Kigali city seeks to strike balance between need for bustling nightlife and noise pollution restrictions

Music lovers dance at a concert in Kigali. Sam Ngendahimana.

Is it possible to strike a balance between enforcing restrictions on noise pollution and developing a vibrant nightlife in Kigali?

It has been argued that the city’s efforts to become a leading tourist destination could be under threat owing to stringent noise pollution laws and policies.


Some bar owners and stakeholders in the entertainment industry have often complained about the country’s “complex and ambiguous” laws on noise pollution, arguing they reduce the predictability of doing business in the sector.


There is an ambitious plan to turn Kigali into a regional tourism hub through the Meetings Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) strategy.  


It is estimated that the vibrancy of the Kigali nightlife could increase the average expenditure per tourist in Rwanda, which is currently estimated at around $1,000.

For instance, with Kigali having recorded 28,000 delegates for conferences last year, a diverse nightlife could have seen delegates spend far more during their stay in the country.

Implementation of anti-noise pollution policies has been said to be too stringent for a vibrant nightlife to pick up. On multiple occasions, police have interrupted merrymakers in bars, parties and nightclubs over noise pollution.

In some instances, business owners say that has happened even after they had acquired permission to host such events. Others have said that the lack of predictability in the implementation of the law hurts businesses.

Philbert Habimana, a member of a live band that performs at several entertainment spots around town, told The New Times that their performances have often been interrupted even as they often turn down the volume.

In another instance, a bar manager explained that during one of such ‘interruptions’ about two months ago it was not clear as to how many decibels they had gone beyond.

The City of Kigali authorities, however, say they understand the need to balance the two aspects (respecting noise pollution laws and having a vibrant nightlife) and are devising a mechanism to clear the matter.

The mechanism is in the form of noise pollution guidelines that determine decibels per zones and classification of establishments.

City of Kigali vice mayor in charge of economic development Parfait Busabizwa told The New Times that the soon-to-be released guidelines are being developed in consultation with Rwanda National Police and Rwanda Development Board.

“Under the guidelines, it will be clear what establishments can have live music and for how long they can play live music and when they ought to switch to playback music at a lower volume,” he said.

This will also include decibels that can be considered permissible.

Operators are also being advised to acquire decibel meters to be able to tell the levels of music played at their establishments.

Busabizwa added that the guidelines will also introduce zonal arrangements which will encourage bars and restaurants to relocate from residential areas.

For instance, in Remera, the zone will be around the stretch from Ecobank-Remera to Zigama CSS allowing bars around that street to operate without interruption.

The guidelines will also require bars, restaurants and nightclubs to have certain features and facilities for them to be allowed to operate.

Busabizwa said that private sector operators have been consulted on the issue and provided inputs in the proposed framework.

In an interview with The New Times on Thursday, Nsengi Barakabuye, the Chairperson of Hoteliers Association, said there was need to have a shared understanding of the policy and all the other aspects associated with noise pollution.

Under the new penal code, noise nuisance carries a penalty of a fine not less than Rwf500, 000 and not more than Rwf1, 000,000.

In case of recidivism, the penalty is imprisonment for a term of not less than eight days and not more than one month and a fine of more than Rwf1,000,000 and not more than Rwf2,000,000 or one of the penalties.


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