Let’s preserve Kigali City’s foot-steps to modernity

Story-telling is at the heart of journalism and Public Relations, which is where I belong professionally and, I think the same applies to tour-guiding; I believe tourism gurus would agree with this assertion.

There are two Kenyan colleagues who are currently on their maiden visit to Kigali (surprising, right?); but it shouldn’t be, for I know dozens, among my acquittances that have never been to Nairobi or any of the other East African cities. I have been to at least three of them.

Traveling within Africa by Africans, for business or tourism is something to be encouraged. It is the best way to learn and discover more about our own continent. And with deeper integration and the ongoing Visa reforms by African governments, the future of intra-Africa travel looks good.

Anyway, Robert, one of the two colleagues, is here to film some interviews and he needed help to find someone from whom to hire filming lights to support in his assignment. With filming, you can’t entirely rely on natural light; I used the opportunity to take him around the city of Kigali.

Whenever I do this kind of thing for friends visiting Kigali, I find myself sounding like a tour-guide as I answer questions about this and that. For instance, Robert was surprised at the fact that most of the city is perched on hills. I quickly mentioned that this is the land of a thousand hills.

Meanwhile, Eddy, to whose place we were driving, to check-out the filming lights, lives on the hilly part of Kinamba, with a clear backside view of the City of Kigali. It is not as glamourous as the front-view but offers an objective perspective of the city’s growth journey to modernity.

From up there, one sees two faces of Kigali; the old-Kigali with aging structures in unplanned residential neighborhoods, fast fading into a modern city with towering buildings spread out on the plateau on which the central business district lays, and ultra-modern residential houses and apartments in well planned neighborhoods.

Robert was also amazed at the stone roads connecting Kinamba and Kacyiru that gives one a rough drive compared to the smooth experience on the shiny tarmac streets covering most of Kigali. I had to come up with a story around the stone roads too.

We were parked atop the Kinamba hill overlooking the City when Robert remarked, “I notice that most of the structures in the city are new, perhaps not more than ten years old.”

It was a fair observation, especially if one looks at all those shinny touring plazas lining the central business street. I explained, “let’s say most of the city is a construction site. We are at the very beginning of the implementation phase of the City of Kigali Masterplan, and old is giving way to new structures which is why you see what you see.”

“Wow! It is already a beautiful city, yet you are just at the beginning of the masterplan implementation, I can only imagine how it will be, in ten years,” Robert quipped.

“Oh yes! It will be a marvel. Come back here in five years and most of the brown roofs on ageing structures you see yonder, will be gone, replaced by ultra-modern housing plans in paved neighborhoods,” I spoke, for a minute, sounding like a Spokesperson of the City of Kigali.

With a serious face, Robert asked, “But are you guys preserving some of the fast fading old Kigali for future generations and even visitors to see, and appreciate the city’s growth journey to modernity?”

“That is an important point, Robert. I share your concern,” I said adding that I would need to check with the City Authorities on what they are doing about it.

I genuinely believe that preserving some of the Kigali’s historic sites would not only be a great documentation of the city’s foot-steps to modernity but also a major component of urban tourism in years to come.

This argument came around briefly, when the 1930 Nyarugenge Jailhouse was relocated, to pave way for redevelopment. But it is a conversation we need to revisit and if we agree on the why, let us discuss the how? Heritage and history are at the core of building great cities; I have experienced it in London, New York and Beijing, to mention but those.

Email: kenagutamba@gmail.com