The Republic of Rwanda is a unitary republic of central and Eastern Africa. It borders Uganda to the north; Tanzania to the east; Burundi to the south; and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west.
|Language:||Kinyarwanda, French, English|
|Paved roads:||1,200 km (25%)|
|Hitchability:||<rating country='rw' />|
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Rwanda is a relatively small and extremely densely populated country in the Great Lakes region of East Africa. It's worth noting that inter-city bus travel is (generally) very reliable and cheap. As of January 1, 2018, travel to any major city from Kigali costs 6,000 RWF ($7.50 US) or less. Via Ritco buses, Kigali-Giseyni is 3,000 RWF, Kigali-Butare is 2,000 RWF, etc., and they leave 6+ times per day. In other words, hitching is rarely a necessity in Rwanda. In fact, many people will be confused as to why you are not taking a bus and offer to take you to the nearest bus station. It can be difficult to explain what you're doing, but if you say you don't have money, they might understand. Regardless, Rwanda is a surprisingly friendly country for hitchhikers.
City Names One confusing thing in Rwanda is that the major towns were renamed after the genocide. Official references to these cities (i.e. bus tickets, many street signs) will use the new names, while maps seem to use the old or new name randomly, as do Rwandans. Fortunately, Rwandans will know both names, in case of confusion. Here are some examples:
Gisenyi - Rubavu
Rusizi - Cyangugu
Butare - Huye
Musanze - Ruhengeri
Roads Highways are almost all in excellent condition - better than many western countries. Most tarmacked roads were paved quite recently, so potholes are rare. However, if you are traveling through a rural area away from the main roads, you are likely to encounter somewhat questionable dirt roads.
Further, since all main roads pass through numerous small towns, there are plenty of good places to find rides (typically, immediately outside of a town towards your destination). There are very few major junctions, which means that it is easy to find traffic going towards your destination.
Safety Rwanda is an extremely safe country, with remarkably low violent crime rates. The chances of a foreigner being attacked or robbed while hitchhiking (or at any other time, quite honestly) are very small. You're likely to get many stares, and lots of children asking for money, but nothing worse than that.
Finding a Ride Please note that the following is based on a single trip by HitchThruRwanda, and so should not be taken as universal advice! This trip was from Kigali to Butare, beginning on a weekday morning.
Long-distance hitchhiking is not a common phenomenon in Rwanda, though locals will often hitch rides for a few kilometers. The "thumbs-up" gesture, while not offensive, is unknown in Rwanda. Instead, extend your arm straight out towards the road, with your palm up (though drivers will likely pull over for you if you make any kind of gesture towards the road).
A few factors make Rwanda an interesting place to hitch hike. First, there is very little private traffic (i.e. cars other than buses, commercial trucks, taxis, or safari vans) traveling between cities. However, the private traffic that does exist is very inclined to pull over for hitch hikers, at least if they are visibly foreigners (in other words, not African. I cannot comment on how hitchhiking would be for someone of African descent). Those with private vehicles are likely to be upper-class and English speakers (or, less likely, French speakers). In my single experience, nobody asked for money or seemed to expect it. I suspect that they would have been offended if I had offered it.
However, as there is often little private traffic, it is a very real possibility to spend hours waiting for a ride, particularly on less frequented routes (especially highways not connected to Kigali). For example, I expect that hitchiking on the roads between Rusizi and Butare and, to a lesser extent, Gisenyi and Musanze could entail long delays. If you are on a more remote dirt road, it's best to assume that you will not find a ride.
Secondly, many professional workers leave Kigali on weekday mornings for contracts in smaller towns. Of the 4 rides I took from Kigali to Butare, 3 were day contractors from Kigali. Therefore, it seems that weekday mornings are excellent times to hitch a ride leaving Kigali. I would guess that weekday afternoons (14:00-17:00) are equally good for finding rides to Kigali from nearby towns, but I cannot confirm that through personal experience.
AN EXTREMELY IMPORTANT NOTE: the last Saturday of every month is Umuganda, a mandatory(ish) public work day. Cars are not allowed on the road between 8 AM and 12 PM, and the roads are fairly empty in the afternoon as well. Anecdotally, on the road immediately east of Nyungwe National Park, I did not see a single private car in between 13:45 and 15:00 on Umuganda. I would highly discourage anyone from trying to hitchhike on Umuganda!
Language"' Rwanda is one of the few countries in Africa unified by a single national language. Everyone in the country speaks Kinyarwanda, though most will also have some amount of English or French. As the education system officially removed French as an option in 2009, younger Rwandans are much more likely to speak English, and older Rwandans are more likely to speak French. However, be aware that the level of English or French will be much lower than in other countries in the region, such as Uganda and Kenya, where English is often the lingua franca.
A few useful phrases:
Muraho - Hello.
Mugiye he? - Where are you going?
"Ngiye i [city]" - I am going to [city].
"Mvuye muri [country] - I am from [country].
Muvuga icyongereza? Muvuga igifaransa? - Do you speak English? Do you speak French?
Simfite amafaranga - I do not have money.
Murakoze - Thank you.