A narrow and wet muddy road, almost too small for a car leads to one of Kigali’s biggest slums-- Kimicanga. Driving through the poorly constructed busy shops, crowds stop to take a look at the vehicle. As they continue selling and buying food stuffs, the number of people keeps increasing in the narrow roads.
The roads are filled with kids who are merry making. At a time when other children are at school, one cannot help but wonder why Kimicanga’s children are not in classrooms.
Chollete Mukakimenyi, 24, understood the confusion quite well. As she ushered me into her little shop where she sells Irish potatoes and ground cassava flour, she explained how hard it is for residents to battle for essential needs like food and school fees for their children.
“My three kids don’t go to school yet I am working. My earnings are not enough to sustain their needs including school fees,” Mukakimenyi said.
As she spoke she kept referring to the shop area as the ‘capital city’ of the slum and she pointed her finger south to what she referred to as the real slum.
“There is no distinct road to the ‘real slum’,” she said.
The rain is blamed for making the slanting little path even more slippery than usual. High heals are not ideal for anyone to take a walk through Kimicanga’s slum.
Any careless walking can easily make you slip into the ditches that are filled dirty stinking running water, polythene bags and garbage.
“This is a swamp and a water passage, as much as we try to clean it up, rain will still brings the rubbish back,” Paul Hakizimana another slum dweller said defensively.
The slippery little path leads to hundreds of little houses that identify the slum. Despite the stench coming from the long deeply eroded trenches, the compressed mad houses with red roof tops are homes to many families.
Raising a family
A queue of six half dressed children of about the same size and stature stand outside one of the houses.
In a distance, a commanding male voice shouts at them to go and fetch water before the sun’s heat increases. In a hurry, they reach out and grab five litre jerrycans and vanish to the swamp.
Felician Ndajahe, the father blames fate on the way he lives and how helpless he is about their situation. The dirty translucent curtain hanging on his door reveals what is inside his house.
Two wooden chairs, occupy the sitting room, a stand for utensils, a small wooden table, a bed and two small mattresses on the un-cemented ground sums up his assets.
“This is my sitting room, bedroom, visitors’ room and everything,” he explains.
He pays Rwf13,000 each month to rent this multipurpose house. Ndajahe said the high rent charges are because the house has electricity. In Kimicanga, house rent ranges from Rwf2,000 to Rwf20,000.
“I share the bed with my wife while my six children sleep on the mattresses on the floor,” he said.
Ndajahe further revealed that his family spends sleepless nights when it rains. Their roof leaks and they have to wake up and transfer their beddings to a corner that does not leak.
Ndajahe has lived in Kimicanga slums for the past 15 years. In a bid to look for greener pastures, he sold all his property in his home village located in Cyangugu, Western Province.
“I hoped that I would prosper in business but I made losses and ended up living in the slum,” he said.
Like other slum dwellers, as a way of survival, he gets part time jobs on construction sites.
“On average I earn Rwf500 per day if I get a part time job,” Ndajahe said.
Community in the ghetto
Though life seems difficult, unity is something that is well portrayed in the ghetto way of life.
Standing in a group with jerrycans of water, some of Kimicanga’s ghetto youth portray an epitome of unity because they have formed a small team that fetches and supplies water to the residents for Rwf20 per jerrycan.
“We aim at changing the image of ghetto youth, though we are not educated, we shall not end up criminals,” explained Lambert Gasigwa, the 19 year-old leader of the water-fetching team.
Socially, life in the ghetto is also identified by unity and sharing. Gasigwa attributed this to the love that sprouts out of many difficult situations.
“What we lack makes us a team. And what we earn helps us appreciate each other’s efforts,” the team leader explains.
As people flood the bars for primus and other expensive alcohol, Kimicanga’s slums seem to provide a remedy for the people troubles.
Inspite of all this, the struggle to earn a day’s meal in Kimicanga’s slums still remains. The residents are left wondering what the future holds for them.