Things a tourist/visitor should NOT do in Rwanda

Every country has those sensitive issues one needs to be careful about. They may be simply traditions of the locals or particular laws. Rwanda too has things you should tread carefully about when you are a tourist or visitor. As you plan for your gorilla trek in Rwanda, chimp adventure in Nyungwe, big five safari tour to Akagera National Park or a long vacation in the land of thousand hills please take note of the following things you need to avoid. There are obviously many other laws which are similar to other countries’ but the following are sensitive.

Avoid careless talk about the genocide

The genocide happened more than 20 years ago but for a big population of the country it still feels like it happened just yesterday. It left wounds in the minds and hearts of many Rwandans which will take generations to heal. The genocide is a sensitive issue in Rwanda that you should not talk about careless otherwise you risk pricking wounds that are trying to heal. If you want to ask questions or make comments do so with someone known to you and in confidence. They should also be comfortable with the subject, but if they are not, please do NOT insist on the subject. Otherwise there are several genocide memorials and museums in the country that are open for tourists, you can visit one and ask as many questions and they will be answered. An easy one is the Kigali Genocide Memorial in the capital Kigali.

Asking one if they are Hutu or Tutsi

Asking one if they are Hutu or Tutsi is in fact a taboo in Rwanda. After the genocide against the Tutsi, the Rwandan people decided to abandon their ethnic identifications which were a catalyst for division and eventually the genocide. The Rwandans decided to all identify each other as simply Rwandan and nothing more or less. Please desist from asking anyone if they are Hutu or Tutsi, you will cause a lot of discomfort and heartache. There are in fact anti-tribalism laws, so avoid the tribal or ethnic talk all together.

Do not liter!

Kigali City and Rwanda at large have made a name as being arguably the cleanest and tidiest city and country in Sub-Sahara Africa. Kigali is one of the cleanest cities in the world, so much that tourists from first countries are wowed by what they see upon arrival in Rwanda. This level of cleanliness has been achieved because the country decided to move towards this direction, creating a utopia of sorts given the mess that is African cities! As a tradition, every last Saturday of the month all people in Rwanda engage in communal cleaning of the areas around them. Even the president participates! Littering and engaging in acts that cause disorder are frowned upon and so the culture of cleanliness and tidiness has been built among the Rwandan people. Do not liter, urinate in random areas not toilets, walk in the lawns, etc…

Do not bring plastic bags to Rwanda

In a bid to protect the environment the Rwandan government burned the use of plastic bags. Please do not carry plastic bags to Rwanda, they will be confiscated at the airport or the border. If you carry any items in the plastic bag, you have to remove them and leave the plastic bag behind. A paper bag may be provided but at a cost of course.

This initiative is paying off as the capital Kigali is featuring prominently  in international publication as one of the greenest cities in the world.

Photographing security installations (and government buildings)

Photographing military installations is prohibited allover the world. In Rwanda it is in fact a taboo! But this is understandable given Rwanda’s past and even the present where the country is faced with many enemies (remnants of the genocide perpetrators). The country is therefore very security conscious! Before taking any pictures in a place you are not sure  about please inquire if it is okay otherwise you will be in big trouble after photographing a military or security installation.

Spit in public

Spitting was actually something that was normal for Rwandans and Rwandans were looked down on for this habitat. The leadership took the step to turn this around as one way of uplifting the dignity of the Rwandan people and burned spitting in public. The tradition of not spitting in public has now picked on and you will look awkward when you do it, similar to how the western world looks at other people who pick their nose. So avoid spitting in public, find a bush, trench or bathroom to spit.

Disrespecting/abusing Rwandan women

Rwandan women are some of the most beautiful on the continent and it is said during the time of the African Traditional Society neighboring kingdoms would invade the kingdom of Rwanda just to capture and steal their beautiful women.

If you come with the mindset of the ancient African traditional society to abuse Rwandan women you are in trouble my friend, as the Rwandan woman is one of the most empowered and protected on the African continent. Desist from ogling, molesting and speaking vulgar words to women in public. Respect the women and men too.

2 thoughts on “Things a tourist/visitor should NOT do in Rwanda”

  1. This is a helpful list. I can add the following:

    1. Despite recent progress most people in Rwanda are desperately poor. The $1,500 it costs to see the mountain gorillas is close to triple what the median income was in 2021. If you are seeing the gorillas it would be tactful to avoid mentioning this to Rwandans when possible. Understandably, many Rwandans find the economic disparity this reflects to be hurtful and humiliating, as if they are deemed worth less than animals, although they will not mention this to you.

    2. Be tactful and sensitive if President Paul Kagame comes up in a conversation with Rwandans. He’s worked wonders in avoiding a sequel to the genocide and he led the military campaign that ended it. But a number of his opponents have turned up dead under mysterious circumstances and Rwanda is considered one of the most restrictive countries in the world with regard to political dissent. You can ask people what they think of Kigame if you are curious and get involved in an extended serious conversation, but whatever you are told don’t get into a disagreement. Many genocide survivors revere him as their savior. Others are troubled by the amnesty given to most genocide perpetrators other than its organizers and leaders.

    3. The advice not to bring up the genocide in conversations that are fleeting or superficial is well-taken. But in longer, more serious conversations, sincere and informed expressions of sympathy for the murder of loved ones and for the trauma suffered by virtually all genocide survivors is often welcomed. Being open to hearing survivors’ stories and offering your sympathy can mean a great deal to many Rwandans. Just be careful to follow people’s lead and don’t press anyone to discuss things or answer questions they don’t seem comfortable with.

    4. Be sensitive to the fact that the United States and all of Europe turned heir backs when a small number of troops could have prevented or stopped the genocide.

    5. Visit at least one genocide memorial. The Kigali Genocide Memorial is the largest and most comprehensive.

    5. Try to gain a basic understanding of the Rwandan genocide and of what preceded and followed this. The most helpful and comprehensive book I’ve read on this subject is
    We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, by Philip Gourevitch, although there are a number of other excellent books. For a shorter overview check out my account at:

    PS If anyone is interested in writing a review of my just-released book, The Rwanda Poems: Voices and Visions from the Genocide, and posting this on either Amazon or Goodreads, contact me and I will send you a free copy if you are in North America and an electronic copy if you are in Europe or Africa.

    A description of the book can be found here:

    Some poems from the book are here:

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