The night-time economy: can we talk about Kigali's nightlife?

As Rwanda’s capital, Kigali is consistently recognised as one of the cleanest, most secure and orderly cities in Africa.

As Rwanda’s capital, Kigali is consistently recognised as one of the cleanest, most secure and orderly cities in Africa.

In fact, aside from smooth roads, functioning traffic lights, well-lit streets, and neatly presented pavements, Kigali has frequently been recognised on the world stage as a city very mindful of protecting the environment.

Indeed, in 2008, UN Habitat awarded its Scroll of Honour to Kigali in recognition of its efforts to clear slums and improvements in water and sanitation, among others.

And yet, among its residents, particularly the young folks, there is a prevalent perception that when compared to other regional cities like Kampala or Nairobi, Kigali is not as vibrant a city as it ought to be especially given all the attributes mentioned above.

And when pushed to elaborate, many young people point to the rather dull nightlife, citing restrictions imposed on venues that play music for instance, as the main reason why those who can, frequent Kampala or Nairobi at the expense of Kigali.

And they take their money with them.

Others have pointed to the shortage of facilities and venues such as music and cultural venues, art galleries, recreational parks, late-night shopping facilities, and so on. They think that little interest is placed on entertainment activities.

But, personally I believe that there is more to this than meets the eye. To begin with, although I concur to a certain extent with the accounts above, I also think that the way in which many of us approach nightlife activities has for the majority of time been a thing to fear and over-regulate rather than actively managing the activities.

For me, this explains why the response to noise pollution was for instance met instantly with closures rather than exploring ways to accommodate such venues.

And there is another thing – subjective as it may be, you can also argue that a significant number of Rwandans view city centres after dark hours as places that attract crime and disorder - in essence, as places of threat instead of opportunities.

We tend to perceive bars to be places of disorder rather than places where people meet for a good time; we see nightclubs as places that young people should not associate with, even those old enough to do so; and perhaps, all of this explains why most of us do not place real economic value on entertainment related careers such as disc jockeys, comedians, artists, dancers, and so on. 

But, these perceptions need to change because they are costing us a lot in terms of social and economic value. I believe that given the right strategy, Kigali can become just as vibrant as Kampala and Nairobi, or even better.

But to achieve that, we need to start recognising the real economic and social value of a night-time economy - economic activity which occurs between the hours of 6pm to 6am. This includes bars, cafes, restaurants, cinemas, nightclubs, comedy clubs, and so on.

Because, from a night out at the cinema, to a family dinner at a restaurant, or drinks with friends, the night-time economy can play an important role in transforming Kigali  into a vibrant place that adds real social and economic value.

A thriving night-time economy has major benefits – from creation of jobs for young people, to a round-the-clock city that welcomes and delights visitors. There is also the possibility of easing pressure on limited workspace, and perhaps other public services during the day.

In addition, a vibrant and safe nightlife is a big tourist attraction; Amsterdam alone receives over 4.6m visitors every year, many of them attracted to the nightclubs and bars. London attracts an even greater number, with most visitors coming to spend their money shopping at Oxford Street during late hours. All of this adds to economic growth.

And taking London and Amsterdam as reference cities, you will note that these vibrant cities have embraced economic activities that take place after dark because they chose to approach them as opportunities rather than threats.

For instance, in 2003, Amsterdam decided to appoint a night mayor exclusively responsible for developing the Dutch capital’s night-time economy. And in 2014 alone, London’s night-time economy added £26.3 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) to the UK economy.

One in eight jobs in London is in the night-time economy. These are entertainers, DJs, bartenders, security, taxi drivers, restaurateurs, technicians, delivery drivers, and so on.

I believe that Kigali is also capable of realising its potential the same way as London has. A whole range of opportunities can be explored - from hotels and restaurants, to bars, clubs, cinemas, and so on.

Support services like transport could also benefit from the development of a night-time economy.

However, what we need to do almost immediately is cease to perceive a working day as one that begins at 8am and ends at 6pm. A dynamic city has no limits; there is no reason why financial services, telecommunication services, construction, admin and support services cannot operate overnight, and besides, does productivity know the difference between day and night?

Now, it would be unreasonable to conclude without acknowledging the ongoing efforts to transform Kigali into a dynamic city that is vibrant, clean, orderly and beautiful. In fact, the Kigali Master Plan allocated Kimicanga to become Kigali’s future entertainment hub.


And, according to Kigali Master Plan, Kimicanga will “house many complementary facilities such as cultural and convention centres, auditoriums and amphitheatres, as well as retail, F&B, outdoor dining and refreshment venues. It will be the prime entertainment hub of the City.”

In the meantime, however, the rest of us need to work on how we perceive activities that take place between 6pm and 6am. Bars, restaurants, nightclubs, cinemas, artistic venues, retail, or any other places of late night economic activity should not be viewed as threats to public order or a way of life.

Rather, they should be seen as spaces that offer huge social and economic opportunities - from jobs and income, to a delightful ambiance for tourists and locals alike.

After all, if we don’t change our perceptions, how can we expect many annual visitors that we are striving to attract to explore a city that we appear reserved to discover ourselves?

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