Keeping up with Kigali
The capital city wants to plan its way to sustainable growth, but citizens and developers say their concerns have not yet been taken into account
Visit the gleaming Kigali Convention Centre and its perfectly manicured environs, and you might say Rwanda’s capital – home to about 1.3 million people – is one of the greenest and cleanest in Africa. But for those who live there, the reputation can sometimes come with a heavy price tag. In 2013, the government launched the ambitious Kigali City Master Plan to guide the city’s urban development, and residents have been divided on how the plan is serving the needs of the growing population. C h r i s t o p h e r K a y u mb a , a professor at the University of Rwanda, says the government’s aim of rapidly transforming the city into a modern capital is often achieved at the expense of infrastructure tailored to the needs of the population. For example, the busy and lively Centenary House-ecole Belge Street in the heart of the Kigali business district was designated a car-free zone in August 2015. “When you travel in Europe and North America, you find a number of car-free zones,” says Kayumba, who suggests the policy was dreamt up by a Kigali official after visiting one of these zones, “without considering the conditions that are unique to the businesses in Kigali, that reflect our purchasing power and that reflect our level of development.”
The push to make the city less dependent on cars – which includes other green initiatives such as ‘walk-through’ neighbourhoods – is all part of the government’s plans to cater for a population set to grow to 3.8 million by 2040, and to build a reputation for sustainable and green growth. But the car-free project has come under intense criticism from residents and local business owners who say the once-bustling area is now a ghost town. Kayumba says the Kigali authorities should have engaged the owners of buildings in that area to include facilities and services that would attract people to the area. “For example, eateries, cinemas, shopping malls and things that will attract children and families,” he says.
CONSULT BEFORE BUILDING
Natalie Campbell Rodrigues, owner and managing director of Forrest Jackson Properties, a realestate company, concurs about the problems with planning: “The master plan may suggest a developer use a lot they own to build a residential unit of ground plus 2 [ground floor plus two additional floors], but the market is not asking for that.” She says consulting with developers more “could lead to a reduction in the number of developers who build and then cannot sell the finished product.” Reports show that as of midApril 2018, only 142 of the 502 units in a high-end housing estate, Vision City, had been sold, despite the 30% reduction in unit price in July last year. Completed in 2017 and built in line with the 2013 master plan, the multi-phase project has been excessively priced – between $179,000 and $560,000 per unit – in a country with a per capita income of around $750. On the other end of the spectrum, the master plan has the goal of removing all slums by 2040, but that means relocating thousands of people. Families from the Kangondo slum have complained that they are being relocated to less desirable areas far away from essential services. Kigali’s central business district on Nyarugenge Hill. The master plan aims to decentralise the city, with hubs for business, shopping and administration