Kigali’s downtown business district, popularly known as Quartier Mateus, is regarded as the nerve centre of trading in the country.
Billions exchange hands every day and it always resembles a beehive; the narrow crowded streets are swarmed by trucks loading and unloading their wares. The fact that Mateus is one of the oldest parts of the city means that most shops have seen better days and their installations haphazard and a menace.
It is not surprising that whenever a fire breaks out, it spreads quickly and access becomes problematic, and in a short while, hundreds of millions are lost in the infernos.
But pouring the blame solely on the old structures for the fires would be unfair. Most Kigali buildings are fire traps because of lax construction laws that were in place in the past. Now, that all is about to change.
The enactment by the government of the new stringent laws to guard against fires is a welcome development. Not only will all buildings have to adhere to strict fire prevention measures – such as smoke detectors, sprinklers and fire hoses on each floor, local governments will also be obliged to install hundreds of fire hydrants and regular inspections will be carried out.
But as long as city authorities do not enforce the new Kigali Master Plan and raze Mateus to give way to modern buildings, the fire hazards will continue to linger. The time to act is now before more losses are incurred.