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Impressions of Nyanza

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By Gilbert Mwijuke

Nyanza is a town with colourful history. It became Rwanda’s first capital city in 1889 during King Huyi V Musinga’s reign and was home to the monarchy for many years until 1959 when an uprising deposed the king and brought the epoch of the Nyiginya Dynasty to an end.

It is as well that today, the town represents the folk culture of the country and is surrounded by a good number of cultural attractions, including the King’s Palace Museum, which welcomes up to 2,000 visitors per month.

Also in its vicinity is the National Art Gallery, which plays host to an international art exhibition at least once a year, attracting some of the most adept painters the African continent has to offer.

A town teeming with activity
A snaking road with palm trees welcomes you to the town. On my earlier visits to Nyanza, a friend of mine had told me that the market in the town centre sells some of the best clothes and shoes in Rwanda – at a bargain.

So, on my most recent visit, I entered the market to check out the items on sale. Business was brisk, with numerous stalls selling second-hand canvas shoes, bags, men and women’s clothes, as well as a wide range of fresh foods, whose mingling aroma wafted inside the the far end of the market.

Out on the streets, it is evident that since the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) entered the picture in 1994, Nyanza – like most towns elsewhere in the country – has metamorphosed into a tranquil, clean and modern town. There are several new, picturesque buildings that have come up in the town centre, while some of its suburbs have been transformed into swanky neighbourhoods.

Walking along the streets of the town itself offers a refreshing adventure. As you stroll under shades of beautiful trees such as the eucalyptus, baobabs, candelabras, shea butter and banyanto shrubs, among others, you feel as if you have rediscovered the meaning of life and returned to nature.

Within the town centre one can also visit the historic Christ the King Church, which was built by King Mutara III Rudahigwa way back in 1938. This church is a must-see for those with even a passing interest in Rwandan history, considering that it was not only built by King Mutara, but it also sits exactly where his father King Huyi V Musinga’s palace once stood. Ah, it’s also Nyanza’s very first church!

Further down the road as you head towards the King’s Palace Museum, you find the lush Nyanza Gardens where you can spend a quiet and romantic evening reading a good book, listening to music or simply chatting away with a loved one.

Accommodation facilities
In the past, visitors to Nyanza could only find decent accommodation in neighbouring Butare (now Huye district), which meant that the town was losing significant revenues that would have otherwise accrued from hospitality services.

But with an improved road network over the past few years, Nyanza is slowly regaining its old glory, with major businesses like banks, internet cafes, small and medium hotels and restaurants setting up here. Nyanza now boasts a couple of decent hotels and guest houses such as the Nyanza Heritage Hotel, Dayenu Hotel, Boomerang Motel and Nyanza Guest House, among others.

Fun in the evening
Nowadays the streets of Nyanza are action-packed, especially in the  evenings when roadside pubs begin to welcome boozers.

Freedom Motel and Inn Motel in downtown Maranatha tend to sit a crowd of Nyanza’s young corporates who converge in the evenings to discuss the events of the day interspersed with some camaraderie.

On weekends, New Life Motel and Inyambo Motel seem to melt the pot of Nyanza revellers who are drawn by live football matches that are shown on large projector screens.

Students and former students are especially drawn to New Life Motel because it’s a cheaper nook and tend to play some of the latest hits, compared to other places like the Heritage Hotel, which is more picturesque, quieter and expensive for the ordinary Nyanza folk.

The latter has a clientele of tourists and older revellers who are high-heeled and progressive.

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