Transport in Rwanda
The transport system in Rwanda centres primarily around the road network. Paved roads lie between the capital, Kigali, and most other major cities and towns in the country. Rwanda is also linked by road with other countries in the African Great Lakes, via which the majority of the country's imports and exports are made.
The country has an international airport at Kigali, serving one domestic and several international destinations, and also has limited transport between the port cities on Lake Kivu. There are currently no railways in Rwanda.
The road network
Rwanda has a total of 12,000 km of roads, of which 1,000 km are paved. The remainder are dirt roads with quality varying from smooth hard surfaces with drainage to rutted, extremely uneven tracks passable only with a four-wheel drive vehicle.
Most of the main towns in the country are now connected by paved road. The condition of these roads was until recently very poor, with numerous pot-holes and vehicles often driving on the dirt verges since these were deemed smoother than the road itself. A recent government programme of upgrading and resurfacing means that most major routes are now in good condition.
The major urban arteries of Kigali, as well as the high streets in Ruhengeri, Kibuye and Gisenyi are dual carriageways, but all national long distance roads are single carriageway. There are no motorways in Rwanda.
The principal routes are (refer to map for number references):
|1||Kigali||Gatuna (Uganda border)||Byumba||The main road through the north of the country, this is the main route to Kabale and Kampala in Uganda|
|2||Kigali||Kayonza||Rwamagana||Leads east from the capital. Resurfacing of this road was recently completed, and it features Rwanda's first proper bypass around the town of Rwamagana|
|2a||Kayonza||Kagitumba (Uganda border)||Nyagatare||A continuation of road 2, running to the far northeast of the country. Prior to 1994 most of this road was within the Akagera National Park but the area has now been settled, largely by refugees who returned from Uganda after the war.|
|2b||Kayonza||Rusumo (Tanzania border)||Kibungo||The main route into Tanzania, running down to the far southeast of the country. The border is a high bridge over the Kagera River (which is also part of the most distant headwater of the Nile)|
|3||Kigali||Fugi (Burundi border)||Gitarama, Butare||The road linking the main two cities of Rwanda as well as being the main link to Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. The section south of Gitarama was resurfaced in 2004.|
|3a||Gitarama||Kibuye||This road was surfaced for the first time by Chinese engineers within the last decade, running through very hilly terrain and crossing the Nile/Congo watershed.|
|3b||Butare||Cyangugu (DRC border)||Gikongoro||A very beautiful stretch of road, running through the heart of Nyungwe Forest and ending on the shores of Lake Kivu. It also links to the Congolese city of Bukavu.|
|4||Kigali||Gisenyi (DRC border)||Ruhengeri||Possibly Rwanda's most beautiful highway, passing first through the hilly areas around Mount Kabuye and then turning west to head along the southern edge of the Virunga volcano chain, before ending up at Gisenyi, on the shores of Lake Kivu. The road continues into Goma in the DRC.|
|4a||Ruhengeri||Cyanika (Uganda border)||A road linking to Ruhengeri to Kisoro in Uganda. Passes very close to Mount Muhabura, and has an amazing vista right along the Virunga chain.|
|5||Kigali||Burundi border||Nyamata||The road was paved a couple years ago since the government of Rwanda is considering building a new international airport near the town of Nyamata. |
There is also one road which is currently a quite poor quality dirt road, but may soon be upgraded to paved status:
- The road running along Lake Kivu between Cyangugu, Kibuye and Gisenyi, since these towns are now linked politically in by the newly formed Western Province.
There are several daily coach services from Rwanda to destinations in the African Great Lakes:
- Jaguar Executive Coaches, which connects Kigali to Kampala, the Ugandan capital, via Gatuna (road 1 on the map above) or via Kayonza and Kagitumba (roads 2 and 2a).
- Regional Coach Services, which runs services to Kampala (8 hours), Nairobi, Kenya (20 hours) and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (36 hours), all via the Gatuna border crossing. These buses are usually air-conditioned.
- Onatracom Express - a Rwandan government service using quite basic buses, running between Kigali and Kampala.
- Yahoo Car Express - A minibus service running between Kigali and Bujumbura, Burundi. This service has been subject to ambush in the past by rebels in Burundi, although the new government claim to have sorted out this problem now.
The main form of public transport within Rwanda is the Share taxi, known locally simply as taxi or, colloquially, twegerane, which means 'let's sit together' in the Kinyarwanda language (a conventional private taxi is referred to as a special hire or taxi voiture). These share taxis come in two forms:
- Stopping taxis, which run between two termini (known as taxi parks), but stop frequently en route to pick up and set down passengers. They almost always wait until full before departing, and can also wait for long periods in locations along the route if not enough people are on board. The vehicles are usually Toyota minibuses owned by a private individual who employs a driver (Fr: chauffeur) and a conductor (Fr: convoyeur) to operate and maintain the vehicle on a day-to-day basis. Most have four rows of seats, each of which seats four adults (babies and children not being counted as they are expected to sit on the lap of an adult). Additionally there are two front passenger seats, so the vehicle can carry a total of up to eighteen passengers, in addition to the driver and the conductor. The conductor is responsible for opening and closing the main sliding door and collecting money from passengers, and will stand in the space by the door if all seats are occupied. No tickets are issued on this form of taxi.
- Express taxis. These run to a set timetable (usually hourly) between major towns, generally Kigali and a major regional centre. The taxis are run by a company (Sotra Tours, Atraco, Stella, Volcanoes Express, Virunga, Trans2000, Omega Car and Muhabura Travel) and issue tickets in advance with a set price. Like stopping taxis, these are minibuses and seat 18 passengers, but they depart on time and do not stop until they reach their destination, except to set people down. Express taxis are quite a recent phenomenon, but are gaining rapidly in popularity as they provide people the security of arriving at a known time. More destinations are being added over time, and most routes sell out considerably in advance of the departure time. Passengers wishing to alight before the end terminus can do so, but have to pay the full ticket price anyway. The price of tickets on Express taxis is similar to the price of a stopping taxi over the same distance.
In addition to these two forms of share taxi, there is a limited national bus service run by a company called Onatracom, which is affiliated with the Rwandan government. These run between Kigali and the major towns two or three times per day, and have the advantage of greater leg room and luggage space but generally take longer to reach their destinations. Onatracom buses also serve some remote areas along dirt roads not otherwise accessible by public transport.
Public transport in Kigali takes the form of the stopping share taxis mentioned above, but running much more frequently due to greater demand. While the national ones are typically unmarked, Kigali taxis have a yellow stripe running round the vehicle, on which is imprinted the start and end points of its route. Most services start or finish either in the city centre or at Nyabugogo, the city's main national bus station.
A recent survey carried out by the Transport Companies Association in Kigali gives us the following statistics: There are 19 bus companies operating a total of 1633 buses of various makes, models and sizes in various parts of Rwanda. In Kigali City itself there are 622 buses operating. Of these 622, 90.6% of them are small Toyota Hiace vehicles, mostly more than 10 years old, and many much older. Of the larger type vehicles carrying up to 30 passengers or so there are 58 units of which 34.4% are new vehicles owned and operated by Kigali Bus Services Ltd.
The country's main air gateway is Kigali International Airport, which is located at Kanombe, a suburb approximately 10 km from Kigali city centre. The airport has international flights to Lagos, Brazzaville, Dubai, Nairobi, Entebbe, Addis Ababa, Bujumbura, Johannesburg, Amsterdam, Brussels and Doha and is the main airport for the national carrier RwandAir.
There are plans being discussed to build a new airport at Nyamata in Bugesera district, approximately 40 km from Kigali which would be much bigger and could act as a hub for the entire region. The only other airport in the country with passenger service is Kamembe Airport, which is in the city of Cyangugu. RwandAir operates a service between Kigali and Kamembe, which serves southwestern Rwanda and the Congolese city of Bukavu.
This is by far the largest of Rwanda's lakes, forming the border with the DRC. There are occasional boat services between the major ports of Cyangugu, Kibuye and Gisenyi but these do not run to a regular timetable and often have to be chartered. There are also boats used to ferry people to some of the islands in the lake, but these also do not run regularly. Local fishermen operate along the entirety of the lakeshore, usually in dug-out canoes or other hand-crafted boats. The Rwandan navy operates a few boats on the lake to protect the country against infiltrators from the Congolese side.
Transport on Rwanda's other major lakes is mostly limited to ferries, usually local boats similar to those used to fishing, which transport people from one side to the other. Some lakes have resort bars and hotels, such as Jambo Beach on Lake Muhazi, which can offer a pleasure cruise to their customers in their own speed boat. Local fishermen operate on most lakes.
There are currently no railways in Rwanda.