Generally, Rwanda is safe for travel—however, prevailing COVID-19 travel restrictions will dictate your entry, exit, and how you move around the country. Rwanda is one of the safest travel destinations to visit in Africa and one of the countries that have handled the COVID-19 situation beautifully. You’ll be safe visiting Rwanda now and post COVID-19.
When you mention Rwanda to most people, they think of it as a highly dangerous place. Their first memory or thought would be the tragedy of the 1994 genocide. You will, however, be amazed by how much the country has come together, grown to rebuild the country, and swore ‘never again’ would they bring their beautiful country down.
Rwanda is the safest country to visit in the region. The country’s ’90s civil unrest that sparked off a genocide has been long forgotten, and the Rwandan government fully realizes that it is its sacred duty to ensure the safety of visitors to Rwanda and its citizens. Common trivial safety pitfalls are common in cities worldwide, such as petty theft, credit card fraud, and overcharging, which can be avoided if an individual takes precautionary measures.
Security presence is visible everywhere, ranging from police, hotel security, and the tourism police, to ensure you are safe and your stay is undisturbed. Walk around any corner, and you’ll see the officer or army man, don’t fret. They are there to keep you safe. Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, is known as one of Africa’s safest capitals and has turned into a model city for the rest of Africa with its impressive economic growth.
The people of Rwanda are incredibly caring, friendly, hospitable, and welcoming to everyone. You will rarely read anything in the local newspapers about a visitor to Rwanda having safety and security problems during their stay in Rwanda.
Rwanda has guarded its political stability since the 1994 genocide. Parliamentary elections in September 2018 saw women fill 64% of the seats. The Rwandan Patriotic Front maintained an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies. For the first time, two opposition parties, the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda and Social Party Imberakuri, winning two seats each in the parliament. President Paul Kagame was re-elected to a seven-year term in August 2018, following an amendment to the constitution in December 2015, allowing him to serve a third term.
Under President Kagame’s leadership, the country has progressively rebuilt into a vibrant economic nation with an emphasis on community growth and preserving its natural resources. According to the World Bank, Rwanda aspires to reach Middle Income Country (MIC) status by 2035 and High-Income Country (HIC) status by 2050.
The World Economic Forum ranked Rwanda as the 9th safest country in 2017, ahead of Qatar, Luxembourg, Portugal, New Zealand, Austria, Estonia, Sweden, Slovenia, Spain, Netherlands, and Morocco. The rankings consider the effects of ordinary crime and violence and terrorism and how police services can be relied upon to protect from crime.
The Rwandan government and community have worked tirelessly to recover from the 90s violence. A visit to the genocide museum in Kigali will give you a historical experience highlighting both the dark and light times of the country’s past.
Strict laws prohibit the promotion of ideas regarding genocide based on ethnic, regional, racial, religious, language, or other divisive characteristics. Public incitement of “genocide ideology” or “divisionism,” including genocide denial, discrimination, and sectarianism, is punishable by five to nine years in prison and fines of 100,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandan francs.
Political violence in Rwanda is relatively low, with peaceful protests that are typically planned ahead of time. However, avoid demonstrations and use vigilance while traveling, especially outside of cities and border areas. Even relaxed events can become violent. Ensure you keep up with the local news and alerts.
Corruption is very low and is not tolerated in Rwanda. If you are a victim of harassment or attempted bribery, contact the Rwanda National Police dedicated hotline at 116 to report problems.
Human Rights Observers, Journalists, NGO workers may be subjected to more scrutiny by the Rwandan Authorities.
Photography of military sites, government buildings, airports, and public monuments is prohibited. Your cameras can and will be confiscated by the police or security services.
Terrorism is a threat throughout the world, including in East Africa. The terrorist group Al-Shabab operates in the region but has not targeted western interests in Rwanda. There are no known international terrorist groups or domestic organized crime groups in Rwanda, and the Government of Rwanda does not support any terrorist organizations.
Rwanda is the fifth largest contributor of peacekeepers worldwide.
The border regions are porous, making it easy to cross through Rwanda to another country. The Congo-based Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group continues to operate along Rwanda’s western border and has been linked to grenade attacks throughout Rwanda. Congolese armed forces and UN peacekeepers continue combat operations against rebel and militia groups in North and South Kivu provinces. The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda operates in eastern DRC near the border. So avoid traveling near the DR Congo border unguided.
Rwanda-Uganda border is still closed off to travelers bewteen the two countries. Therefore, no safari trips can overland between Uganda and Rwanda by road. However you can connect Uganda to Rwanda via Kigali International Airport with a few restrictions.
Volcanoes Park is incredibly safe because tourism and gorilla trekking brings thousands of travelers each year. Violence and guerrilla activity are known to exist in the Congo’s Virunga National park. Armed groups operate on the DRC side of the park (Virunga). Exercise extreme caution because the border may not be specific.
However, there is no known threat of guerrillas in Volcanoes National Park. Ensure you obtain a gorilla trekking permit from the Rwanda Office of Tourism and National Parks before entry.
Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda is done in Volcanoes National Park and is safe and secure with armed military guides accompanying every group for their safety.
The crime rate is relatively low though attempted home robberies, automobile break-ins, pick-pocketing, purse snatching, and theft of vehicle accessories in Kigali do occur. Most crimes committed in Rwanda are non-violent.
Kigali remains the safest capital in Africa, though, like in any big city, take care at night and don’t take unnecessary risks since crimes of opportunity do occur. Serious crime or hostility explicitly aimed at travelers is infrequent, and there’s no more to worry about here than in most other countries.
According to the Gallup Global Law and Order report of 2016, Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world. The report has ranked Rwanda 11th globally and 2nd in Africa, with over 87 percent of citizens saying that they feel safe and confident in their security. The Gallup Law and Order Index measures people’s sense of personal safety as well as their experiences with law enforcement.
Some of the questions posed to respondents include: “In the city or area where you live, do you have confidence in the local police force? Do you feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where you live? Within the last 12 months, have you had money or property stolen from you or another household member? Within the past 12 months, have you been assaulted or mugged?”
Visitors to Rwanda are urged to take personal responsibility for their security by vigilant and taking common-sense precautions. As much as there are no off-limits areas in Rwanda, it would be best if you exercise caution in crowded markets, nightclubs, and tourist areas.
Rwanda National Police have limited resources and still lacks specialized skills such as investigation, counter-terrorism, bomb disposal, forensics, and interviewing skills. The police are unable to respond to an emergency call promptly.
Note that the Rwandan franc (RWF) is the official currency, though U.S. dollars may also be used with bureaus and banks taking only U.S. bills printed after 2006 of large denominations.
Traveling after the Covid lockdown
COVID-19 is present in Rwanda. Authorities will quarantine and treat affected people in government hospitals and isolation facilities. Monitor the media for latest developments and follow the instructions of local authorities. Current government guidelines require everyone to wear a face mask in public.
There are medical facilities available around Rwanda. King Faisal Hospital located in Kacyiru, Kigali, provides Emergency and Assessment (E&A) services, open 24 hours with a physician on the premises at all times. Make sure your travel insurance covers you in Rwanda’s hospitals.
Depending on the circumstances, a commercial flight may be used for evacuation, or an air ambulance may be required if emergencies occur. These are extremely costly services, which the patient must pay for themselves. Taking medical evacuation insurance and travel insurance is highly recommended prior to visiting Rwanda.
Rwandan roads are mountainous, circuitous, and poorly lit. Motorcycle taxis are a common mode of transportation for locals because they are easy and inexpensive. For longer distances, buses are used by everyone.
It is completely safe for women to travel on any mode of transportation, however, it is not safe to travel at night. It is better to pay more for a taxi to reach your destination safely instead of walking.
Traffic accidents due to fog, mountainous roads, pedestrians in the road, and poor drivers are common. In addition, medical or police services may not be able to reach you in a timely manner should you be involved in an accident.
Thus, the safety and tranquillity in Rwanda at any time has been citizen-centered and driven. The government has put up initiatives such as Community Policing to build capacity among community members, thus created a bond with the community to make them part of security solutions. Tourists need to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings and valuables at all times.