“Kigali City to relocate 13,000 households,” announced The New Times, quoting the mayor. For some time now, hardly a quarter-year passes by without a near-equal number being shifted from risky areas to safer zones of the city.
Yet many inclines and swampy spots in the city remain dotted with shelters, on inclines looking like they are hanging by a thread. In boggy valleys, like they’ll be swallowed up by floods and landslides, come heavy rains.
Understandably, it’ll be a while before government can totally dispense with the problem. Twenty-four years is too short a time to rid a country of all hitches.
While genocidal regimes proclaimed Rwanda as too full to accommodate all her sons and daughters, chunks of the land were being grazed bare by goats, as if desertification was the preferred progress trajectory. No sense of reserving green-cover protection; nor of better methods than unchecked goat-grazing and rudimentary land-tilling.
That’s how in Kigali city, not far from the Central Business District, we still have near-vertical slopes like Cyahafi chocking with mud-and-wattle settlement, where some inhabitants wear out their ‘seats’, cloth and skin, sliding home! Or swampy areas like lower Gatsata, where regular migration to open Mt Jari slopes during heavy rains was a ‘normal’ occurrence.
Thus, where the high-class estates of this day sit was all wild land, sparsely dotted with banana groves surrounding ramshackle shacks.
Show photos of these suburban modern buildings to any genocide fugitive or disgraced itchy-handed outlaw, all hiding from our ‘short arm’ of the law, and see. They’ll swear by their lost blood-dripping machetes or their used-up ill-gotten gains that it’s photo-shopping.
However, to be fair to them, incredulity is not far-fetched. Wouldn’t you hesitate to call a photo of the new Rusororo estates authentic today, if you last visited the area six years ago?
Now consider those who left before now-old estates like Kimihurura, Kicukiro, Nyarutarama, Gaculiro, Kibagabaga, Kagugu, plus countless others, were up. Then add photos of the recent ones like Kabuga, Masaka, Gahanga, Runda and others sprouting virtually by the month and the runaways will shriek their protests: “No! This can’t be our tiny Rwanda!”
Twenty-four short years ago, the word “estate/quartier” was alien to this land.
You visited from the village and a relative put you up for a night. Then the following day you got up, got some mud and squeezed it evenly mellow (gufota), dried it as mud blocks and put them atop one another, got grass or a metallic scrap sheet to make a roof and voilà! A ‘residence’ to boast about to village folk.
The rest was – and still is for some – to negotiate access to and from it. If it is on the ‘upright wall’ that’s the foot of Mt Kigali, near Nyabugogo, or of Mt Shyorongi, across Nyabugogo River, or of Mt Jari, you’ve seen how technicians fix electrical cables on poles. Or how Indonesians scale rubber trees for rubber sap.
You similarly improvise steps to and from your ‘high-placed’ residence!
But woe unto thee if you were to be inebriated and on your way home or from a bar up there! You’ll find yourself singing: “Nearer home to thee, oh Lord!”
All in all, home construction may be quick-paced but that’s not rapid enough to have cleared Kigali of all these precarious settlements by now.
And, admittedly, the proliferation of new modern estates has created its own shanties in risky areas, to slacken the speed.
Talking of which shanties, none jumps to mind faster than one whose name says it all. It has an unprintable Kinyarwanda name that, in polite translation, would go like: “Where-the-heck-does-one-go-to-answer-the-long-call-of-Nature?” Need I say more!
Yet imagine this. After government has secured an investor to relocate its inhabitants to millions-dollar-worth flats with all amenities available, they are not ready to budge. They want monetary compensation, where one shack will hardly fetch any tens of thousands of Francs.
Talk about some habits dying hard!
No doubt, the monetary condition is so that they can move elsewhere and set up an even worse slum, where they’ll continue to ask the same “call-of-nature” question.
It’s not lost on government, however, that most of them are tenants and that, therefore, offenders are the landlords/ladies egging them on.
Whatever the case, in the final analysis the accusing finger points at city planners.
In this no-nonsense, fiercely pro-people government where laws are enforced to the letter, why are our city planners not strictly imposing the master plan guidelines?
Apart from these risky dwellings, why are there estates coming up without prior planning and provision of the necessary infrastructure and amenities, as provided in the master plan?
And, water and electricity utilities corporations managements, don’t bury your heads in the sand. You stand accused, too. What’s hard in keeping clients updated on what you can’t provide where, when and why? Ration, if you must, but all round.
WASAC management for water, especially, where is water in all, but all, parts of Kigali?
Today, transparency, efficiency, order and cleanliness are as Rwandan as “murakoze!”
That’s a pact between government, the citizenry and all residents that none dare betray.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.