Every time I visit Kigali city centre and cast my eyes around, I get mixed feelings.
Where the other day (late 1990s) there were only ‘rukarakara’ (mud-and-wattle) houses, I see concrete-and-glass buildings. Some are long-established (though mere ‘teens’) while others are sprouting everywhere, with their web of tarmacked streets around them.
Who wouldn’t rejoice?
But then when I check and hardly see any soil, my heart sinks.
I love soil. And not only for being son of the soil, no. I love soil for a vital reason that’s pertinent to oblivious you. Without soil, we and our planet will melt into oblivion.
According to Science gurus, our lives depend on this soil that we urbanites see as irksome dust. It’s crucial to our lives, depending on the light and radiation (albedo) it reflects, its density, depth, water content, texture and suchlike.
I am told that decomposing organisms in it release carbon dioxide to the atmosphere that acts as a greenhouse to trap heat. And since anaerobic environment makes decay take longer, it allows for oxygen concentration.
That without oxygen we cannot live one minute longer requires no emphasis. And, much as carbon dioxide may be bête noire in many ways, it’s a critical nutrient for land-based plants.
Selfish you, you tend to forget that you live because others do. And others include not only plants but also a vast variety of other living things like tiny insects.
Adore them or abhor them, without those little darlings you and your planet are doomed.
Insects are essential for the functioning of all ecosystems. As food for other living things; as pollinators for plants; as keepers of soil; as recyclers of nutrients; as controllers of pests; as more. If in doubt, ask many humans, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish.
So, selfish you, remember that we are because little ants are. Because flies, bugs, beetles, bees, crickets, caterpillars, etc., are. We are because all those things you swat between your fingers are, those you stamp on with your feet, you crush under your tyres, you angrily wave away.
Those little hard workers that are reportedly facing extinction eight times faster than mammals, birds and reptiles because of the heavy use of insecticide by naïvely selfish humans, we need to urgently come to their rescue. Or else we and our planet are headed for a dead end – literally.
All the above which goes to show you why my heart sinks at the sight of any concrete.
When next you are in the city centre, take time to look at the Minecofin buildings and the new tall and prettily multi-coloured Banque Populaire building. If you are like me, you’ll shed tears. Apart from being so squeezed that, between them, you can hardly breathe, you’d think the lovely colours of the bank were put there to please the wall of the new Minecofin building!
Kigali is clean and green, yes, as testified by the world, but it needs to be not only greener but also bushier, which will make it richer in soil and biodiversity.
Apart from creating more green spaces, we need to put well-kept bushy distances between concrete-and-glass skyscrapers. We need more green sides on all the streets and roads. The car-free zone and the other proposed zones should have places for green- and tree-cover.
Kigali and all secondary cities are crying out for parks so that we can enjoy the sight of a variety of butterflies, crickets, birds, nay, all living things. These towns shouldn’t be colonised by concrete-and-glass. Nor should our villages and national game parks be the only habitat for our biodiversity.
Villages themselves need to be in green groups of those model ones faster, to free up the land.
And all, but all, need water, water, everywhere. Sunshine, we have aplenty.
Back to Kigali, if my memory serves me well (which is in doubt!), city authorities once mooted the idea of doing away with concrete fences around house compounds. What happened to this noble idea? If it’s for total families’ security, this government has performed miracles out of impossible situations before. It’ll devise means to lick this little familial concern.
If family compounds have to be fenced for privacy, then hedges should do beautifully.
And for the love of nature, why stiffen government tax on big compounds? Those with barren pavements should be penalised for it, true. But those with beautiful gardens and plants need to be encouraged and exonerated. City/town fathers/mothers, how about that for an idea?
And while we are at it, how about banning concrete in cemeteries? When it comes to burial, we should go the Muslim way. After all, we came from the soil, let’s happily go back to the soil and offer our biodiversity its nutrients. That way, we’ll be doing our bit for the ecosystems.
For minimal wastage of space regarding our exploding population, innovations can be devised. So can they be, for affordable upward residential constructions for many individuals.
Thus, Rwanda can do her little bit in averting a catastrophic collapse of Nature’s ecosystems.
A drop in the mitigation of the ill effects of urbanisation and climate change. But something.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.