Kigali’s new Mayor has his work cut out

A friend of mine recently dropped by Kigali from Kampala for a few days. We met for a drink and one of the things that had caught his eye was the fact that the road on the side of the Kigali Convention Centre was closed off. He found this out as he tried to get to the newly opened Kigali Heights, the city’s latest addition to the commercial real estate inventory. It is such things that many now use to mark time when talking about Kigali city.

A friend of mine recently dropped by Kigali from Kampala for a few days. We met for a drink and one of the things that had caught his eye was the fact that the road on the side of the Kigali Convention Centre was closed off. He found this out as he tried to get to the newly opened Kigali Heights, the city’s latest addition to the commercial real estate inventory. It is such things that many now use to mark time when talking about Kigali city.

The city is always changing and a few months away could be all one needs to qualify for some sort of orientation on what is new around here. New buildings come up, new roads come up, and new ways of doing things also keep popping up while old ways and structures fade away quietly. Others come around and are shocked to find that some of their commuter buses are already cashless with tech machines having rendered some humans idle.

Corporate companies and organisations also regularly change location to new offices while others are formed or swallowed up in mergers and buyouts. The famous Kigali prison better known as “1930” after the year it was built is now almost empty as the prisoners have been moved to make way for it to become a hotel/museum.

Such constant changes have not spared the political space too with the city now having a new Mayor, Pascal Nyamulinda. He replaces Monique Mukaruliza who was recently appointed as Rwanda’s High Commissioner to Lusaka, Zambia. The office of the city Mayor is one of the hottest seats one can occupy in Rwanda. There is a lot of pressure to deliver up to the high standards that people have now grown used to, especially regarding security and cleanliness.

One mobile phone being snatched by street thugs will lead to cries of, “I did not know that such things happen in Kigali.” When there is a heavy downpour that leaves Nyabugogo area looking like a pond, many will express shock as to how such a thing can happen in a city better known for neat palm tree-lined roads. Put plainly, Kigali has created a brand of being efficient and any lapse is judged harshly with most of the ire being directed at the City Hall.

The new Mayor will have to streamline how the city communicates in order to avoid being in a fire fighting mode most of the time. Listening to what people say about the city, especially on social media (who still drops suggestions into those useless suggestion boxes that used to grace offices?) and comments aired on radio. Listening in on the voices being aired via social media is very critical especially because young people patronise these platforms.

These young people have the most interest in how the city will look because it is where they hope to live as the older folks retire out of the city. Also communicating well using social media will be crucial to making the life of the new Mayor less stressful. This being 2017, the city will have to create a more robust social media team to keep churning out content and engaging with ‘netizens’ (does anyone still use that word today?) of Kigali and beyond.

I have been privileged to meet the two previous mayors and if I were to meet the new one, I would still insist that they should quickly find ways of integrating people in the designs of the city’s awesomeness. Having green spaces and no park benches (the ones at bus stops do not count) makes a pain to the ordinary person. Having car free zones that are just spaces for young people to sit and tap onto free (but slow) wifi makes little sense.

Kigali as a city is growing so fast and any measures aimed at making it a great city have to be quite timely to for instance fix the issue of water shortages that people are now getting used to which is simply absurd. The city cannot be a great place if something as basic as water is a challenge. Good luck to Mr Nyamulinda on his new role.

ssenyonga@gmail.com

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