Twice a month, parts of Kigali city turn into a car-free zone where residents engage in physical activity from 7am to 10am. People hit the streets to walk, run or ride bicycles, among other activities.
The exercise was introduced two years ago by Kigali City Council, in partnership with Rwanda Biomedical Centre, in a bid to promote a healthy lifestyle.
Statistics from the World Health Organisation indicate that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory ailments are the main causes of death today, with more than 36 million people worldwide dying annually.
The car-free day package includes free medical check-ups, aimed at preventing and fighting NCDs, for the public.
Chantal Rwakazina, the Mayor, City of Kigali, says that this activity was initiated mainly to encourage a healthy lifestyle; a programme designed to fight non-communicable diseases.
Aside from that, it is an opportunity for society to engage and interact. The car-free day also provides a platform where vital information is relayed to the public, and approximately 6000 people take part, she says.
The Mayor applauds the public’s response to the initiative, saying that this will surely help in achieving the targeted objective.
“When it was starting, the people attending were very few but now the number is growing; and this is a good indicator. We now hold the car-free day twice a month because people asked for it. And we are thinking of doing a quick survey with the participants to see if they want to have it more frequently,” Rwakazina says.
To address people’s needs further, Rwakazina says they are encouraging all sectors to organise sports activities in between the two Sundays within their particular village cells.
Roads closed for the car-free day include the main road from Bank of Kigali in the city centre, down to SOPETRAD up to Amahoro Stadium in Remera.
Since the activities are held on a Sunday, Christians attending mass remain with alternative routes they can access to attend church.
he car-free day package includes free medical check-ups.
Is it achieving its objectives?
Rwakazina says they are achieving a lot in terms of quality and quantity because a lot of people participate, and the quality is great since they fully utilise the time for what it is slated for.
She also notes that the environment is also protected as it helps in reducing carbon emission.
The Mayor notes that there is need to quantify these results and be able to show this in figures.
“This way, we will be able to know exactly how much the initiative is impacting our society,” she says.
Potential tourist package
Sunny Ntayombya, Head of Communications and Marketing at Rwanda Development Board, says the car-free day is a great initiative, in terms of health and environmentalism.
He says cleaner air and a healthy population is an obvious boon for development. In addition, car-free day is an opportunity for local Kigali businesses to engage with the hundreds of potential customers who participate in the monthly event.
“Rwanda is well known in the tourism community as a leader in eco-tourism. We are renowned for the fact that we banned plastic bags. With car-free day, we have even more evidence to show the rest of the world our ‘green’ credentials. This will attract even more tourists who care about the environment,” he adds.
Ntayombya encourages the private sector to partner with the City of Kigali to examine how to create more value in the car-free day.
Regarding this aspect, the Mayor reveals that a number of partners have approached them, citing potential of the initiative turning into a tourism product of sorts.
“Many are coming to learn from us. There is an association of francophone mayors from all over the world who are having a general assembly in France this year in November. Their theme will be centred on sports in the community, and they came to learn from the car-free day event we hold here, they even made a documentary which will be presented during that conference,” Rwakazina says.
She cites a case where international media that came for the recently concluded Kwita Izina (gorilla naming ceremony) stormed the car-free day exercise because they wanted to see how it was done.
“I believe that at some point this will become a tourism package, this is why I am planning to have talks with Rwanda Development Board and see how we can achieve this target,” Rwakazina says.
Participants share their views
Jean Luc Imfurayacu, a journalist and frequent participant of the car-free day exercise, says this initiative has a huge impact on society because people have a chance to do sports, which keeps them healthy, and, they also get to socialise.
“The first time I took part I had gone to cover a story, but what I saw made me a regular participant. People have access to training from professionals yet such services in places like gyms have to be paid for,” he says.
Patience Asiimwe, another regular participant, says car-free day came at the right time where people’s lives are getting busier each day. She, therefore, says such an initiative gives people the opportunity to shake off the week’s stress from work and other worries of life.
“There are so many benefits attached to the car-free day, the most important being promotion of a sports culture which in turn promotes a healthy lifestyle. The other one is that once again Rwanda is going to serve as an example to so many countries in the world with this unique initiative,” she says.
Asiimwe urges more people to take part in this initiative, saying that the benefits attached to it are too many and too important to miss.
“You get to meet new people, get new skills, create new hobbies and most importantly, get free medical check-ups,” Asiimwe says.
What are your views on car-free day?
It is of great importance because it gives people an opportunity to exercise and socialise. You get to meet different people and share ideas on how best to stay fit. Also, since I am not enthusiastic about working out on my own, joining a group of people gives me morale. Such days give good vibes and energy for the coming week.
Davis Twahirwa, Sales Representative
I think it has made a good impact. Though I have only participated a few times, I encourage people to take part. It is the best way to engage with society; find time off your busy schedule to meet up with other people. It is for a good cause and I highly commend it.
Axelle Mutesi, TV Presenter
It surely does have an impact and I hope other countries can learn from this. It is one way to promote a clean environment and ensure that people are leading healthier lives.
Abraham Kiiza, Editor
I am really proud of our country for coming up with such an initiative. I believe this is the best way to create unity and at the same time, fight deadly diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
Annet Imbabazi, Student