The City of Kigali has had multiple initiatives ongoing across multiple aspects, including some that have attracted public curiosity and criticism. In an exclusive interview with The New Times’ Collins Mwai, City Mayor, Marie-Chantal Rwakazina sheds light on the city’s plans and initiatives as well as clarifies the standpoint of City Hall on a number of issues.
The Kigali City Master Plan is currently undergoing a review that is expected to cost up to Rwf1 billion, what necessitated the changes?
The existing master plan has been in place since 2013. The country is moving towards Vision 2050. It was also already planned that it would be reviewed by the first five years.
There were also a number of things that we wanted to improve especially regarding the ownership and communication of the master plan. Not only to the population, but also other stakeholders such as engineers and architects.
We found that the ownership was not maximum and we wanted to focus on that.
In the process, you have conducted studies, what have been some of the findings from the studies as well as consultations?
Everyone in the city is interested in the master plan. In the past five years, there was a worry of sorts about the master plan, probably because many did not understand it.
We have received calls, official letters and feedback on SMS, Facebook and Twitter. The interest is there and we are trying to increase knowledge and ownership of the master plan.
The second thing is that we got inputs from some surveys and studies and we got some interesting findings.
For instance, more than 60 per cent of households in Kigali are located in high-risk zones or wetlands. The typology of housing is informal and over 70 per cent of the households live in informal settlements.
There are many tenants in the informal settlements with most of them being public servants.
We are still lacking adequate affordable housing as evidenced by people, including public servants who are going for informal settlements.
Almost 60 per cent of the population of the Ccity of Kigali is able to spend between Rwf 45,000 and Rwf 50,000 on rent.
This shows what they are ready to pay for bank premiums in the event of a mortgage loan. We also found out that there is need for open public spaces. It is needed by people living in the city, tourists and guests among others.
We have realised that we need to be clear on our plan for open public spaces and start implementing them.
What will be different this time under the new master plan?
We have done consultations through focus group discussion to collect information and communicate with the general public.
We also thought that beyond having a master plan for the City of Kigali, it is good that residents know for the plans in their own village. To decentralise and disintegrate to the cell level.
That way, each cell will know what the plan in their area is. This will be a campaign that will be held in May this year. This also goes with an implementation map or road map up to 2050.
With that citizens will know of the expectations for them to plan over time. This will also improve the predictability for investors and stakeholders.
Let’s talk about the car-free zone. What is your evaluation of the current car-free zone?
People enjoy the only car-free zone in downtown Kigali. File.
The car-free zone, as a concept, is not entirely new across the world. It can be used for different purposes. My assessment of the first car-free zone was that we showed that it can be done in Rwanda; we had to start from somewhere.
It will not be the first and the last, in the reviewed master plan, there are likely to be others. We are open to private sector cooperation. I have seen the private sector expressing their interest to run various initiatives on the car free zone.
However, there is infrastructure required to make it an effective car-free zone. We need to improve a number of aspects such as sanitation, drainage and greening among others.
We did a study and established that two-thirds of the cost would go into infrastructure requirements for the zone and the surrounding areas and impacts such as diverting traffic, drainage and access among others.
We are very open to allowing the private sector take over operations, we, however, thought that can first put infrastructure in the car free zone in phases and allow the private sector to start operations.
We are optimistic that in the next financial year, we can start some construction and installations.
This will be done in phases. We are working closely with the ministry of finance to secure a budget.
While the infrastructure development will be on, we can then invite the private sector to develop in for various business operations.
Car free zones will be there and will be done after consultations with the public and stakeholders.
What are some of these infrastructure projects?
For instance, we plan to get rid of the tarmac and instead pave it. We would like to pave the area as opposed to tarmac for water flow and permeation. Such activities are quite costly for the private sector to handle on its own.
We can raise finances for infrastructure development and do it phases to make the area more effective for the various operations.
For the private sector who intend to be part of this, what will be the standards and aspects to be considered in your consideration to work with them?
It will be our first car free zone and must set a standard; we would like quality set-ups, cleanliness and order. We also need to make sure that it will be affordable to make sure that it is inclusive for all residents.
We will require the creativity and innovation of our people as well as learning best practices elsewhere and tailoring them to serve our situation.
Vibrant city ambitions and noise pollution regulations don’t seem to get along. Attempts of vibrant night spots are often stifled by noise pollution regulation, how do you plan on making sure the two co-exist?
We want a city where everyone can enjoy the vibrancy at the same time calm and peaceful. We are currently in a transition phase of the master plan implementation. Before 2013, we had mixed activities in neighbourhoods.
We are currently trying to organize ourselves. It does not come overnight though. It’s a transition phase to ensure that certain areas are designated for recreation and other residential allowing for co-existence of the two activities.
In the meantime, there has been some technical measure that were proposed such as soundproofing entertainment spots to avoid noise disturbance. Over time, I am sure we will have entertainment designated regions as well as residential and commercial areas.
City roads are increasingly becoming prone to traffic jams which get worse during major summits in town. There were plans of creating alternative routes, how is that going?
The plan is there. There are plans for alternative routes that we are planning to build. We are currently prioritizing alternative routes to divert traffic.
However, traffic jams in Kigali is caused by the quality of our junctions. We have so many junctions very close. I am told that we will have roundabouts and in other areas we will have traffic lights.
In readiness for CHOGM, we have prioritized alternative roads and about 5 junctions will be expanded. We are also working on improving our public transport.
Speaking of public transport, it’s been said not to be competitive enough considering that only three companies have contracts which eventually affects quality of service delivery.
In partnership with Rwanda Utilities and Regulatory Authority, and Rwanda Transport Development Authority, we have undertaken a study and analysis on the tenders issued for Kigali city public transport.
There were complaints that it was not competitive enough, there were not enough players and there were many challenges. We did a study to understand the nature of the challenges and issues affecting citizens.
We extended the contracts of the three service providers for one year ending August this year.
This will help us draw up better terms of reference for the next contract on aspects such as number of buses, routes, quality of services, number of players required, among others. With a more convenient public transport, it will encourage more people to use public transport.
If we have improved our public transport system, we need to improve our roads in our cells and villages. There is an interesting initiative going on with the support of the Ministry of Infrastructure where we are looking at the quality of tarmac roads for residential neighbors.
We are trying to see what kind of roads and tarmac is needed for the various neighbourhoods. This will be complemented by the ongoing initiatives in various neighbourhoods where residents are trying to improve their roads.
This will encourage public transporters to serve even neighbourhoods. These are initiatives that are feasible in the short term and medium terms.
Still on roads, most would ask how come there are no plans to tarmac the road to Rusororo whereas roads in Kimihurura are getting a second layer of tarmac.
For Rusororo, we are aware of the need of the tarmac road, there is a cemetery, convention arena and a neighbourhood, so it’s among the priorities for the next financial year.
However, just to be clear, in terms of prioritisation, one ought not to compare the Kimihurura road and the Rusororo road.
We have already made investments in Kimihurura and not to maintain it means that the value will go down over time. Maintenance is our responsibility and is a priority to avoid the depletion in value. At this point, almost everything is a priority and with the limited funds, you cannot do everything at the same time, you have to make plans.
Speaking of Green Spaces, what’s the city’s plans considering that they have been said to be in the plan for a while?
The short term plans for green spaces is wetlands. I understand that 13 per cent of the city is wetlands. Nyandugu we have already started developing the Nyandugu Park.
We have plans to conduct a study for Gikondo Recreation Park and other wetland areas. The studies will help us determine what can be developed where and how.
In residential areas, even with the current master plan, there are some places that have been designated for green spaces. Unfortunately, in some areas, this has not been implemented.
We hope that people can invest in these areas to support the maintenance of the green spaces.
Don’t you think this would be more effective if you let the private sector this spaces?
All the big cities have developed in such aspects because of the partnership with the private sector. For aspects that can generate money, we would like it to be run by the private sector, our role will only be to supervise and create ideal conditions.
About two years ago, the city issued a notice to companies and organisations working from residential areas. How would you rate the initiative’s effectiveness?
It is among the most successful initiatives that have been implemented so far. Most of the companies and organizations – over 90 per cent- who were operating in residential areas have since moved.
It was a mindset change initiative and it took some time and penalties but it is now working. Commercial buildings now have an increased tenancy. Also, firms and organizations opening new offices are not going into residential areas first and are also consulting with us for guidance.
The process is much related to urban planning in the city, when we have commercial buildings that are unoccupied and offices in residential areas, people will assume that we do not have enough residential areas and will be tempted to start informal settlements where there are not enough amenities.
So these whole exercise works to serve planning.
The city’s population is growing by the day and the area is not getting any larger, what are your plans and thoughts on settlement?
At the moment, we have between 1.3 to 1.5 million (people) and the projections are that we will not go beyond 4 million by 2050. This is because we are developing secondary cities and will be attracted to settle there.
But if we continue to build as we are right now, Kigali will only be about to host 1 million. This shows how urgent it is to change the mindset and type of housing that we have from single housing.
We intend not to go beyond 20 per cent as single housing in Kigali, the rest will be high-rise buildings. It’s more about mindset change.