This coming week kicks off on a high note for Rwanda with all eyes on the country as it hosts over 1200 delegates from around the world, including government leaders, academics, business leaders and media personalities, for the 26th World Economic Forum on Africa that will take place from May 11-13 in Kigali.
Several Heads of State and Government are expected to attend the event.
It is at such times that Kigali city gets to showcase its finest attributes to those who only hear about them.
Kigali has, over the years, crafted a reputation around its security and general orderliness. The monthly general cleanup exercises ensure that the capital is often impressively clean compared to many other cities around.
Speaking of cities in the region, I am always taken aback when nature exposes our incompetence as far as developing cities is concerned.
For example, last week, heavy rains literally brought Nairobi to its knees with many parts of the city flooding after a heavy downpour. Similar cases of flooding have been common in Kampala, Dar es Salaam, Bujumbura and some parts of Kigali.
When flooding occurs lives are often lost and property destroyed. Then the blame game starts with everyone blaming another as they wait for the water to subside so they can move on with their lives until the next flooding. It is undeniable that most of this flooding is a result of building in the path of the water and blocking of drainages and yet we all know water will always find a way.
In Nairobi’s Huruma area, this kind of flooding led to the collapse of a six-storey building killing at least 45 people. By the time of writing this over 140 people had been rescued from the debris with 55 still missing. Up to 78 other buildings in the same situation have been identified as having defects, posing a danger to the occupants, while six others have already been demolished.
Situations like Huruma really expose the weaknesses of our city authorities that end up putting people’s lives in danger. It often starts with an area that is clearly a wetland being sold to someone who then dumps stones and soil before constructing a house and narrowing the path of the water.
Cities like Nairobi and Kampala always suffer from flooding because they were built near wetlands and the drainage systems have not kept pace with the level of development that has seen these cities turn into concrete jungles with much more water runoff now than ever before. Homes that used to have green lawns now have concrete pavers.
We need to demand more from our city authorities so that more attention is paid to the issue of city drainage. For example, how come when a building in a wetland collapses and lives are lost we do not hear of officials resigning or being charged with neglect. Our city authorities should be able to brag about how many areas no longer experience floods because of their efforts while in office.
Our cities are growing at a very fast rate and more and more people are coming in from rural areas to try their luck in these cities. However, these cities remain challenged when it comes to issues like public transport and drainage of rainwater, something that says a lot about our so-called urban planners. If they are not planning for this growth then what exactly are they planning for?
Another thing that is worth thinking about is the state of our emergency response systems. Many times when there is a disaster somewhere fire brigade cars can’t even access the area to save lives.
Regarding floods, I think our cities could be safer if we had better warning systems. In case a place is flooded, why don’t we alert people to avoid it instead of watching on as people with small cars drive straight into flood waters?
If we can have policemen at certain areas to arrest drunk drivers I am sure we can have them redirecting traffic away from dangerously flooded roads to save lives. And I don’t know where we even get the idea that it is okay for us to have poor drainage just because we sometimes see pictures of flooded streets in Europe or U.S. We can fix things without looking for excuses to fan mediocrity.