A progressive City, a tainted church and an ancient prison

KIGALI – Kigali is a city on the move. There is a new development every other day, and its residents are always expecting the next big announcement.

The Catholic Church is the largest religion in Rwanda. It also owns a substantial amount of prime land across the country, and they are developing their properties.


Then there is the former central prison. 1930 as it is commonly known. It is located in the heart of the City. All the inmates were transferred to a modern correctional facility out of downtown Kigali.


Now comes the proposal to marry the three entities.


City officials recently disclosed the ancient home to convicts would soon turn to a fancy prayer house for the Pope’s flock.

The choice to handover such prime land to the men of God drew mixed reactions.

Some were happy that it was an opportunity for the City of Kigali to have a magnificent Cathedral added to its skyline.

Brazil has the Cathedral of Maringa, Moscow The Saint Basil, France Notre Dame, Barcelona the Sagrada Familia to mention but a few from the long list of splendid church architecture found in world cities.

Progressive Kigali deserves to join the list as well.

These places of worship that are also venues of repentance do offer more options for the growing tourism industry.

If the ‘Basilica Majyambare’ of Kigali was to rise up at the former prison grounds, it would be quite something that befits a city on the move.

Those who were against the idea, prayed that there were either ‘better’ options or the Catholic Church was tainted by its role in the 1994 Genocide against The Tutsi and should therefore not be gifted with such prime land.

Matters of religion are without a doubt super sensitive and if the Catholic Church ends up occupying the prison land, it will still a be a win for the City and its residents.

The Church will, however, have to engage different stakeholders to ensure that the piece of architecture that they build measures up to the high expectations of a city on the move.

Input from local communities, Rwandan culture and Kigali lifestyle will need to be blended into the final product.

Of course, City officials will probably get away easily with the choice of the church as spirituality is close to our hearts. After all, the majority of Rwandans are Catholics and their schools and hospitals have had an impact on many of our lives.

However, one question the city will have to address is why provide for more churches in an already over-crowded praying field.

This question will come from younger Rwandans who would like to see the city invest in more in sports and arts. Sports, fortunately, is already doing well and steadily on the rise.

Arts is another story

Rwanda is one of the few countries that does not have a national theater. It would be great to have a center for performing arts, where comedians, dancers, poets, actors can converge and come up with productions that will not only earn them a living but spice up the entertainment scene of Kigali that is yearning for activity.

We have already proved that Rwandan sons and daughters have inborn talent. Sherrie Silver, the dancer behind Gambino is trending across the world. Malaika Uwamahoro is no stranger to the New York art scene.

And back home, the nationwide talent search project, Art Rwanda Ubuhanzi, is beginning to unleash talent that would have otherwise remained undiscovered amongst the youth.

They will need a place to ply their trade.

And, with more than 60 per cent of the Rwandan population under 30, Arts is one way to create jobs for them while turning Kigali into a more vibrant City.

The author is a social commentator on topical issues in the region and beyond.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.




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