The stretch from La Palisse Nyandugu, through Cumi na Gatanu and Cumi n’Icyenda, along the Kigali-Kayonza highway, will never be the same.
Since Saturday, the small residential houses and shops that lined the road are being razed by the City of Kigali, in a move authorities say is aimed at protecting residents from dire consequences of the heavy rains that continue to pound the country.
At the site, the men demolishing houses casually share stories and jokes, their voices sometimes growing loud enough to mask the falling walls.
Near the debris, heaps of saucepans and assorted household items are covered in bedsheets form two little heaps. Young children sit nearby guarding the items.
Sorting through the debris, collecting bricks from the ruins is Sylvie Musabyeyezu.
Until Saturday, Musabyeyezu and her three children were renting a very tiny house at Mulindi for Rwf12, 000.
She is one of the few people that did not relocate when the authorities started urging locals to evacuate from high-risk zones as rains continue to wreak havoc.
One of the houses that were demolished at Cumi na Gatanu in Kigali City. / Photo: Craish Bahizi
Musabyeyezu says she could not move out on time due to various issues, including financial constraints.
“The Executive Secretary asked me to go back to the village, but I cannot go home [Kayonza] because I don’t feel safe there due to some family wrangles,” she explained.
For now, Musabyeyezu says that she is stranded, with neither the money to rent a house or a lodge for her family.
A matter of time
According to the relocation policy, only people who own the property they were occupying at the time of the demolition can be given money for temporary accommodation. The amount ranges between Rfw60,000 and Rfw150,000.
Espere Habimana, who owns three small houses (two residential and one commercial) in the area, says that before the demolition, several meetings had been held with the authorities to explain the relocation plan, adding that most property owners knew that it was a matter of time before the demolitions began.
“When we were informed, some people were quick to digest the news, but there are others who were in denial and thought it would take many years before the Government would put its plan into motion. All red-flagged commercial houses have been unoccupied for two years, so it was just a matter of time,” he said.
Contrary to reports in some local media outlets, not only “shabby” houses are being demolished.
A member of La Palisse Hotel senior management team who asked to remain anonymous gave The New Times a tour of the facility, part of which has also been razed this past week after it was found to have encroached on a wetland.
What is left of what used to be their gymnasium is a big heap of rubble. He says that there are instructions for the hotel’s Olympic size swimming pool to be also demolished.
Asked if he was surprised by the move, he admitted that while he was aware of the plans, it was only on Saturday that the management was informed to move the equipment since demolition would begin that morning.
“We knew of the plan but we were told of the immediate demolition on Saturday. This has affected our operations mainly due to the demolition of the gym hall and the swimming pool,” he said.
According to the Executive Secretary of Nyarugunga Sector, Genevieve Uwamahoro, while a meeting was held on December 10 to remind property owners of the impending demolition, they have been aware since early 2018.
“Whatever is being done is within the confines of the law. The property owners have been aware of the relocation for almost two years now. We held a meeting recently to remind them so there is no surprise or unfairness because people were given enough time,” she said.
Upon announcing the plan to demolish the houses this past weekend, residential house owners – not tenants – were given money to find temporary shelter, before compensation negotiations begin.
According to the Vice-Mayor of Kicukiro District in charge of Social Affairs, Emmanuel Bayingana, although there is a plan to compensate property owners, funds to be disbursed will cover houses, not the land.
“By January 2020, compensation funds will be ready. However, people will not be reimbursed for the land because wetlands are government property. The money will only be paid on buildings and other on-land property that was valued in the evaluation process,” he said.
After clearing the debris the land will then be handed to Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), under whose jurisdiction wetlands fall.
In a tweet, the City of Kigali said the relocation is going on in different parts of the city as part of the effort to ensure lives are saved amid heavy rains that have led to flooding of wetlands and mudslides in hilly areas.
“For those who had built with permission from competent authorities, houses are being built for them where they will be settled once they are completed, however, what is more important at the moment is to save lives,” reads the tweet.
According to official statistics, from September to December 8, 2019, 2,803 houses have been destroyed by rain-related disasters. Of these, 512 were in high-risk zones.
From January to December 2019, the number of deaths caused by the disasters reached 110 people; 232 were injured; 4,891 houses were damaged; 9843.5 ha of crops damaged and 109 cows lost.
From the end of November to date, 15 people have been killed in the country as a result of torrential rains. Of these, six were killed by floods, two died when houses collapsed on them while seven were killed by landslides. 22 sustained injuries.
Damaged infrastructure includes 191 classrooms, a health centre, 15 roads, 50 churches, 24 bridges, 20 administrative offices, 6 water supply transmission lines, 4 markets, and 2 factories.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government, Samuel Dusengiyumva, told The New Times that, as a result of the numbers above, preventive measures have been taken by leaders.
“So far, 4,319 households have been evacuated from high-risk zones to safer locations, mostly schools and churches, where they are being supported with necessities,” he said.
He pointed out that, besides that, disaster management committees at the district level are currently operating regularly to monitor the implementation of all strategies aimed at preventing disaster.
Dusengiyumva called on places of worship and other establishments where many people gather to install lightning rods to prevent lightning incidents.