‘Bannyahe’ is a ‘not so polite’ name given to a slum in Nyarutarama, Remera Sector in Gasabo District. It is beleieved that the area got its moinker ‘Bannyahe’ (loosely translated as “where do they defecate from?”) because of its lack of pit latrines. Visitors there would wonder where the inhabitants go to answer nature’s call. Hence, the name Bannyahe.
Naturally before I visited this area I made sure I answered all the ‘calls’ just in case. Although the proper name of this neighbourhood, which is home to about 4,000 people, is actually Kangando, most of its resident’s don’t actually know that!
This slum is situated in the lower part of Nyarutarama, an affluent suburb of Kigali christened ‘Beverly Hills of Rwanda’. The upscale residential area is home to numerous embassies and manicured gardens. The area is well developed with modern roads, sidewalks and street lighting.
I visited the slum with my guard up, expecting the unexpected. A boda-boda rider, who quickly turned and rode off as if he didn’t want to spend another minute in the area, dropped me there.
However, the two and half-hours I spent in the area changed the negative perception I had.
The first thing that I noticed was just how quickly the residents of the area recognised that I was a ‘foreigner’. This, despite the fact that I was as Rwandan as they were. Locals were greeting me in English and asking me to take their photos.
Here I saw houses so close to each other that I was reminded of how sardines in the can look like. The toilets (thankfully they were present) were attached to main houses, which, truth be told, were about the same size of a normal storeroom.
But still Bannyahe is not your average place! In fact I’ve never known any slum like this. Most slums are littered with garbage, sewer water, children running around with mucus drying on their dirty faces, old prostitutes and scrawny looking drunkards staggering about clutching bottles of local brew.
Here the story is different. I found that most children had gone to school and their parents and everyone else were busy working. They were obviously not resigned to their fate.
“Living is a slum is a hard thing especially for our kids. I have two boys, aged11 and 9. I am working really hard and if all goes well, by the end of this year, my one roomed house will be completed at Kabuga. I lived a cheap life here while saving some money, I bought a piece of land and now I’m about to leave this place for good”, says Mutezintare Ancilla, a single mother in her late 30s.
Banyah is what one would call a ‘mini commercial area’. While the women work in small boutiques, hair salons, restaurants and sell charcoal and second hand clothes, the men are engrossed in carpentry or motor bike repair.
Another amazing thing about Bannyahe is that every house has electricity and the majority have running water. For those without water-taps, a 20-litre jerry can of clean water costs only 20 francs.
“Ours is a peaceful neighbourhood, the cost of living is also not that high and crime rate is also down low”, reveals Tuyishime Faustin, the chief of security. All residents are supposed to switch off loud music by 10pm to allow their neighbours to sleep and bars close strictly at mid-night he added.
Although life here is better than most slums, no one deserves to live in slum let alone raise children in such an environment. But despite all the challenges that the people here face, they are confident that there is a better tomorrow.