The Rusumo Falls border post between Tanzania and Rwanda is reached from Biharamulo by following the main road south for 50km to the junction town of Lusahanga, where basic guesthouse accommodation can be found should you want to break up the trip. A right turn at Lusahanga leads to the border after 90km. The substantial town of Ngala has several basic guesthouses and is situated about 10km from the border. Buses run directly from Biharamulo to Ngala, typically taking about 5-6 hours. Once at Ngala, there is local transport to the border post.
About 20km before the Rusumo border, the road crosses into the southwest extreme of the 1,900 km2 Burigi Game Reserve, which was gazetted in 1972 and has subsequently been proposed as a national park. Jointly managed with the almost contiguous Biharamulo Game Reserve, Burigi harbours significant numbers of lion, elephant, buffalo, giraffe and various antelopes. Although the animal populations of the two reserves were greatly reduced by subsistence poaching during the Rwanda refugee crisis, an aerial survey undertaken in 1998 indicated a fair level of recovery. Estimated combined figures for the reserves based on the survey include 240 eland, 300 giraffe, 2,800 impala, 98 roan antelope, 32 sable antelope, 160 topi, 600 zebra and 94 waterbuck (elephant and buffalo were counted but the figures were not considered sufficiently reliable for an estimate to be made). Arguably of greater ecological importance than the actual game reserve are the permanent and seasonal papyrus swamps connecting Lake Burigi and the Kagera River immediately to the north. One of the largest swamp systems in East Africa, this area forms an important refuge for the sitatunga antelope and localised swamp-related birds such as the impressive shoebill and lovely papyrus gonolek. With a private 4×4 vehicle, and permission from the game department office in Biharamulo, it should be possible to explore the reserve and surrounding areas along a rough road running north from the Rusumo road towards Karagwe.
The bridge at the border between Tanzania and Rwanda overlooks the Rusumo Falls, a voluminous and impressive rush of white water on the Kagera River. It is here that the first German administrator entered modern-day Rwanda in 1894, and also where Belgian troops recorded their first decisive victory over the German colonists in 1916. More recently, in 1994, Rusumo Bridge served as the funnel through which an estimated 500,000 Rwandans – half of them within one 24 hours period – fled from their home country to refugee camps around Ngala and elsewhere in northwest Tanzania. Journalists reporting on the exodus described standing on the bridge and counting the bloated bodies of genocide victims tumbling over the waterfall at a rate of one or two per minute.
The 160km road between Rusumo and Kigali (the capital of Rwanda) is in very good condition, and minibus taxies take no more than four hours to cover it. If you prefer to stop along the way, the first accommodation you’ll come across is the Fine Corner Guesthouse in Nyakarimbi village, about 20km past the border, while better rooms can be found at the Umbrella Pine Guesthouse in Kibungo, 60km past the border.
(c) Philip Briggs 2009