City demolitions and the wisdom of ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’
Nothing lasts like a mother’s love, they say, but I must add: nothing lasts like a good book. This week, reading Bertolt Brecht’s ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’ (for the umpteenth time) got me thinking about the ongoing demolitions in the City of Kigali that have attracted applause and uproar.
‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’ is a play within a play with an overriding theme that whoever can make the best use of resources in order to provide for others deserves to get them. The play is about a dispute over a valley. Two groups; members of the Galinsk goat-breeding kolkhoz and the members of the neighbouring Rosa Luxemburg fruit farm want to claim a valley in a ruined village in the Soviet Caucasus shortly after the end of World War II.
An expert from the State Commission for Reconstruction is sent to arbitrate the dispute. The fruit growers argue that they have elaborate plans to irrigate the valley and produce food. The goat-herders want the land on grounds that they have always lived there. In the end, the fruit farmers get the valley because they will use the land better. The peasants then hold a small party and Arkadi Cheidze, a singer, agrees to tell them the story of the Chalk Circle until the curtain call.
The City of Kigali is like a big construction site. The implementation of the City of Kigali Master Plan has meant the demolition of shanty neighbourhoods like lower Kiyovu (Kiyovu cyabakene) with Kimicanga and Muhima next in line albeit with compensation. The process has not been all rosy as City of Kigali law enforcement officers have come to realise. In some cases bulldozers have been called in to pull down structures whose owners refused vacate the plots despite being compensated.
The major point of contention is the notion of individual entitlement and public interest. It is evident that the aforementioned quartiers do not fit the bill of ‘Kigali garden city’. In the spirit of the ‘Caucasian Chalk Circle’ the dispute of the plots of land should have ended in song, with a realisation that the redevelopment of the shanty neighbourhoods is for the common good of the community. Sadly, this has not been the case.
While it is evident that some of the affected residents were not cooperative, the ‘arbitrator’ did not do a good job. Many have complained of delays in the expropriation process and contradicting communications from leaders. On Tuesday, this paper reported about a demolition notice given to Kimicanga landlords. In a meeting between Gasabo district officials and landlords in Kimicanga, the latter were given up to two weeks to demolish their homes, paving way for the redevelopment of the area into the Kimicanga Entertainment district.
Pronouncing himself on the issue, City Mayor Fidele Ndayisaba said that: “That is not possible...residents have the right to stay there for a maximum period of three months after compensation, according to the law.”
Such contradictions do not help the cause of consensus building on an often explosive land subject.
The plan to redevelop the city in accordance with the Kigali City Master plan is splendid. But the process needs to be streamlined. A proper compensation and communication strategy has to be put in place. The expropriation process should be thorough and in line with the Law. Where compensation has to be done it should be timely. It is only then that the process, like in ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’ end in singing not swearing.
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