In 1920, the Belgians had already started to occupy Quartier Matheus and its surroundings in Nyarugenge District. The area served as both an administrative and business centre for the colonialists. But in the interest of their businesses, the colonialists decided that their staff - assistants, drivers, messengers and other workers – should live within walkable distance from their work place.
And Nyamirambo happened to be their first choice.
In fact, Minister of Internal Security Sheikh Musa Fazil Harerimana, whose parents were among the first employees under that system was also born in Nyamirambo and his family has not relocated.
Harerimana says towards 1920, Nyamirambo was a virgin area which was mainly used for farming. That is why the developed area around Biryogo mosque, opposite ONATRACOM was called Mu Rutoki (home to the banana plantation).
Harelimana said: “The Belgians planned for over 300 houses and different infrastructures, including water and streets. They distributed plots to their workers who started building.”
By 1927, according to the minister, the workers had already completed their houses. The houses were built using either reeds or bricks and roofed with iron sheets or used vegetable oil tins (amadebe) for the rich, while the average workers used grass. Surprisingly, there were no fire incidents according to Harelimana.
The colonialists then introduced streets to cater for the growing community. The first street was the one near the mosque and it was called Barabara A, while the second one was called Barabara B.
Harelimana says Nyamirambo was popular because it was close to the city and was home to a number of ministers.
Why it’s dubbed a Muslim neighbourhood
Nyamirambo is dubbed “a Muslim neighbourhood” and many people tend to think that whoever lives there is a follower of Prophet Mohammed.
Harelimana explains that while planning for the area, the colonizers divided it into two; the lower and the upper Nyamirambo.
The upper Nyamirambo was known as Camp Belge in French, which the indigenous would later baptize Ku Ibereshi. This area stretches from Banque Populaire Nyamirambo upwards. It was meant for the civil servants.
The second (lower) part, according to Harelimana, was called Camp Swahili, from Kuri Mirongo Ine downwards to Biryogo. This was meant for the traders who were mainly Muslims.
The Muslims, however, occupied both parts of Nyamirambo because they were the majority in civil service and business.
“The Muslims emerged as the first smart people (abasirimu), thanks to the foreign Muslim traders who came with the colonialists and taught them modern cuisine and designs”.