Kigali property landlords should lower their expectations

After amending rules on how people can advertise publicly, City of Kigali has announced a new target for 2017, businesses and nongovernmental organizations operating in premises designed to be residential houses; they have up to end of March to relocate to commercial ones.

After amending rules on how people can advertise publicly, City of Kigali has announced a new target for 2017, businesses and nongovernmental organizations operating in premises designed to be residential houses; they have up to end of March to relocate to commercial ones.

‘Anticipated feedback’ in communication studies, is the assumed reaction to a planned announcement; this normally helps pro-active public relations professionals to prepare appropriate explanations especially in the event of negative reception.

 

When organizations intend to announce a policy deemed unpopular, they tactically arrange a ‘strategic media leak’ at least six to twelve months in advance; this not only helps preempt public anger but also mentally prepares would-be-victims of the policy.

 

Therefore in public relations management ‘strategic media leaks’ serve ‘strategic communication purposes.’ A press release then comes in handy, explaining ‘recent media reports that…’ and stating the official position of the establishment-an opportunity to set the record straight.

 

E.g. “City of Kigali would like to acknowledge recent media reports alleging that all businesses currently operating in residential areas must relocate to commercial premises. While that is indeed a requirement under our beautiful city master plan, implementing it will be gradual, mutual and well communicated to all concerned parties at an appropriate time…”

Such a statement should have been in response to a strategic leak, say, in January 2016 and the initial public fury would have been used to manage expectation ahead of the actual implementation in March 2017.

For the successful implementation of the master plan, combative communication characterized by issuance of short notices, should be avoided as it is counterproductive to maintaining Kigali’s responsive society.

Given that CoK still has many more policies to announce as it gradually implements the Kigali master plan; more resources should be invested in planning the communication processes in a bid to manage public shock but also mentally prepare those affected.

In defense strategy, there is always a first line of defense. In corporate communication, organizational spokespersons normally play that role; they know how to present delicate information to the public and handle troublesome questions.

Unfortunately, technocrat Parfait Busabizwa, the City vice mayor in charge of economic development, was alone to present and defend the delicate policy in the absence of CoK’s experienced Spokesperson, who, I gathered, was on leave.

He remarked that investments such as Kigali Heights, CHIC Complex, M. Peace Plaza, and towers built by Rwanda Social Security (RSSB), among others, are not fully occupied because of businesses prefer residential premises; this statement, while honest, shouldn’t have been presented like it was.

While PR is not about telling lies it is important to know what not to say sometimes; from the statement above, Mr. Busabizwa innocently blew CoK’s cover wide open as it then became clear to all that the relocation wasn’t entirely about the master plan.

The city is responding to a SOS-call from Kigali property investors who have been quietly lobbying authorities to help them have their empty and overpriced plazas around the city centre, occupied.

But that is like ‘selling something at gunpoint.’ People should move into these glamorous city plazas only if they serve their business needs and can afford to pay the bill, not because they have been told by CoK. It appears to me that City hall is spoon-feeding real estate investors.

In an article last year, I argued that Kigali property developers seem to be building for aliens because of the exorbitant rental fees they charge in monthly, moreover in foreign currency.

Shortly after the article, I appeared on a TV show with a Kigali real estate guru who remarked, during our exchange that, ‘Ken, for every property out there, no matter how expensive it might seem to be, it is actually affordable to someone.” He was right.

But we can also conclude, based on his reasoning, that if the city’s new plazas are empty, it perhaps also means, those who can afford them are not here yet.

The problem is in the rigidity of property owners. While they borrowed to construct, most of Kigali’s residential apartments are empty, many occupied by spiders; simply because they set the monthly rental fee at US$1000, they would rather stay empty than cut price to say US$500.

Late last year, the City Mayor hosted media personalities for a long interactive chat. Among my submissions was the idea of a ‘rent tribunal’ whose job would be to regulate property rental fees based on a well researched and designed policy.

In a bid to motivate residential based businesses to relocate to city plazas, the city says it has advised property land lords to reduce their rates to at least US$15 per square meter as opposed to the over $20 they currently charge. This would be the rent tribunal’s job.

After addressing the rent issue, it would be a matter of time for the market to respond; businesses would voluntarily relocate without having to force them. At the moment, we seem to be putting the cart before the horse.

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