Its 7AM and people are rushing to office. Pockets of traffic jam form along the roads leading to the city centre. It’s a scene to behold when you take a glimpse at the line of spotless clean and posh cars moving bumper to bumper. Forget about the empty roads that were graced by a few Twegeranes and taxi-motos 10 years ago. Today, if you stand on any road in Kigali, you will marvel in awe at how Kigalians have upgraded their taste for nice cars. Anyone who has lived in Rwanda for the past 10 years knows that the best cars on Kigali roads back then were not cars that were befitting of a city hailed as a symbol of modernisation. However, fast forward 2016, the rapid modernisation of Kigali has also seen more people splash some money on posh and expensive cars, adding a tinge of sophistication and class to the clean streets. Expensive luxury cars are a common sight on our streets now. From business persons to civil servants, there is something about owning a nice car that is becoming a trend in Kigali. It’s common to see the latest models of Range Rover, Mercedes Benz, BMW and Chevrolet cars on the streets. Other people are going an extra mile to add Maserati and Ferrari to their collection. The Mercedes is popular on the streets of Kigali. But at what cost are these cars getting on the roads? Is it that more Rwandans now have an extra cheque to splash on luxury cars, some going for as much as Rwf100m? Or is it a sign of keeping up appearances for the urban elites? Vincent Mutabaruka, a businessman, says owning a posh car is a status symbol, for any one would love to acquire one. “Many people have fallen prey to the “our car defines us” mentality,” says Mutabaruka. Mutabaruka says that he has seen people who think their cars or other material possessions define who they are, but forget that who they are has nothing to do with what they own because cars are, on one side, a luxury, and, on the other, a necessity, depending on who owns it. If someone is a businessman, they’ll need a car to move around but if one has an office job, a car might not be a priority. Some people argue that it makes no sense to own a car before you own a home. (Net photo) However, he argues that for most people in Rwanda, owning a posh car is more about their standing in society and how they are perceived rather than what they really need the car for. “It’s like a trend. A person gets a job that pays around Rwf500,000 and the first thing they do is buy a car. I’m not saying that it’s bad but in most cases the car is on loan. To make matters worse, young people are going for expensive cars and I think it’s all a show off because I don’t understand how a millionaire drives a Pajero and a bank teller drives a Benz,” he said. Indeed, according to most people I talked to, most of them admitted to buying cars because they wanted to ‘fit in’ with their friends while others said it was to show their status level. “Remember that Rwandans love brands, particularly premium ones. This is also true of smartphones, tablets, even clothes; they want to be seen wearing a well-known brand. Since the middle class is growing, most of them want to be associated with widely respected car brands like Benz, Range Rovers, BMW’s and others. I don’t think it’s all about necessity,” said Bonfils Ntirenganya, a businessman. Ntireganya says that recently his friend, also a businessman, imported a 2014 Range Rover Evoque at over Rwf 80m. Osman Manzi is a car dealer in Kigali andsays most of the people buying nice cars are the business men and corporates. “Most of my customers are middle class people whose average salary is between Rwf500,000 and Rwf800,000 and their reasons for buying nice cars vary. However, most of them buy cars for appearance purposes. A car is instrumental in elevating someone’s status in society or even among his peers,” he says. Some people say they bought expensive cars because they wanted to ‘fit in’ with their friends. (Photos by F. Niyigena) According to Manzi, this trend is not about to end but rather it’s on the rise. He also adds that he has heard of people who buy cars because women are attracted to a man who has a car. There’s some truth about this because a few women I talked to spoke of how they find it attractive when they are approached by a man who owns a car. “Most people will say that it’s shallow thinking but not shallower than men getting attracted to a woman just because of her looks. Most women are attracted to rich men, since they are the ones that own a car and this is not a recent phenomenon. We focus on questions of wealth and status because if the male possesses those, that male would be in a better position to become my spouse,” says Anita Kanziga. Kanziga also says that this basic human trait will not change in the future even as women become more independent and wealthy in their own right. She also says that it appears that the stereotype of women being positively influenced by a man’s status is true. And although there’s a growing number of women in high-paying careers, this still has no effect on how attractive they are to men because what you find is that these new, wealthy women still show a preference for high-status males. By the look of things, the purchase of high end cars is not about to stop and whether they put a dent in wallets is a story for another day. For now, more high-end cars are setting up in the East African region and it won’t be long before car companies set up shop in Rwanda. email@example.com ********************************************* YOUR VOICE: Is a car a necessity or a luxury? Veronica Tindichebwa, radio personality Veronica Tindichebwa Well it all depends on the nature of one’s work. For example, my work requires me to be mobile so I definitely need a car .I’m an MC ,I am called to different universities to be a motivation speaker. I’m a radio personality and actress so to me a car is a necessity. Plus I have to drop my kids to school. If the demand for it is overwhelming, yes I would get a loan, but I need to first make sure that the loan doesn’t interfere with the balance of my savings. John Butare John Butare The question itself answers all misconceptions about it being a necessity or a luxury. As long as most people who own a car do so because their friend has one, it will continue to be considered a luxury. Besides, I also don’t understand why a person who is renting will buy a car instead of saving up to buy land or have an investment. I guess people have different reasons for buying a car but to me, I think it’s a luxury. Doreen Diana Umwali, businesswoman Doreen Diana Umwali It’s not a luxury. I used to think so before my son started school. When I see how much money I spend as cab fare, I realise I have to work hard and get myself one for the boys. Personally, I am not a loan person, so no; I wouldn’t get a loan to buy a car. There are bigger things that require a loan, and a car is not on that list. A simple car is all one needs. People are different, I personally would plan to buy a house first. Fiona Ayinkamiye Fiona Ayinkamiye In today’s world, it is very difficult to precisely define what a necessity is and what a luxury is. One man’s luxury may be another’s necessity. In today’s fast moving world everything once considered luxury has swiftly become essential. Owning a car gives status to some but it becomes a mode of transport for others to commute to and fro various places. Basically, I think it depends on the reason a person bought the car in the first place. Irene Babirye, human resource manager Irene Babirye A car is an absolute necessity. My testimony is that it makes life easier for someone if you can afford its maintenance. With a car, the time taken to get to a place is less, which is not the same with public transport, because even in heavy traffic jam, you can use a shorter route. You don’t have to share space with people reeking of alcohol, or even tolerate the dirty unwashed interiors in taxis. Sometimes after a long day I want to drive in silence without any disturbance or nagging from different people. Marion Tuhairwe Marion Tuhairwe In today’s fast life, a car is a necessity for a family living in urban areas. It is necessary because it is safer as compared to other means of transport available like motor bikes because they are too dangerous. In the case of an accident on modern roads, a car may get damaged with minor injuries, or none at all, to passengers, whereas in the case of a motor bike, it is very dangerous. Gilbert Mwebaze, DJ Gilbert Mwebaze A car is a necessity but I wouldn’t get a loan to buy one. Given how much it costs to rent taxis and pickup trucks, the money you spend on one cab ride can fuel your car for half a week if you need to transport stuff all the time then you need it. Technically you can get a loan but if it’s for business purposes, otherwise, I would rather save and buy it. Denis Kanyesigye Denis Kanyesigye People always think of comfort when moving from one place to another. These things start out as luxuries and, in the long run, become necessities. It is a combination, I suppose. On the one hand, cars are necessary to get to certain places in a certain time frame; such as work. On the other hand, it can be a luxury, you can drive around, you can invest massive amounts of money in your car, making it ‘prettier’ or ‘sound better’ and so on.