If they can't find another road let them eat cake

In the recent past the City of Kigali has been accused of poor decision-making. There was the hotly debated car-free zone downtown. For instance, a fortnight ago the fury was about the city’s refusal – because repeating the same thing becomes so – to effectively communicate on matters relating to the closure of key roads in and out of the city.

In the recent past the City of Kigali has been accused of poor decision-making. There was the hotly debated car-free zone downtown.

For instance, a fortnight ago the fury was about the City’s refusal—because repeating the same thing becomes so—to effectively communicate on matters relating to the closure of key roads in and out of the city. But consistent refusal also produces a pattern called attitude, and it gets worse when that attitude suggests dereliction.

Let’s unpack this attitude. Most of us recall the time the City decided to kick motorcycle operators out of town so that it could reduce commotion. The city’s heart was in the right place, if only there had been some consideration for the livelihoods affected—the motards and their dependents.

Consider this. It is estimated that 10,000 motorcyclists operate in the city. At a very basic level you have undermined the livelihood of 10,000 households because you do not have alternative income for them. But we also know that most of these operators do not own the motorcycles. This means that they are responsible for the survival of the motorcycle owner too. So, with addition of the owner, that is 20,000 livelihoods at stake.

More still, we know that in most cases there is an operator for the day shift and another for the night shift, a practice that is known among motorcyclists as kuroba or kurobesha.

Now, a conservative estimate of one-third who dabble in this practice gives us total of 23,000 households. Multiply that by 4.6, the average size of a Rwandan household and you have a new total of 100,000 livelihoods affected by just one decision—to remove motorcyclists from Kigali.

More recently it was the bicyclists. They also carry passengers, but also light goods from point A to point B. Their passengers are those who cannot afford the 300 francs minimum the motorcyclists charge and must use a bicycle that charges 100 francs. If you have paid attention you have seen the sweat on their faces which suggests that if they have a better alternative for making a living they’d do that. In other words, if the city would offer it, they’d take it—in a hurry.

In both cases, the President had to intervene to overturn the directives by reminding the City authorities that they too pay taxes and are entitled to use public roads.

City Hall’s obsession with roads, though, never ceases. It has another innovation—also noble.

It wants to encourage its residents to partake in sports in order to promote healthy living. As intentions go this has to be one of the best. But the problem is that Kigali’s digestive track is the road they are closing. You close any part of the Nyabugogo (taxi park) to Kimironko (market) and you are plugging the digestive tract at which point feeding is only possible through a tube—gutera serumu.

The City, more than anyone else, ought to know that thousands of people go to buy foodstuff (kurangura imyaka) from the Kimironko market using the road it wants to use for sports. Close your eyes and you will see that woman who goes to the market to buy a sack of potatoes at 280 francs a kilo and resells them in her neighbourhood at 300 francs a kilo.

Here’s the importance of that 20 francs profit. Consider the national poverty line of around 185,000 francs for the year. Divide that by 356 days and you get 500 francs per day. This woman needs to sell 25 kilos everyday to stay afloat per the poverty line.

We don’t want her to sink, do we? So, why do our actions betray our intentions? Poverty is vulnerability, the absence of resilience to withstand even the smallest of shocks. Indeed, a decision to close any part of the road she uses to get to the market represents a shock—even if it’s for half a day.

To be sure, the City says that abo bantu baba babateguje. That’s good. However, for such a person that is the difference between an excuse and an explanation. For instance, telling me that you won’t be cooking tomorrow won’t stop me from getting hungry—simply because I was warned; and if your expectation was that I should stock up, it means that you are taking for granted my ability to do so.

Specifically on closing roads for sports, for years now Friday afternoons have been set aside for sports, with public servants given most of the afternoons off (ku munsi wa siporo). Why not close the roads on that day—ku munsi wabigenewe?

But Friday is a working day, right? Which explains why the City never fails to use language like “mu minsi y’akazi…”. Now—at the risk of overkill, of course—for a person straddling along the poverty line isn’t the idea of “umunsi w’akazi” rather strange? Utari uw'akazi se ni ryari?

Finally, let the joggers use the alternate routes. There they will find others to join them instead of having to drive somewhere first, park their cars, then start running. Or, err, they could gather around different stadia in Kigali—Nyamirambo, Mumena, Amahoro, etc.

In other words, let the stadia and roads do what they were built for. And if it must be a road, there’s the car-free zone downtown.

 

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