Since the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) captured power in 1994, Kigali has metamorphosed into a calm, clean and modern city. New, picturesque buildings have come up in the city centre while some of the city’s suburbs have been transformed into plush neighbourhoods.
Take Nyarutarama, for example. Home to the country’s only golf course, a private tennis club, and a string of swanky hotels, this suburb is the real definition of new money. For most Rwandans, living in Nyarutarama is living the “Rwandan Dream.”
However, on the other side of the city lies Nyamirambo, a totally different world. Skirting the south-western intersection of Kigali City, Nyamirambo attracts a younger, wayward and generally lower-income bunch.
It is the hub of all shady personalities, the source of all tribes of illegalities, and the recourse of the ladies of the night – thanks to its low rent and bustling streets among other factors.
A steelier version of Kigali, residents of this suburb find release in binge drinking and late night mischief. Unlike the rest of Kigali which sleeps as early as 8pm, Nyamirambo is usually awake till late in – if not all through — the night.
The roadside pubs start to spread their umbrellas and plastic chairs as early as 5:30pm. Le Makoumba Club and Africana tend to sit an intellectual crowd of the younger corporates, discussing events of the day interspersed with odd jokes and camaraderie.
Once owned by a French woman, Le Makoumba attracts lots of French and Belgian patrons, the reason you will find here a few dreadlocked night warriors hankering for a white lady’s attention.
It is here that you will find a mzungu, drink in hand, listening to all the tribes of music in the company of ragged strangers.
On weekends, Le Makoumba Club, BCR and Hunters seem to melt the pot of revellers. All the notable pubs have a crowd but it is BCR nightclub that seems to take the lion’s share of fun. So, because it is usually packed to the brim, don’t be surprised when your phone is stolen!
At Kwa Onatracom in Biryogo are a more upbeat set of joints — most of them without names — which have a clientele of students and former students. In these pubs the music is louder, the dressing weirder, the flirting more conspicuous and the closing time much later!
Farther ahead is Mirongo Ine (40 Miles), the place for the night women — young painted faces looking for a quick buck from Bazungu, or any other man seeking their services.
But do not be deceived by the action on the streets because there is fun for all — even those who wish to quietly and romantically have fun. At Papa and Mama Guinness, you will find lush gardens where you could spend a quiet evening reading, listening to music or chatting away with buddies.
Nyamirambo is also Rwanda’s Mecca of music. This is where most of Rwanda’s popular musicians were born and have learned the trade — Knowless Butera, Alpha Rwirangira, Ridderman, King James, et al — and most local musicians meet, practice, and record their songs from here, as the neighbourhood is the home to most of the country’s recording studios.
Ah, Nyamirambo is also Kigali’s signature Muslim locale, and is home to over 10 mosques, including the immaculate mosque near the football stadium which was built by the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
But what really makes Nyamirambo rock? The answer is on the wind! Sex, beer, and music!