Kigali will always be one of the places I call home because it is the city I grew up in and have lived in the longest. My family moved there before my 1st birthday and we ended up making it our home. I spent most of my life, that is my childhood and formative years, in Kigali so it is the backdrop of most of my memories. I moved after my high school graduation to start university in Vancouver, Canada, but I went back every summer because my family lived (and still lives) there. My connection to Rwanda has also been forged through the friends I have made as well those of my parents. Though I always lead with “Ethiopia” when asked where I am from, I know the answer will be incomplete if I don’t mention my connection to Rwanda. For these reasons, I chose to highlight three of my favourite places in my city of Kigali.
Repub Lounge remains one of my favourites in Kigali because it is both consistent and dynamic. I was introduced to this restaurant/lounge by my parents and I liked it more with every visit. The food, the music and the general ambience is unmatched. The Afro-soul and jazz always stood out to me because I rarely heard it elsewhere and it was the perfect backdrop for the conversation and laughter that filled the room. The decor is a unique combination of warm earth tones and vibrant pops of colour thanks to the African art pieces and printed table settings. The menu includes both local and international dishes and the food, in my opinion, is one of the best in the city. I’m also drawn to this place because of the memories I’ve made here with my family. Our family dinners there were sometimes a way to celebrate special occasions like birthdays, but usually, it was just a place we knew we would get great food and listen to soothing music. Repub Lounge represents a balance of creativity and comfort as well as great attention to detail.
Inema Arts Centre
I must admit, for a place listed as one of my favourites Inema is probably one that I visit the least on this list. I say this because upon reflecting on places I love in the city I realized most of my choices were related to food. The reason for this is that growing up in Kigali, going out to eat with my family was a great source of entertainment and a lovely way to bond. Inema, on the other hand, presents a different kind of entertainment. Though I was initially attracted to it for its Thursday night ‘happy hour‘ offers and occasional live music performances, I grew to like it for what it represented. Founded in 2012 by two Rwandan brothers, the centre became a space that both showcased Rwandan art and encouraged its development. With various programs geared towards nurturing the creative potential of Rwandan youth and supporting women’s economic empowerment, Inema is a great example of what happens when artistic expression is deemed valuable and is invested in. Inema represents the wonderful possibilities that lie ahead when local talent is celebrated and when artistic expression meets social enterprise.
Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant.
One of my favourite places in the city is Lalibela which, for a long time, was the only Ethiopian restaurant in Kigali. This one is admittedly a shameless plug because it is owned by my family but that is one of the reasons I care about it so much. The restaurant has always been an extension of our home. Though I grew up in Rwanda, I can confidently say I grew up in an Ethiopian household because for a long time I felt like my culture was within reach. By this I mean we always had Ethiopian food, our house always smelled like spices and freshly brewed coffee, we spoke Amharic and we celebrated all the holidays. Lalibela, which was my dad’s passion project turned profession, became our way of sharing that with the city. My dad loved being around people, hosting them, feeding them and making them feel welcome to the restaurant became his way of doing that. In a way, the restaurant also became an unofficial embassy for Ethiopians traveling from far and wide who were looking for an Ethiopian presence in Kigali. It also became, and still remains, a hub for the Ethiopian and Eritrean community in Kigali. Lalibela has been sharing great food and a warm and welcoming ambience with the city for over 10 years with hopefully many more to come. Lalibela will thus always hold a special place in my heart because it is a celebration of our culture, community and my dad’s legacy.
Catch up on our “Three of my favourite places” series here.