Above: Moshions. Haute Couture in Kigali. Copyright Rupi Mangat.
Published 5 October 2019
I’m in the heart of mille collines – Kigali in Rwanda – and l’m having a blast. The city is sophisticated, charming, spotlessly clean and elegant that l’m cast under its spell.
With a day in town before returning to Nairobi, l’m popping into designer stores and coffee cafes that are a diva’s dream. I’m discovering that the city spread on so many hills is a fashion capital dedicated to haute couture proudly carrying the label ‘made in Rwanda’.
Evelyn Karamagi an old colleague from Nairobi now with Kigali Serena tells me about the upcoming Kigali International Fashion Week which the fashion houses are gearing up for. “We love to dress in Kigali,” she says supporting beautiful jewellery hand-made in Rwanda. “Mitumba doesn’t work in Rwanda.”
So l find myself trawling the fashion houses fascinated to discover the Rwandans take their fashion so seriously.
My first stop is at Moshions and l fall in love with the svelte red dress on the mannequin. I could die for it but its way beyond my budget. Anyway looking is free and l indulge in the beautiful creations.
Set in a house with a little garden, the showroom shows elegant and culturally inspired outfits that have everything that boasts what a diva desires – a one-of-a-kind that you won’t see on another woman made by a skilled team fusing cultural symbols with contemporary creations to bring out the beauty of heritage. But what makes the brand so special for me is that every design is created to minimise impacts on the environment while celebrating sustainable fashion. It’s no secret that the fashion industry is actually one of the biggest polluter of the environment. But education helps. Moise Turahirwa, the founder has a degree in water and sanitation engineering and grew up watching his mother sew which brought out his latent creativity. He infuses this with care for the environment.
It’s time for a coffee break and we’re in the neighbourhood of Question Coffee Cafe in an art-deco house with a small garden. I’m enjoying just reading the menu of specialty coffees that to choose one is a well – a challenge. Anyway l settle on my usual cappuccino and discover that l can actually sign up on a day trip to one of the many coffee farms around the city to meet the farmers and see coffee production from the farmer’s plots to the washing station and drying tables. Or l could book a master class to brew my perfect cuppa. Question Coffee supports women farmers in coffee so l indulge in another cuppa to celebrate the power of women.
Being a bit of a history bluff, l like to know how a place started and stop at the Kandt House Museum. Richard Kandt is reported to be the first resident in Kigali in 1907 (hence the founder of Kigali) which then was minus anything you see in the city today. Even he would be surprised at the transformation. Kandt’s statue stands in front of what was his house but now the museum. He was the first colonial governor of Rwanda when the country was under German rule until the early 1916. Kandt was not only a diplomat but an avid naturalist and historian who documented much of the early history.
The museum is a portray of Rwanda’s story before colonial rule, the colonial period following the Berlin Conference in 1884 and after WW1 when the Belgians took over under the League of Nations Mandate in 1916. The Berlin Conference started the scramble for Africa amongst the Europeans – a pseudo ‘gentlemen’s club’ – which the indigenous Africans were clueless about – even when they were being ruled over by absent kings like in the case of neighbouring DR Congo. The museum also features the people at the time and their prowess, the crafts, and the contemporary history. It takes an hour to stroll through the first house in the city.
Done with the history, l move to modern heights for some essentials shopping and the driver stops at Kigali Heights, the uber-modern shopping mall. Across is the roundabout featuring a statue of Rwandese woman wearing her traditional mushanana and her child and close to the Kigali Convention Centre.
The Convention Centre is an architectural wonder and a centre-piece of the city. Opened in 2016, the bee-hive shaped dome is inspired by traditional Rwandan homes that incorporates the weaving style of Rwandan baskets and the imigongo paintings that were traditionally done by women mixing cow dung with water to paint geometrical designs on the walls of their huts and pots.
At night the dome lights with the colours of the Rwandese flag – green, yellow and blue.
Kigali is so avant-garde l just can’t get enough of her.
Must do in Kigali
First time in Kigali you must visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum that tells the story of the 1994 genocide.
There are also many places of interest and art galleries that are a must do for the art enthusiastic.
Kenyans do not need a visa to enter Rwanda.