By Steven Nzaramba

2007 saw two large international conferences taking place in Kigali, the Women Parliamentarians International Conference and the AIDS Implementers’ Meeting. Is Kigali city becoming the next continental convention hub? For the moment that’s hard to say. The city’s claim to the title will be vastly boosted upon completion of the Kigali Convention Centre and Hotel as well as the adjoining IT Park and shopping centre.

For a long time, the nation’s capital has not had a landmark to make its own trademark. Even as Kigali, celebrates a century of existence, no one seems able to point at any feature of the city that it can use as a symbol. It appears that by the year 2009, Kigali will be able to point to a structure, distinctive for its uniqueness. At any rate, that is the idea.

The architects claim that the 38 metre high dome with a diameter of 56 metre imitates the form of the traditional Rwandan home of yore and by looking at the mock-ups one has to admit that there are certain resemblances. The outer spirals and the dome shape are consistent with its traditional counterparts. It also has an uncanny resemblance with the German Bundesstag (Federal Parliament) in Berlin.No matter, for the first time Kigali will have a proper convention centre designed to host large public or private gatherings. The Kigali Convention Centre will be the centrepiece of a sprawling complex that will include an IT Park, the Kigali Convention Hotel and a shopping mall.

The IT Park will be equipped with all mod-cons for all businesses that intend to occupy office space within the building. The new business tenants will be availed with facilities that are on par with those available in any major capital. The target group appears to be local and foreign investors with an interest in the fast evolving field of Information Technology although establishments with more traditional concerns will not be precluded from occupying space in the Park.

The days of Serena Hotel Kigali being the sole holder of the title ‘5-star hotel’ are indeed limited with the advent of the Kigali Convention Hotel in 2009. The hotel will be directly linked to the Convention centre as it was designed to accommodate delegates to the various gatherings that will take place in the centre. The hotel will also be the first building in Kigali to have air conditioning and waste-disposal systems that are self-reliant and eco-friendly.

The architects appear to have favoured an ergonomic style of construction as most everything in the Kigali Convention Hotel appears to be rounded or in gentle curves, none of the stark lines that characterises larger buildings in the city.The passage of time is a fickle affair when it concerns shopping centres in Kigali. Those who have been in the city for a while, will remember how Kigali Business Centre (KBC) in Kacyiru was a revelation at the time of its opening a mere seven years ago. Then we had the MTN Centre and the Union Trade Centre that put KBC to shame in a flood of shiny floors, skylights and flat-screened televisions.

The proposed shopping centre will make even these two, appear to be no better than the local grocer’s store. For sheer size, architectural innovation and variety, this shopping centre is slatted to take the forefront of the mass retail market. The old adage about not counting chicks before they are hatched should however temper all this breathless excitement about these proposed developments.

To this date, these are still nothing but projects in the pipeline that are yet to be realised. Some might even suggest that such investments are unnecessary given that basic infrastructure like public transportation, running water and electricity are not yet taken for granted in several parts of the city. It might be asked whether a large undertaking like this one will be viable without a good and reliable infrastructure. Or even, whether the resources to be used in this complex might not be used more effectively in making basic services to Kigali’s inhabitants more reliable?

These are, of course, valid arguments but if everyone thought in this fashion, no city would have any distinctive flavour of its own. It would be a world without a Golden Gate bridge, Sydney Opera house or Eiffel tower. Since Kigali is aspiring to join the list of beautiful, clean but distinctive cities of the world, its only right that it acquires a landmark of its own.

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