Having travelled extensively to many corners of our earth, I wasn’t sure what to expect on my arrival in Kigali. I envisioned an experience similar to my arrival in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2007, where the complete and utter chaos of the airport left weary western travellers bewildered, and panic stricken. I expected to be bombarded with porters tugging at my bags, trying to drum up business, at car horns and rickshaw honking incessantly in the parking lot, and armed military guards trying to keep the throngs of gawkers at bay.
Kigali is nothing like that.
The KLM flight first stopped in Kigali, before continuing to Entebbe, Uganda, and so not quite half the plane disembarked here. The line up at passport control was very short, and I was greeted by the officer with a warm smile, and “Bienvenue!” (never had that happen before).
Walking from the plane to the airport terminal, I saw a sign on the door stating that polyethylene bags are banned in Rwanda. “They’ll never make that work,” I remember thinking as I walked past the sign. I had only just set foot in the country and already I had broken a law, simply by bringing a plastic bag holding a magazine and bottle of water that I bought in Toronto, into Rwanda.
But the bag ban makes a lot of sense, as it makes cities and the countryside much cleaner. The ban prohibits the use of plastic bags to pack food, drinks and groceries, and has a huge impact on the effects caused by discarded plastic bags which block drainage systems, causing floods and landslides. Rwanda became the first African nation to ban the bags five years ago, and since then many other countries including the Congo have made moves towards banning the product.
I was stopped by a guard, and my plastic bag was confiscated to a recycling bin before I left the terminal. Some of my fellow passengers had their bags wrapped in cellophane. This too had to be removed before they were allowed out of the airport.
It seems to fit Rwanda’s shiny new position as a tourism and information technology destination. There are no plastic bags blowing in the wind as there were in other parts of the world I’ve visited, where they could be eaten by domestic animals such as goats, and wildlife, with sometimes-lethal results for the animal.
Given the opposition raised when Toronto took steps to limit the use of plastic bags, I find the Rwandans’ quiet pride in their legislation to be quite welcome. When I travel to Rwanda again, you can be sure that there won’t be any banned substances in my luggage.