocide - many in Rwanda will tell you that nothing was left, especially in Kigali, after the genocide. Most of the country has been re-built in under 20 years, including the shiny buildings in the capital - one things to note when comparing the country with other countries.

As a result of the genocide, you will note that there is a growing number of Muslims in Rwanda. This is due to some of the atrocities having happened in churches and the fact that Muslims hid those targeted for killings during the genocide.

You will also note that there are no dogs in Rwanda. A few months after the end of the genocide, Rwandans killed all the dogs. See, during the genocide, the killings were so bad that dead people were left everywhere in the open. The dogs ate these people, hence leading to a bad association to the genocide.

Also, to this day, bodies of those murdered in the two months are still found around the country. Such people are collected and are properly buried on April 7th.

Note: Be careful discussing the genocide in Rwanda, they do have strict laws against genocide denial.

Part 1 Conclusion

So far, Kenyans love Kigali due to the orderliness and security of the city. It is a far cry from the chaos of Nairobi, and the smaller population of the capital is a breath of fresh air compared to walking down Moi Avenue or Tom Mboya street, where one has to brush shoulders against a barrage of thousands of people, matatus, bodabodas and conmen. All this as one tries to find space to walk on that isn't occupied by hawkers. 

In Kigali, there is the feeling that systems are working, and that the city is with direction, headed somewhere. 

 Thanks for reading the first part, for more of the story, like me on either Google+ or my Facebook Page, or follow me by email for alerts of when I publish the next piece.