Urbanisation through secondary cities: Why and how

Rwanda has the highest population density in Africa with 416 people per square km, according to the 2012 population census results, and the second in the world after South Korea.
Helene Cyr & Sheila Kyarisiima
Helene Cyr & Sheila Kyarisiima

Rwanda has the highest population density in Africa with 416 people per square km, according to the 2012 population census results, and the second in the world after South Korea.

When it comes to Kigali, it is the most densely populated region within Rwanda with 1,556 people living per square km, almost 4 times that of the entire country. This places great demand on service delivery for citizens within Kigali and challenges the government to search for solutions on how this will be managed with future population growth.

This is why the Government, as laid out in EDPRS II, is looking at developing secondary cities in order to “off-load” the pressure on Kigali, and as a way to manage the needs of a growing population while still delivering quality service to all Rwandans. This is particularly important in order for Rwanda to achieve middle-income status in the next 5 years.

If one looks around the world, it is evident that countries that have achieved or surpassed middle-income status have several city centres, or if not, they suffer from great imbalance between the rich and the poor.

In order to avoid this undesirable imbalance and provide a better living to all people, Rwanda will focus on urbanisation of 6 secondary cities. These six cities will serve as poles of growth and investment, and have been pre-selected as: Rubavu, Huye, Rusizi, Muhanga, Musanze and Nyagatare.

This pre-selection, along with careful prioritisation, will allow planned and structured urbanisation that can ultimately improve the lives of the 90% of population living outside Kigali, as well as the ones in Kigali with decreased demand on services and infrastructure.

Striking the right balance between investing in these cities to create urban-rural migration and waiting for urban-rural migration to occur before investments are made is critical.

There is a danger of creating ghost cities if investments are made prior to sufficient migration, and most importantly understanding the needs and capacity of the local population. Ghost cities are essentially brought about by investments in the real estate in suburban cities that many of the citizens cannot afford to live in, thus leaving these properties unoccupied and the cities practically empty. They are not a foreign concept as we have seen around the world, in places like China, Ireland, Spain and in Africa; Angola.

However, the government can encourage urban-rural migration and limit rural-urban migration by providing key incentives for people in the planned secondary cities.

These incentives include: competitive employment opportunities, strong social support systems in the health and education sectors, and low cost housing. Employment opportunities can be created through decentralisation of some of the services currently offered in Kigali, along with the promotion of skills development.

For example, with the promotion of TVET education, these secondary cities can become self-sustaining with service-based employment in construction, plumbing, beautician services, among others.

This goes hand-in-hand with the development of infrastructure for transportation, energy and water in order to improve inner city transport, specialised health care services and multiple schooling options for citizens in these areas.

The government cannot achieve this without the change in mind-set of Rwandans. For several Rwandans living in rural areas, moving to Kigali is the ultimate dream. Many forget that the competition for services and employment opportunities is greatest in the capital city, and cost of living is the highest by far.

With the development of the above-mentioned secondary cities, Rwandans living outside Kigali can therefore realise better standards of living without having to migrate to Kigali, as well as a sense of ownership and pride in their “home city” development.

Co-authored by:Helene Cyr (helene_cyr@hotmail.com) and Sheila Kyarisiima (kyarsh@gmail.com)


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