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LifestyleTravelThe African country where plastic is outlawed and there...

The African country where plastic is outlawed and there are gorillas galore

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… but you can also see the Big Five

Along with gorillas, you can also see the so-called ‘Big Five’ in Rwanda: the lion, black rhino, buffalo, leopard and elephant. Akagera National Park is the only place where you can do so after it reintroduced lions in 2015 and the black rhino in 2017. Here you can also see the Maasai giraffe, Burchell’s zebra, warthog, vervet monkey, various species of antelope, among other species.

Rwanda and Burundi were once the same country

Rwanda and Burundi long existed as separate kingdoms, but during the ‘Scramble for East Africa’ in the late 1800s Germany annexed the two countries as part of German East Africa. During World War I, Belgium invaded the region, and after the war German East Africa was distributed among the allied nations. What was known as Ruanda-Urundi came under Belgian control, which it remained under until July 1, 1962, when the two kingdoms split once again into Rwanda and Burundi.

It became one of the first countries to ban plastic bags

In 2008, Rwanda banned plastic bags, and you can’t even bring them in; if you travel to the country with a plastic bag in your luggage it will be confiscated. Bangladesh (2002), India (2002), Eritrea (2005) and Uganda (2007) were the only countries to introduce this measure earlier than Rwanda. In 2021, the country went one step further by banning single-use plastics. Items including plastic cutlery, plates, balloon holders and polystyrene food containers can no longer be sold in the country (with the exception of a handful of products, such as plastics to issue vaccines and sanitary products).

The last Saturday of the month is a national ‘clean up day’

On the last Saturday of every month, all Rwanda’s take part in “​​Umuganda” (meaning “coming together in common purpose”), a mandatory national service where people aged 18 to 65 come together to help to clean up their local area, trim hedges, fill potholes and assist vulnerable residents. The word comes with negative connotations, as weekly umuganda meetings were used by the Hutu elites in 1994 to mobilise civilians for the genocide, but President Paul Kagame reimagined the concept to help clean up the country after its darkest period.

It has the highest percentage of women of any parliament on Earth

Rwanda was the first country on Earth to have a female majority in its national parliament. Currently 61.4 per cent of members of the chamber of deputies are women. This is partly due to the fact that, after the genocide, the population of Rwanda was between 60 and 70 per cent women. Cuba has the second highest percentage of women in its parliament, at 53.4 per cent, followed by Nicaragua at 50.6 per cent. Mexico and the UAE have 50–50 men and women, due to a gender parity laws.

The president is a big Arsenal fan

Rwandan President Paul Kagame is a big Gooner, and an outspoken one too. After Arsenal lost 2-0 in the opening game of the 2021/22 season to Brentford, he Tweeted: “We just must not excuse or accept mediocrity […] I am sure we all know on whose shoulders the heaviest burden rests.” Some have spoken out to criticise Rwanda’s kit sponsorship deal with Arsenal, thought to be worth more than £30m ($42m) which involves the Visit Rwanda logo on the shirt sleeves, saying it is an example of an authoritarian leader of a poor country subsidising a wealthy English football club. Rwandan tourism authorities insist they are reaping the rewards via brand exposure and bookings.

It is mainland Africa’s most densely populated country

Rwanda is one of Africa’s smallest countries (Djibouti, eSwatini, the Gambia, and São Tomé and Príncipe are the only mainland countries that are smaller), and it also has the highest population density on the continent. There are 440 people per square kilometre. On the other end of the spectrum, Namibia has just three people per square kilometre. The UK, for comparison, is 281 people per square kilometre.

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