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Inside Kigali’s  ‘Land  force’

It’s  not  every day  that  the  word  ‘force’  is  used  when referring to  road  transport.

Today  however, allow  me  to  use  it: until  I  get  to  use  ‘air  force’ as  a  means  of  transport, ‘land  force’, in  all  its  diversity, is my  means  of  transport.

Let me  take  you  down  memory  lane  to  when  I   had  just  moved  to  Kigali-Rwanda, my  very  first  visit  outside Kampala-Uganda, my home  town.

Now  majority will  think  I’m  going  to  talk  about  the  clean-all-green  city  and  quiet  environment that Kigali serves. Nice  guess, though, none  of  those  caught  my  attention  like  the  ‘land port’ (bus park downtown)  did.

It  was  a  Monday  afternoon  when  me  and  my  two  friends; one  being  our  host, decided  to  visit  Kigali  downtown.

Having  had  a  long  week  at  work, our  host  didn’t feel  like  eating  home-made  food, so  she  decided  we  go  down  town-Kigali: ‘kill  two  birds  with  one  stone’; eat  out  while  at  the  same  time  we  tour  Kigali  city.

Long  story  short, time  for  going  back  home approached  and  she  led  us  to  the  bus  park.

In  Kampala, where  I  hail  from, buses  are  used  when  travelling  outside  of  the  city. In Kigali  however, they  are  the  most  used  type  of public transport; within or outside the city. 

To  me, this  place  was  like  an  ‘airport’ (although I’ve not been  to  one  before, I  know  how  it’s  organised  out  there). 

The  place  was  beautifully  ‘painted’  with  white  with blue/green striped buses, although, it’s not what made  my  jaw  drop: the  cleanliness  did. A  bus  park, a  public  gathering, all  clean  with  no  littering, wow….who would have thought?.

As if  that  wasn’t  enough, people  were  lining  up  to  get  inside the buses, with  no  one  ordering  them  to, another  unprecedented thing in my world.

Now  you  know  where  I’m  coming  from  with  the  term  ‘land port’; if  it’s  not  the  ‘airport’, we  have  a  ‘land port’  as  a  substitute.

While  still  trying  to  stomach  that, a  bus  comes  by  and  despite  the  long  queue, the  people  behind  make  no  effort  to  fight  for  space. They  all  gladly  respect those at the front, letting them board first. Wow  Kigali, wow!

Me  and  my  other  friend, who  was  also visiting, couldn’t  believe our eyes, as we were both used  to  ‘survival  for  the  fittest’  when it comes to getting  public transport in Kampala during the ‘rush hours’. This was indeed a ‘landport’!

What  was  actually  a  ‘lifetime’  waiting  for  the  next  bus, felt  like  a  ‘blink  of  an  eye’  wait, because  it  was  not  hectic  in  any way.

There  are  seats  at  the  ‘land port’  for  those  waiting  to  catch  the  next  bus. This  is  coupled  with  soothing  Kinyarwanda  music  from  loud  speakers  all  playing  for  everyone  within  the  premises  to  hear, to  complete  the  ‘flight’  experience, we  had  to  book  for  tickets  before  getting  onto  the  bus.

Despite  the long queue, there  was  nothing  like  ‘overloading’ in the bus,  our  ‘flight’  was as  comfortable  as  it  could  be: no  portholes, no  traffic  jam, and  no  ‘conductors’  shouting  through  the  window  calling  on  passengers  to  board.

Months  later,  bigger  buses  than  the  ones  we  took  the  first  time  were  added  onto  the  collection.

These  had  in  TV  sets, more  comfortable  seats  and  to  book  a  flight, instead of the former bus tickets, a ‘Tap and Go’ card was used; One had to buy the card for as low as 5oo FRW, and load whichever amount they needed.

Unfortunately, this  made  the ‘bus flights’  ‘uncomfortable’ as  months went  by.

A thing that might have been caused by ‘our praise’ of the comfortable journey on the bus: Supposedly, the ‘praises’ attracted more people to have a glimpse of it and before we knew it, Kigali was ‘filled to the brim’.

Of course responsible parties are working tirelessly to see that the ‘bus flights’ get back to the comfort they had, however, a lot still needs to be done.

Currently, boarding the  bus in Kigali is  a  tag  of  war, not  to  mention  getting  the  ‘once’  disciplined  passengers  who  used  to  wait  for  their  turn  to  get  in  who turned into ‘kick-boxers’.

In addition, bus drivers load the bus ‘until it drops’, because ‘to the brim’ is seemingly not enough. Thank  the  heavens  that Rwandans  don’t  have  ‘long  hands’. If  it  was  in  my  hometown, one  would  be  getting  home  with  an  empty  bag  everyday.

Furthermore, the  once  serene  and  quiet  drive  aboard the buses, is  now  filled  with  music  from  crying  babies(whose  cry  is  justified  given  the  number  of  people  on  board), conversations  on  all  kinds  of  topics, loud  enough  for  whoever  cares  to  hear, and the  stale  atmosphere  that  makes  one  wish  we  could   go  back  to  the  terrible  ‘COVID’  times (the  ones  that  had  us  move  wearing  face  masks).

Comfort  aside, the  flights  are  not  as  safe  as  they  should  be in my opinion. In most cases, there is  a  minor in transit, the over crowdedness of people with whatever kind of health issues exposes them to ‘unwanted’ illnesses.

Not to mention the  expectant  mothers  and  very  elderly  who  can’t  stand  for  long. Now I know the majority of the youths in Rwanda are disciplined and they offer their seats to these vulnerable people, however, sometimes they don’t.

The  beautiful  hills  and  valleys  that  make  up  Rwanda are also a ‘danger’ in one way or the other. Much as the  drivers are experienced, the endless corners along the journey, in case of a misfortune, can see multiple lives lost once an accident occurs

My heart is at peace though, because authorities are aware of all this, and just recently, JALI bus company added over 20 buses to their fleet and promised many others to come; in an effort to curb on the overloading and the countless hours spent while waiting for a bus

However, my  humble  plea is that safety is ensured in the meantime; we  would  rather  “be  safe  than  sorry”. Let  the set number of passengers on one bus be strictly adhered to. Personally, I  would prefer getting to my destination late than with a broken leg, arm, or sickness from taking an  overcrowded bus.

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