Kigali no longer has the monopoly on nightlife, thanks to the growth of nighttime businesses operating around the city, and the ever increasing number of visitors that has become an important part of the equation when it comes to creating and shaping nightlife policy.
For Axelle Umutesi, an entertainment reporter in Kigali, Rwandans do not have to wait for December holidays anymore to be entertained. This, she attributes to the exposure that Rwandans from other countries that are well vast with the nighttime business.
“Of late, events are cropping up in Kigali and people can always have something to look forward to every month in Kigali throughout the year, except for the second week of April ofcourse, a sign that the city’s nightlife has tremendously improved over the years.
‘‘Many Rwandans used to travel outside the country to have fun but have learned that they do not have to do that and are now bringing concepts here in an innovative manner that suits our preferences, because we do not exactly have to copy what others are doing.
‘‘Also, given the increasing number of visitors, I think that our hospitality nature prompts us to get creative and to be able to entertain our guests,” she says.
But as Rwanda positions itself as a hub for international meetings, conferences and high end tourism, some people have criticised Kigali’s nightlife, especially on the aspect of the implementation of noise pollution laws.
VJ Nano, a veteran DJ in Kigali who has been in the nighttime trade for a decade, believes that Kigali’s nightlife has evolved with the advent of social media. The veteran DJ however believes that night-time operators are affected by tight regulation of the night-time economy.
“In the past years, people hardly went out during weekdays but with time, they began sharing information freely from other cities and it started and nighttime entertainment started to pick up. However, with the law on noise pollution, the vibe reduced,” he says.
There have been complaints recently on social media that Police spoils the fun when it orders bars to switch off music accusing them of violating noise pollution laws, something that bar owners and revelers disagree with.
Edmund Kagire, a journalist, recently tweeted that Police had ordered the switching off of music at Fuschia bar and lounge in Remera
This enlisted several responses with many wondering whether the implementation of noise pollution laws are poorly implemented.
Article 600 of the Penal Code gives Rwanda National Police authorisation to take action against any emission of noise that disrupts the neighbourhood.
The article further says any person found guilty of making noise and night disturbance in a way that causes trouble among people, shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of eight days to two months and a fine of Rwf50, 000 to Rwf1 million or one of these penalties.
The Police spokesperson for the city of Kigali, Emmanuel Hitayezu, explains that Rwanda National Police’s intentions are to promote businesses which, for them, starts with prevention of noise pollution.
“Nightlife contributes to the city’s development which sounds good, but it sometimes also comes with a downside. Before we had the (city) masterplan a few years ago, people set up businesses however and whenever they wanted but people now know their rights and want to rest after a long day at work. We need to protect their rights,” he says.
Kigali being the one that defines Rwandan nightlife, it has experienced an increase in residential development that may have undermined that claim to fame.
Umutesi is of the view that the paradox lies in the urban neighbourhood that draws new residents for its fun restaurants and bustling nightlife, but then those same residents loathe nighttime noise. They grow irate and complain to the authorities and the bar owners find themselves frequently visited by the police.
“As our nightlife is increasingly becoming economic, people planning to start up businesses need to think ahead and set up happening places in areas that will be convenient both to the clients and residents who prefer to sleep instead. We need party animals but residents too need to live peacefully.
It’s not about punishing people, it’s about fixing the problem because in a real community, everyone has to compromise in order to live together,” she says.
With innovations in technology, many nightclubs have employed extensive soundproofing to keep music contained within the walls, while open bars are required to use sound meters to minimise noise.
Hitayezu adds that the police forms self-regulatory committees that are made up of bar owners who work with them in maintaining peace and noise free environment.
“There are steps we follow before closing down the place. We give room for the self-regulatory committees to keep an eye on each other before we actually step in. After 10pm we ask open bars to reduce the volume or else we confiscate their machines because people need to rest. It has worked and bar owners have learned to comply with the rules. Of late, we are receiving fewer complaints from people,” he says.
“Our aim is to let the City of Kigali be vibrate without infringing on people’s rights. Noise pollution has a big impact on the productivity of the people at work,” Hitayezu adds, “which in the long run has an impact on the economy. Noise pollution can also have an impact on someone’s health, in the long run, which is why we work with the City of Kigali to have these rules regulated.”
Jules Kalisa, the proprietor of Fuchsia bar lounge, commonly referred to as ‘kwa Jules’, argues that despite meeting all the regulatory requirements, there seems to be a misunderstanding of the rules between the police and the bar proprietors.
“I agree that noise pollution is not good but the policymakers must set clear rules to solve the conflict that we have with the police. We were required to buy the sound meters which we use but we have had cases where police officers still confiscate our music equipment or tell us to completely put off the sound.
‘‘When music is not playing, our clients begin to leave the bars, yet we invest a lot of money in them. Beverage companies also pay a lot of taxes to have their beverages sold, the police needs to let people spend their money and have fun in peace,” he says.
Eric Soul, an event planner, agrees with Kalisa, saying, that sometimes the police “acts randomly and without tolerance at all.”
I think that there has to be conversation between the private sector, City of Kigali and policymakers to understand that the regulations need to work in line with the VisitRwanda initiative because a great city deserves a great party and people stay because they are having fun,” he says.
With Kigali’s masterplan, Kalisa says that the noise pollution regulation should not apply to areas like his that are business oriented.
“It’s a pity how our country is commended for its safety, hospitality and cleanliness but our entertainment industry still has some loopholes. My bar is surrounded by other bars and lodges, who all play music, we don’t affect anyone because residents have all since shifted,” he says.
He adds: “the policymakers should also realise the impact that a vibrant nightlife can have on an economy. During CHAN (last year), we had many visitors streaming in all the bars around and never at one point did the police turn up or complain about the noise.”
More room for creativity and innovation
VJ Nano believes that some of these big events have started to take root upcountry which is proof that Rwandans are beginning to consider entertainment seriously.
He, however, notes that there is still room for creativity and innovations especially in Kigali where he believes options of hanging out are limited.
“Beverage companies also need to up their game,” he adds, “because they can make a great impact on our nightlife. Look at how people look forward to the Beerfest, but it happens once a year. It’s not just about their events, but they could also sponsor people who want to be innovative with events and make Kigali more vibrant.
City of Kigali also needs to be creative and often come up with events to entertain people because when we all do the same things, entertainment becomes boring,” he adds.