[FEATURED] Transforming Rwanda’s economy through urbanizing and promoting Secondary Cities

According to the 2012 population census results, Rwanda has the highest population density in Africa with 416 people per square km with Kigali being the most densely populated region with 1,556 people living per square km, almost 4 times that of the entire country.

Over the last 5 years, the implementation of the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) 2013/14 – 2017/18 hinged on four thematic areas, namely; Economic Transformation, Rural Development, Productivity and Youth Employment, and Accountable Governance.


Specifically, under “Economic Transformation”, the Government of Rwanda envisaged accelerated economic growth and restructuring of the economy towards more services and industry as we move towards middle income country status.


It is because of this great demand on service delivery for citizens within Kigali that challenged the government to search for solutions on how this will be managed with future population growth.


This is why the Government, as laid out in EDPRS II, looked at developing secondary cities in order to “off-load” the pressure on Kigali, and as a way to manage the needs of a growing population while still delivering quality service to all Rwandans.

In order to avoid undesirable imbalance and provide a better living to all people, Rwanda focused on transformation of the economic geography of Rwanda by facilitating urbanisation and promoting six secondary cities that are serving as poles of growth and investment:: Rubavu, Huye, Rusizi, Muhanga, Musanze and Nyagatare.

In implementing this priority, World Bank has financially supported the GoR in upgrading unplanned six (6) secondary cities mentioned above, which were identified as pilots to be developed as regional centres of growth and investment.

Today, the development of these cities is ensuring more balanced regional growth and opportunities for increased access to off-farm employment for a larger proportion of the population.

The Government of Rwanda has increased attractiveness of these cities by putting in place strategic investments and economic projects including investment in interconnectivity of the road network linking urban areas, secondary cities and affordable housing.

Many public services that were easily available in Kigali, such as inner-city public transport, business registration services, specialised healthcare services, and multiple schooling options, are now available in other cities.

This has made opportunities for investment and potential for a viable social life which attractive people to the capital also available outside of the capital.

While Kigali City needs continuous support to improve management of service provision to an exponentially growing population becoming a regional hub, the Government has simultaneously supported the development of a network of secondary cities.

Over the last year, these secondary cities have gained capacity to generate finances from local revenues to support their development in line with the local development plans.

The plan to develop secondary cities was spearheaded by the Ministry of Infrastructure (MININFRA) and is anchored on prioritizing a hierarchical network of urban and urbanizing centres, providing services and attracting economic activities countrywide.

So with financial support from the World Bank, the implementation of “Rwanda Urbanization Development Project (RUDP)” arose from the GoR’s target of getting the urban population up 35% as stipulated in its Vision 2020, and EDPRS2 to prioritize secondary cities as poles of economic and urban population growth that will promote sustainable development.

According to sources[TH1]  from the Ministry of Infrastructure, in next year’s national budget, a lot of new roads will be constructed in all the secondary cities and focus will be directed on industrial zones.

This program of constructing these roads and drainage system under the Rwanda Urban Development Project (RUDP) will be done in the second phase to help in the creating more job opportunities in these cities.

As journalists toured the six secondary cities towards the end the first phase of the project, sources from the Ministry of Infrastructure revealed that 29 kilometers of tarmac roads have been already constructed under the funding of the World Bank worth 28 million Us dollars which is equivalent to 25 billion Rwandan francs.

According to Eng. Uwihanganye Jean de Dieu, Minister of State in Charge of Transport, the second phase will see over 40 kilometers of tarmac roads constructed in industrial areas.

“Without basing on agriculture, over 80 million francs will be invested in infrastructure projects aimed at developing these six secondary and over 44,000 new jobs will be created by the end of the project” said Uwihanganye.

In order to change and give it a new look to the city, construction of 3 kilometers and 894 meters of roads and drainage system of 1kilometer and 175 meters have been completed in Rubavu funded by the World Bank through Local Administrative Development Authority (LODA).

Rubavu has great potential for domestic tourism. Unlike other lake side towns, it is livelier and on average 45,000 tourists pass through Petite Barrière on a daily basis and over 80,000 cross through Grande Barrière on a daily basis.

Along the trail, a modern state of the art market has been built worth 2 billion francs that will be used by traders crossing the border.

The Branch Manager of Davis &Shirtliff in Rubavu, Niyonsaba Thacien, said that they have decided to open up branches where the new infrastructures like roads and electricity have mushroomed and the company has invested over 100 million francs since 2016.

“We found out that we have markets in Goma, Rusizi and Bukavu because of the economic activities on the lake and because of the frequent power cuts in Goma, we sell many engines and it no longer requires one to go to Kigali for such equipment” said Niyonsaba.

The mayor of Rubavu, Habyarimana Gilbert says that they want Rubavu to be the center of tourism attraction.

“After the new infrastructure, many new commercial buildings have sprung up following the district master plan and many companies want to set factories in Rubavu. Also through RDB, plans are under way to construct a five star hotel and to construct a port that will enhance cargo business” he added.

Investors that have started businesses in Rubavu and other secondary cities are saying that the business is has improved after the construction of these tarmac roads and that many other will come to these cities in future.

Nikuze Anne Marie, who represents the Private Sector Federation at Nyagatare District thanked the Rwandan Government for the plan to develop secondary cities and said that the district is developing at a first rate.

“Considering the speed at which the new infrastructures are rapidly increasing, it is a sign that the future is ours and we as PSF are ready to use these facilities to bring economic development to our District” said Nikuze

“There is going to be a change in the trend of people leaving villages to seek work in Kigali. These cities have the necessary infrastructure and people should come from Kigali and come to invest here because there is less competition” said Kamali John who runs a retail shop in Rusizi.

David Muvunyi a trader in Muhanga says that the town already has the needed new roads and lal that is left is to construct new builds and proper infrastructure.

“We have the good roads now and all that is remaining is removing the old fake buildings and also reducing the congestion in the town center. After that, we should have no reason to think of Kigali as the only option when it comes to doing business” said Muvunyi

The assistant for economic development at Nyarugenge District Nsabimana Vedaste says the Agatare project’s purpose is to rehabilitate residences in the area.

“The 10$ million project plan is to construct 5and half kilometers of tarmac roads and 2 and half kilometers of pedestrian walk ways plus infrastructures like street lights and water trenches for better drainage system” says Nsabimana

He added that after these infrastructures are put in place, Agatare residents will benefit a lot from the project.

“We want to avoid dirty places and after these roads are constructed, residents will have access to a clean environment with less congestion and better security because of the street lights” he added

In Huye, residents said the transformation of the town is changing and they are sure that if they demolish the old building and build new sky scrapers, development is coming their way.

The new mayor of Huye Ange Sebutega said that putting in place new roads is the first step of development and the rest will follow.

“It is good that we are having the new roads constructed in the city and this is the most important step. The construction of new buildings and other infrastructure will definitely be achieved” said Sebutege. 

She added that the district is in talks with land lord of commercial buildings to see how they can rehabilitate them in a short time.

Musanze has become one of Rwanda’s most vibrant cities. This tourism city is abuzz with business activity. Arguably Rwanda’s second largest city, Musanze operates twenty-four hours a day with people trying to make the most of its strategic location.

With these new roads and infrastructures in Musanze, there is going to be a lot of development says John Hills a tourist visiting Virunga for the second time.

“The town is looking much better and cleaner with the new roads and the street lights make all more lively” said Hills

The area is home to most of the last mountain gorillas on earth. The city is teeming with tourists, both local and international, as well as people en route to or from neighboring countries.

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