Kigali city is growing toward resilience - Rockerfeller official

The City of Kigali, last week, embarked on a programme of developing a comprehensive resilience plan that will enable the capital to better survive, adapt, and grow despite any chronic stresses and acute shocks.
Berkowitz during the interview. (Timothy Kisambira)
Berkowitz during the interview. (Timothy Kisambira)

The City of Kigali, last week, embarked on a programme of developing a comprehensive resilience plan that will enable the capital to better survive, adapt, and grow despite any chronic stresses and acute shocks.

The programme’s commencement was marked by a daylong forum dubbed; “Resilience Agenda Workshop”, which brought together stakeholders, including government, private sector, non-profit and civil society organisations.


The programme will be implemented through a joint cooperation of the City of Kigali and the 100 Resilient Cities initiative that was pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation. Kigali is among the 67 cities globally (one of the six in Africa) selected by the 100 Resilient Cities initiative. The New TimesCollins Mwai caught up with Michael Berkowitz, the president of 100 Resilient Cities initiative to learn more about the initiative and its purpose.




What are some of the factors that led you to choose Kigali as of one of the members of the initiative?

Kigali had a broad understanding of what its risks were, not only in terms of disaster risks, there was air pollution, infrastructure, but flooding, disease outbreaks among others. Kigali has a very good reputation for being innovative. The mayor and the government have a reputation for being executors of projects they plan.

Based on your survey and findings prior to the commencement of the initiative, what areas do you think the city needs to build resilience in?

The mayor’s priority to densify the city is a good one but always densification comes with risks. If you do it wrong, for example, if you make streets that are only good for cars, or develop residential commercial buildings in one way, then it could lead to less resilience for the city. As the mayor and the city look to densify the city (through the master plan), which is a great idea, thinking about other things that could happen alongside that will be important as well.

Rwanda is part of an East African Community, and challenges faced in the country are not very different from those faced by neighbouring countries. Is there a chance that the impacts of the programme will reach out to neighbouring countries?

We are hoping to inspire cities to make the kind of changes necessary. To think of resilience the way they do planning to a point of having a chief resilience officer. We are hoping that Arusha and Kigali inspire other east African cities to do the same.

Africa is one of the places where these three trends of urbanisation, climate change and globalisation are most acute. We see many people moving from villages into the cities throughout Africa, hence the need for other countries to learn from the initiative.

To the extent that Kigali can inspire Nairobi or Addis Ababa to look at how it is governed and the stakeholders it works with, that would be a very important thing for the region. We find this important because countries and cities are not isolated, it will be important for Kigali to play a leadership role throughout the continent and throughout the world. We are very impressed from our conversations that all this will be achieved.

What major challenge have you noticed to be common among East African countries in recent years as far as building resilience is concerned?

Like many developing cities, the biggest challenge is keeping up with the pace of growth. With so many people moving into the city very quickly; for instance, by 2020 Kigali is projecting to have a population of two million people, which will almost double the population.

In other places across the world when that happens it creates urban sprawl, infrastructure that is incapable of dealing with the population, poor public health and sanitary conditions, among others. The challenge is for Kigali and other East African countries to do that in a way that is resilient.

How will Kigali look like at the end of the project?

There are four characteristics that we look for in cities. Risk aware; in all its decisions, it should consider what its impacts are. The second is that it should be forward looking; it is exhibited in the understanding that just because we did not have a major drought or flooding now, doesn’t mean that with climate change we won’t have it. It is the understanding that the past doesn’t predict the future.

The third is that it is inclusive; it recognises that there are many important stakeholders, who need to participate for it to be a resilient city. We have seen in places across the world, where cities only involve one party leading to a non resilient city.

The last one is that they should be integrated, that the city understands all the key stakeholders and coordinates policies across all the stakeholders such as transportation and urban planning, housing, knowing that they have impacts on one another. We have a confidence in the city and the leadership.

It is worth noting that no city can be resilient in two years. It is a long-term process, to achieve a cohesive society, better infrastructure or diverse sustainable economy, it requires quite a bit of time. In some places we have seen cities take 10 or so years.

Kigali is on course to resilience, Rockfeller's Berkowitz says. (File)

What emerging trends have you noticed during your past experience?

We are seeing that the cities that are the smartest and the most resilient are the ones that are looking for multiple benefits from single intervention. Cities that look into and connect a single intervention to have multiple benefits top various areas across the city.

We want to make sure cities can accommodate migrants in a resilient way, I also think there is work to be done to make sure that the rural areas are resilient to reduce rural to urban migration.

I think a resilient city is one that lives in harmony with the rural areas surrounding it. One of the things we have is to cast an eye to the region to understand city policies and their impacts in neighbouring regions.

Who are the targeted stakeholders of the process and what will be their roles?

One of the things we will work on together is actualising and bringing together multiple stakeholders. The private sector is absolutely key in the process as they build lots of things that affect the resilience of a city.

They take care of many of the citizens through employment creation, they often decide what infrastructure projects should be carried out as well as make necessary investment.

Another important stakeholder is the civil society, including universities and non-governmental organisations; they are often stakeholders that represent the least heard voices, the poor and the vulnerable. And that is one of the points of a resilient city, being inclusive to the poor and vulnerable.

How has the government received the initiative?

We have had a very positive meeting over the last few days and we feel very confident about the relationship we are building with the government. They have been very warm and we hope that Kigali will teach other cities in the network as much as they learn from them. It is a two way relationship, we hope to learn something and help them as well.


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