Kigali, population one million people, capital and gateway to the Republic of Rwanda, is a city on the move. From it’s founding as a sleepy colonial outpost in 1907, with few links to the outside world, to its metamorphosis into the city that is the economic, cultural, and transport hub of a vibrant Rwanda; Kigali is a city that has famously kept its residents on their collective toes. The residents of this wonderfully alive city are celebrating a century of its existence and Business Rwanda is proud to be a part of this celebration. Kigali isn’t a city that’s only going through the motions. It has prevailed against the odds and has grown into a modern metropolis; the heart of the emerging Rwandan economy and the pride of every Rwandan. Kigali City, founded by Dr. Richard Kandt, representative of the “Deutsch Ostafrika” in Rwanda, in 1907, was at first just Dr. Kandt’s residence and a few commercial houses on the lace of hills around present day Nyarugenge. Then, in 1921, Kigali became a Belgian colonial administrative centre. The capital of pre-colonial Rwanda was the seat of the Mwami in Nyanza, while the capital of colonial Rwanda was in Butare, then known as Astrida. Butare was initially the leading contender for capital of the newly independent Rwanda, but Kigali was chosen to be the capital in 1962 because of its central location in the heart of the nation.
As the seat of government of the newly independent Rwanda, Kigali saw incredible growth. From being a miniscule eight hectares in 1907, and with a population of three hundred and fifty seven people, Kigali has grown to be an impressive seven hundred and thirty square kilometers with a population of one million people. Kigali City has had its ups and downs as a capital, following the turbulent times of post-independence Rwanda. It reached its nadir, as did the whole nation, in 1994, as its boroughs rang with gunfire and the stench of death hung in the air like a blanket.
But no more; for as the country recovered, so did the capital. The scars of that period are fast healing and the city is now being given a clean bill of health by its residents and visitors. It went from being a sleepy city at the heart of a regional backwater to being the exciting centre of an emerging Information Technology hub. From being a city with small, and slightly dilapidated structures, it went to being a city of towers and skyscrapers. From being a boring place with no nightlife to speak of, Kigali is now a night owls’ favorite haunt.
Kigali, which has grown more than six times in square area and trebled in population since1996, resembles a quickly changing mosaic. The tallest building in town back in 1994 was a tie between ‘kwa –Rabangura’, as the tall building right next to the now defunct central taxi park was known as locally, and CND (now the Parliament buildings). Now, Centenary House and the Ecobank Headquarters tower over Kigali’s city centre.
Anyone coming back to Kigali after more than five years away will be amazed at the changes. From 2002 to date, Kigali has seen the building of the first five-star hotel in Rwanda, the Kigali Serena, the Union Trade Center-a huge shopping mall right in the centre of town, housing projects like the Gacuriro estates and many office buildings. Kigali resembles one big construction site.
Kigali is a city of business. If you have doubts, then travel along the streets and watch residents as they go about their business. The hustle and bustle on the streets of Kigali is reminiscent of the forward-looking city it is and not the sleepy hollow it once was. Kigali is the headquarters and home of all the major economic players on the local scene; from MTN Rwanda, which is housed in the suitably named MTN Center in Nyarutarama, to Banque du Kigali- which has just moved into its opulent new headquarters. In the pipeline is an international conference center that will rival any in the region, a permanent Exposition Center and many more facilities that are pro-business. Rwanda is open for business and Kigali is its gateway.
Kigali is a city of leisure. Have a meal at one of the numerous cosmopolitan restaurants- with menus as diverse as Mexican and Senegalese. Sip refreshments in one of the many cafés and bistros in town. Enjoy the nightlife in the many nightclubs that cater to various tastes in music. Where once there was nothing to do as soon as the sun set, Kigali is now a 24-hour city. Unlike many big cities of the world, Kigali is famous for its security. Crime rates are negligible no matter where you are, and the only unpleasantness that one might encounter on an evening stroll may be a street child asking for spare change. Muggers and other criminals of their ilk are a rare breed in Kigali.
One of the slogans that Kigali has made its own is “Clean and Green’. The typical image of an African city, with the omnipresent Marabou Stork perched atop piles of rotting waste right in the center of town, uncontrolled traffic jams, chaotic public transport systems and the smell of general decay, is an image that Kigali city has fought a winning battle against. Recently the International Telecommunications Union’s secretary general, Hamadoun Toure pronounced Kigali the cleanest city he has visited. Essential services work. A steady supply of piped water and electricity is something that many of Kigali residents take for granted. Roads aren’t full of potholes.
However, it isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. True, Kigali is slowly coming into its own as the modern capital of the ambitious country that Rwanda is. Nevertheless, in the course of rousing itself to take its place in the sun, the city must rise to many challenges in its path.
Some of the biggest challenges that city planners have to deal with are the lack of a proper citywide drainage and sewage system, the lack of sufficient landfill space, the poorly planned housing, the lack of green spaces like parks and the deficiencies in coverage of essential services in certain parts of the city. City authorities are not oblivious to these challenges. According to the Kigali City Councils’ Director in the Department of Inspection, Mr. Reuben Ahimbisibwe, in an interview with Business Rwanda, the city authorities have put in place a 50 year Master Plan to find solutions to the needs of the growing city. This Master Plan will include green zones, demarcated roads and sufficient street lighting.
When quizzed about the urgent need of a citywide sewage and drainage system Mr. Ahimbisibwe spoke of a Sanitation Master Plan that will be completed this year. This sanitation master plan will then guide the City Council. However, until the introduction of a city-wide sewage system, the City Council has made it compulsory for anyone constructing a large building to include an in-house sewage treatment plant. City Council has, in order to fight against the lack of affordable housing for low and middle-income earners that gave rise to small, dinghy and unplanned-for housing, started constructing what they call the ‘Batsinda Project’, 250 well-built and affordable houses for low income earners in lower Kiyovu. These houses will eventually number one thousand. All in all, Kigali City Council is, in Mr. Ahimbisibwe’s words, making sure “we don’t repeat what we inherited”.
These various master plans are a positive step. However, if most of these problems that Kigali faces aren’t solved, the progress that Kigali has registered in the last century will be for naught. For a city that doesn’t provide a positive environment for both the business and pleasure of its residents and visitors is one that will stagnate and eventually die.
If Mr. Richard Kandt somehow came back to life and took a look at the new Kigali he surely wouldn’t believe his eyes. When Business Rwanda surveys the progress made since 1994, we know that it can only get better. HAPPY 100TH BIRTHDAY KIGALI! MAY YOU CONTINUE TO RISE AND SHINE!
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