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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Rwanda 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Rwanda. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Rwanda country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Rwanda at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Exercise increased caution along the Rwanda-Burundi border due to armed conflict; and the Rwanda-Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) border due to armed conflict. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kigali as being a MEDIUM-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Most reported incidents involve petty theft, and residential and hotel room robberies.

Residential crimes tend to be crimes of opportunity, with unsecured items stolen from yards or unsecured homes. There has been no increase in forcible entry of homes to commit robberies; however, burglars generally target homes when residents are not present. Burglars may break and enter, or domestic staff and residential security guards may allow them entrance.

U.S. citizens have reported a slight increase in residential theft throughout Kigali. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Although violent crimes such as assault, robbery, rape, and home invasion occur in Rwanda, they are rarely committed against foreigners. In 2018, however, the Embassy received several reports of late-night assaults and robberies involving pedestrians walking alone in poorly lit neighborhoods. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

Cybersecurity Issues 

Theft of credit card and identity information is rare, but a reasonable possibility given the level of sophistication of potential criminal elements in Rwanda. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Rwandan police’s capabilities in fighting cybercrime have been increasing. Practice the same protection of personally identifiable or private information that you would in the United States. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation 

Road Safety and Road Conditions  

Traffic moves on the right side of the road; however, due to Rwanda’s proximity to several former British colonies, there are a moderate number of right-side drive vehicles on the roads that create additional traffic and spatial awareness risks. There is now a formal prohibition against registering right-side drive vehicles, so their presence is slowly decreasing.  

Paved roads in Rwanda are in relatively good condition. During the rainy season, many unpaved side roads are passable only with four-wheel drive vehicles. Nighttime driving, particularly outside major cities, is hazardous and discouraged. Often, roadways have deteriorated surfaces and lack lane markings, streetlights, and/or shoulders. Due to possible language barriers and lack of roadside assistance, receiving help may be difficult. Police may stop you at roadblocks throughout the country and may search your vehicle and luggage. Service stations are available along main roads.  

Exercise caution at traffic circles; cars already in a circle have the right of way. Excessive speed, careless driving, and the lack of basic safety equipment are hazards. Many vehicles lack proper maintenance, and drive with either extremely dim headlights or none at all. Drivers tend to speed and pass other cars with little discretion. Some streets in Kigali do not have sidewalks or sufficient space for pedestrian traffic, forcing pedestrians to walk along the roadway. Street lighting is limited; drivers often have difficulty seeing pedestrians, cyclists, and livestock. U.S. Embassy personnel may not drive outside of cities after dark. 

Drivers must carry third-party insurance that will cover any damages from involvement in an accident resulting in injuries. Police may confiscate the driver’s license of individuals determined to have caused an accident for up to three months. Causing a fatal accident could result in three to six months' imprisonment. Authorities jail drunk drivers for a minimum of five days and fine them 20,000 Rwandan Francs (RWF) (approximately $30). 

Rwandan traffic laws prohibit drivers from using mobile phones without hands-free devices; the fine is 10,000 RWF (about $14). After-market tinted window treatments are illegal on all vehicles; police will require apprehended car owners to remove them. 

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions  

Public transportation can be dangerous due to overloading, inadequate maintenance, and careless and inexperienced drivers. Use only official Kigali city buses. 

U.S. Embassy personnel may not use motorcycle taxis or minibus taxis due to safety and security concerns. Regulated orange-striped (along the base of the vehicle) sedan auto taxis are safer than other options. Agree on a taxi fare before beginning your trip, and make sure the vehicle has functioning seat belts. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kigali as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Exercise extreme caution when traveling near the border with the DRC, given the possibility of renewed fighting between the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and armed rebel groups. FARDC and peacekeepers of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) continue to engage in combat operations against armed rebel and militia groups in the DRC provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu, both of which border Rwanda. The security situation in these parts of eastern DRC remains unstable; sporadic but severe outbreaks targeting civilians, including rape, kidnapping, and pillaging, continue throughout both provinces. The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) is an armed group that includes former soldiers and supporters of the regime that orchestrated the 1994 genocide; FDLR continues to operate in eastern DRC, near the border with Rwanda. 

Armed rebel groups operate in Virunga National Park, on the DRC side of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. Exercise extreme caution and avoid crossing the border into DRC while exploring the Rwandan side of the park. Rwandan armed forces actively patrol and secure their borders along DRC; cross-border incursion by an armed group from DRC where tourists may be present is possible. 

In October 2019, FDLR splinter group attacked the town of Kinigi adjacent to the Volcanos National Park. Approximately 45 armed militants, many carrying machetes, knives, and guns killed 14 residents; 19 of the militants died in a police operation, while police arrested five others.

In December 2018, suspected FDLR members attacked a Rwanda Defense Force (RDF) outpost in the Rubavu District. Three RDF members died in the attack, along with ten militia members.

In December 2018, suspected militia members attacked three passenger vans in Nyungwe Forest, killing two and injuring eight. RDF was able to repel the attackers, killing three of them; the remaining assailants fled over the border into Burundi.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kigali as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Protests are rare, but those that do occur are generally peaceful. Any protest or rally requires a permit.     

Rwandan authorities may subject you to more scrutiny if you meet or plan to meet with individuals or organizations who are critical of the government. This includes those in the country as human rights observers, journalists, NGO workers, and students: 

Religious/Ethnic Violence  

Religious and ethnic violence are not significant issues in Rwanda. Authorities strictly enforce laws about appropriate speech regarding the genocide. Promoting ideas based on “ethnic, regional, racial, religious, language, or other divisive characteristics” is illegal. Public incitement of “genocide ideology” or “divisionism,” including genocide denial, discrimination, and sectarianism, is punishable by five to nine years in prison and fines of 100,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandan francs ($100-$1,000).

Post-specific Concerns 

Environmental Hazards 

Areas with potential concerns include the Mount Nyiragongo volcano, just outside the eastern DRC town of Goma, near the Rwandan border. The volcano is active and last erupted in 2002, killing 47 people, destroying 15% of Goma, and leaving 120,000 people homeless.  

Critical Infrastructure Concerns 

Volcanic and seismic activity is the greatest threat to Rwanda’s critical infrastructure.  

Economic Concerns

The Rwandan franc (RWF) is the official currency, though you may use U.S. dollars. Most vendors and banks will take only U.S. bills printed after 2006. Exchange bureaus and hotels may refuse bills other than $100.

Personal Identity Concerns 

Same-sex sexual activity is legal but not widely discussed. LGBTI+ individuals may face societal discrimination and abuse, including harassment by neighbors and police. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Domestic violence is common. Although many incidents are not reported or prosecuted, government officials encourage reporting. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

Access to transportation, lodging, and public buildings is limited, though newly constructed buildings in Kigali have improved facilities, including elevators. Sidewalks are not ubiquitous outside of Kigali and do not include curb-cuts. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crime

Drug abuse is not a significant problem, but marijuana is increasingly available. The Rwanda National Police (RNP) has interdicted drugs coming from the DRC and other border crossings. Those caught with even small amounts of marijuana are subject to a prison term of up to five years. 

Kidnapping Threat 

There are no statistics on criminal kidnappings, but the number is nominal. Any such incidents does not target expatriates. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Other Issues

Photographing military sites, government buildings, airports, and public monuments is illegal. Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

In wildlife areas, heed all instructions from guides or trackers. Approaching wild animals, even in a vehicle, can result in injury or death. Authorities regulate the tourism industry unevenly. Adequate safety inspections for equipment and facilities are not common. Appropriate signage is not always available to identify hazardous areas/activities, and staff may not have training or certification either by the host government or by recognized authorities in the field. In the event of an injury, appropriate medical treatment is typically available only in/near major cities. First responders are generally unable to access areas outside of major cities and to provide urgent medical treatment. Additionally, ambulance services are limited and unreliable. Participate in wildlife viewing at your own risk. Review OSAC’s report, When Wildlife Attacks.

Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The emergency line in Rwanda is 112. Despite professionalization and capacity building initiatives, the Rwandan National Police (RNP) lacks specialized skills such as investigation, counterterrorism, bomb disposal, and forensics. The RNP’s material resources are extremely limited; police are unable to respond to an emergency call in a timely manner. A mix of defense and police elements conduct patrols in the city, but their focus is more on preventing terrorism than crime. Community watch groups patrol neighborhoods to prevent residential crime. Police will often direct a victim to the nearest police station to register a complaint in person, as they are unable to respond to the caller. RNP leadership acknowledges these challenges and is striving to improve its operations and reputation.    

All aspects of Rwandan law enforcement fall under the Ministry of Justice. RNP is the lead agency for local policing and traffic violations, and the Rwandan Investigative Bureau is in charge of major investigations. 

RNP does not tolerate corruption; as a result, incidents are infrequent. Victims of harassment or attempted bribery should contact the dedicated RNP hotline at 116 to report problems. Detained or arrested U.S. citizens should comply with police instructions and contact the ACS section of the U.S. Embassy immediately. Victims often must go to the nearest police station to register a complaint in person. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Medical Emergencies

Ambulance assistance is very limited but reachable in Kigali by dialing 912. 

Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.

If traveling with prescription medication, check with the Government of Rwanda to ensure they are legal in Rwanda. Always carry your prescription medication in original packaging with your doctor’s prescription. Review OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.

The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas.

While the CDC does not generally recommend the yellow fever vaccination for travel to Rwanda, the U.S. Embassy recommends that travelers bring proof of yellow fever vaccination. The Rwandan government retains the right to turn travelers without the immunization away.

Rwanda faces a complex HIV/AIDS epidemic, with a prevalence of 3% among the general population but as high as 50% among the most at-risk populations.

Malaria is endemic. Use CDC-recommended mosquito repellents and chemoprophylaxis. Sleep under insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Rwanda.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information 

Kigali has an active Country Council. Contact OSAC’s Africa team for more information or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information 

2657 Avenue de la Gendarmerie (Kacyiru), P.O. Box 28, Kigali 

Phone: (+250) 252 596 400 

After hours (1900-0700), contact the Duty Officer at 078-838-3305 

Website: https://rw.usembassy.gov/

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

 

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