As Rwanda continues to position itself as a meeting, incentive, conference, and event (MICE), sports, and entertainment hub, the jury is still out as to whether Kigali has a nightlife worth writing home about or not. During the recent BAL Innovation Summit 2023, which looked at the intersection between sports, technology and entertainment, Clare Akamanzi, the CEO of Rwanda Development Board (RDB), pointed out that Kigali has transformed into a vibrant city with many activities for visitors to enjoy. ALSO READ: Businesses wary over unclear directive on noise pollution From the many new hangouts popping up in different corners of the city, including bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and events, Kigali today has a lot to offer not just to tourists, but also to city dwellers who want to have some fun. But why is Kigali still considered a ‘sleepy’ city at night? It is a question only those who make the claim can explain, but one thing is for sure: the country’s entertainment industry and nightlife have developed exponentially over the past decade or so. Without a doubt, entertainment was one of the sectors that were hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, but when the country fully reopened, it picked up where it had left off. New happening bars, swanky restaurants, car-free zones as well as commercial buildings with hotspots for entertainment continue to open in different parts of the city, including Kimihurura, Gisementi, Rwandex, Nyamirambo and parts of Kicukiro, among others. ALSO READ: Noise pollution: we are simply enforcing the law - Police One would wonder then, if Kigali is ‘sleepy’, why do new places open up? However, a quick look around shows that while the industry is growing, it is still hampered by a number of challenges, particularly noise pollution and alcohol consumption restrictions. “We can’t play music at night. The moment police come by, they stop the music without even measuring the decibels of the sound being emitted from the bar,” the proprietor of a popular bar in Gisementi, who asked for anonymity, told The New Times. The bar owner said that the police sometimes do not cooperate or even negotiate to lower the volume, even when it is really low. The noise issue is still a complicated one, he said. Since 2014, Rwanda National Police (RNP) has been enforcing noise pollution guidelines and to date, they continue to remind the public that noise nuisance or pollution is an offence punishable by law in Rwanda. While some say RNP has eased up a bit on enforcing sound restrictions, others like Jane Uwimana, a karaoke host and journalist, said that the guidelines on noise pollution still affect the entertainment industry in more ways than one. “It is true that noise pollution guidelines still affect the entertainment industry. There are many places where people should be going to enjoy good music and sing, but they can’t because these places cannot play music, or risk being fined because of claims of noise pollution. “I say this because I work in the industry. There are many places I cannot perform today because they don’t have soundproofing, the same way you see in a club. Not everybody can afford to put soundproofing for an entire facility.” ALSO READ: The night-time economy: Can we talk about Kigali's nightlife? Uwimana told The New Times that she also cannot play in many places with her live band because the music is considered to be noise pollution, especially when playing outdoors. An example is a bar in town, located in the Central Business District, just above City Plaza, which operates in a non-residential area and previously flourished with clientele and used to host bands, but it was affected by noise pollution restrictions. “The owner had to do some refurbishments and put soundproof, the same way they build a nightclub, but by the time he was done, clients had already found other options and moved on. “In other places where we perform outdoors, we are not allowed to go beyond 10pm. Most of the people who go out actually leave around 10pm or later. They don’t bother to come to these places we perform at and go directly to clubs,” Uwimana added. Her sentiments are shared by Bruce ‘Intore’ Twagira, a show organiser known for bringing major artistes to Rwanda for concerts and his ‘Intore Sundays’ events. He believes noise pollution regulations still hamper the industry. “I think noise pollution is still an issue in some places where venues and bars are in residential areas, but we also have scenarios where residential areas are turned into commercial areas. Therefore, you get fewer complaints, such as Kicukiro Niboye, and Kimihurura. I would say it has improved,” Twagira said. Kigali is not ‘sleeping’ but a few things to fix Isabelle Sindayirwanya often advocates for more open options for entertainment and showbiz, including for children who also find themselves with very few outing options due to the same noise regulations. ALSO READ: The mentality about Kigali’s night life should change Sindayirwanya says that Kigali is no longer a sleepy city because today it boasts amazing nightlife, but a few things need to be tweaked here and there. “Kigali actually doesn’t sleep but the problem is that sometimes people really don’t know where to go and that’s what is unfortunate,” she said, pointing out that even those who make the claim fall into the category of those who do not know where to go. “We have limitless options, from Kicukiro, Niboye which is now booming, Kimihurura is the most vibrant area, Nyamirambo—I can’t even talk about the options there— to Giporoso which now has Molato. All these places are happening and they are really nice places,” Sindayirwanya said. Sindayirwanya said there is a need for more information or what is happening where, especially online directories so that people are able to know what is going on in the city and plan the weekend accordingly. Like Uwimana, Sindayirwanya says that the negative side is that there are no known regulation parameters in Kigali, apart from the existing guidelines, which are not very specific on how noise levels are determined. Sindayirwanya said some places like Bicu Lounge in town are very nice and brought a good vibe to the CBD, making it alive again. However, one anonymous neighbour is always complaining to the police about noise pollution, which has rendered the hangout dormant. “I thought that this place had everything to be operating in a commercial area, but the moment they have one resident, it becomes residential, which does not make sense at all. “If we could have a middle ground where citizens know that there is a certain level of noise from this time to this time, I think it will help everyone. In general, the businesses will not suffer or will not be randomly closed by the police,” Sindayirwanya argued. The Police Spokesperson, CP John Bosco Kabera, told The New Times that RNP cannot relent on enforcing noise pollution regulations, warning bars and hotel owners and concert and event organisers to continue abiding by the guidelines or risk being fined. “People should comply with existing guidelines on noise pollution. You do not need the police to teach you how to comply because we will do it in the form of enforcement, which is not helpful at all,” CP Kabera said. Some bar owners, however, say noise pollution regulations are no longer a challenge, especially if operating in an area designated as an entertainment zone. Brigitte Kanyange, the proprietor and manager of Fuchsia Bar and Lounge, located in Remera, commonly known as ‘Kwa Jules’, says that RNP is now less strict on sound since they operate in a designated zone. She, however, argued that the biggest problem they face today is the effect of the alcohol test after police intensified the crackdown on drunk driving. “People are no longer coming to the bar because they fear they will be arrested for drunk driving. That is the challenge we face today. People choose to drink from home or their neighbourhoods,” Kanyange said, citing low client traffic. Kabera said that by now everybody should know the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol. “On driving under the influence of alcohol, I thought everyone knows it by now, but even those who don’t should know. Those who do it must stop. Drinking is not an offence, but make sure if you drink, get a designated driver to drive you,” Kabera said. Violators of the noise pollution laws and regulations are investigated and punished under the law determining offences and penalties in general, the law on environment, and other regulations from competent organs. Normally, places found guilty of breaching noise pollution guidelines are fined Rwf500, 000 while those found to be driving under the influence of alcohol are fined Rwf150, 000, the vehicle confiscated, with five days in detention.