Urbanisation: Will historic buildings survive?

The government, through the Institute of National Museums, has been trying to preserve natural and cultural sites, but some people believe that the government has turned a blind eye on historical structures as they are facing destruction or renovation that would leave no trace of history.
Nyarugenge Prison is one of the oldest buildings in the country. / Nadege Imbabazi
Nyarugenge Prison is one of the oldest buildings in the country. / Nadege Imbabazi

The government, through the Institute of National Museums, has been trying to preserve natural and cultural sites, but some people believe that the government has turned a blind eye on historical structures as they are facing destruction or renovation that would leave no trace of history.

This is due to the bid to improve cities that comes along with crackdown on old and outdated structures. Some structures that depict history of the country in different sectors might face extinction.

 

There is a debate on whether these structures should be preserved to tell the history or be eliminated and give way to modern structures.

 

Historian Jean Damascene Rwasamirera deplored the fact that there are structures with historical meaning that no longer exist.

 

“In Nyanza, there was a place called “Cercle des evolués” or the circle of the civilized, where educated Rwandans gathered and played Ping-Pong (Table tennis). It’s no more.

In Rwamagana, there are old houses of Arab and Indian traders that were constructed in late 1930s. There is a house of former chief of Buganza, Francois Rwabutogo that was turned into the ‘commune’ offices, then a school and now it is being damaged gradually,” he said.  

He also mentioned the house of late King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa that was auctioned and renovated.

Rwasamirera said it’s scandalous. “There should at least remain monuments to remind us of our past. Such retention helps us learn from the past since we make comparisons and measure our progress,” he said.

There are also concerns that urbanisation will not spare old but precious buildings.

One would be interested to know the first storey building that was constructed in the country. The three-storey building was constructed between 1964 and 1965. Reports say that people came from across the country to see that astonishing house.

The building housed the National Post Office before it was demolished in 2010 to be replaced by the current M Peace Plaza in downtown.

Historic buildings that are threatened by urbanisation

Endangered structures are mostly those located in cities. The implementation of master plans and modernity might be a threat to old structures if they are not preserved.

Colonial period buildings such as hotels, churches, prisons, among others, are on the spot.    
 
Hotel Faucon, Huye district
 
During the colonial era, Hotel Faucon only accommodated white people. Back then, it was one of the most luxurious hotels that no Rwandan or black person had access to. There was a sign at the entrance of the hotel that read. “Entrée interdit aux noirs et chiens” or Entrance forbidden for blacks and dogs.

It wasn’t until 1955 that King Mutara III Rudahigwa allowed Rwandans to have access to it. Reports suggest that the hotel is going to be renovated. According to observers, this might result in the hotel losing its originality and will no longer explain how racism had reigned during colonialism.

Hotel Muhabura is one of the oldest hotels in the country that was established in 1954. It is located in Musanze city, the fast growing city in the Northern Province. The hotel might also be demolished or renovated.
 
Sainte Famille church is the oldest church in Kigali that was constructed in 1913. Recently, there were unofficial reports that it was going to be demolished.

1477779288sainte-famille-church
Sainte Famille Church. / Nadege Imbabazi

Nyarugenge Prison, famously known as 1930, the year in which it was created is the oldest prison in Rwanda where many Rwandans who resisted the colonial rule were detained.  

According to the city master plan, this prison will relocate to Mageragere. It was initially said that the prison will have been moved by the end of this year.
 
Parliament buildings
 
This building is not only the house where laws are made but also a historic structure that has a lot to tell especially for the post genocide generation. It was constructed between 1980 and 1989.

The building still bears holes made by rockets and bullets that were exchanged in the fighting between by the Rwandan Patriotic Army and the then government forces.

In June this year, there were debates on whether to demolish or renovate the building.

Old buildings are free from harm-officials

Despite concerns that old structures might be washed away, officials promise that they won’t be touched.

Fred Mugisha, Director of Urban Planning and Construction in Kigali City, said urbanisation doesn’t ignore people’s traditions and history.

He said some structures will not be demolished during the implementation of the master plan. Mugisha cited Nyarugenge prison, Sainte Famille and Sainte Michel churches and Richard Kandt’s residence, among others.

He added that constructing modern buildings in traditional designs will be another way of preservation.

“For instance, the Kigali Convention Center is designed like Rwandan traditional houses, particularly the King’s palace. There are also buildings for the Faculty of Architecture and Environmental Design at the College of Sciences and Technology under construction and have old designs,” he said.

Mugisha also revealed that there will be an exhibition gallery of past, current and future structures that shows construction evolution in the country.

“We are planning to establish a gallery where pictures of existing or nonexistent structures as well as the master plan of the future construction will be displayed,” he said  

Merard Mpabwanamaguru,  an Urban planner for investment promotion in Kigali City, added that there was an ongoing study on the implementation of the master plan to preserve the oldest neighbourhoods of Kigali like Quartier Mateus and Quartier Commercial in the current Central Business District. 

“It is planned that seven hectares in Nyarugenge will be become a heritage village. The project will have buildings 10 meters from the road. Those buildings will be renovated in a way that does not wipe away their history,” he said.

Isidore Ndikumana of the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda said the recently enacted law on protection of heritage will facilitate preservation.

“In case we don’t manage to preserve historic buildings, we can take photographs before they are demolished or renovated and keep them. If people can’t visit things physically, they can at least see them in visuals,” he said.

“We have started to take photographs of “Mu cyarabu”, an ancient Arab neighborhood in Huye district. There are other buildings like the royal court, Belgian houses, among others, in Nyanza, the former royal capital.

Ndikumana, however, maintains that there are also other important projects that need to be implemented.

“In that case, we can weigh and decide whether to let or remove historical structures. Moreover, with our little land, we cannot preserve each building separately; we can rather select some as symbols,” he said.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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