I was in Nairobi around this time last year, and when I came back, I wrote an article in this same paper imploring fellow Rwandans to be proud of the state of their city Kigali (while it lasted). My argument was that compared to other capital cities in the Great Lakes Region, Kigali was far much cleaner, safer (which is true even today), less congested, no rush hour traffic jams, and one could get anywhere by public means at anytime.
Little did I know then that a lot can happen within a year, especially when you are living in a country that is gallantly and steadily unrolling from ruin, like Rwanda, at a record rate.
Until mid last year, traffic jams were unheard of in Kigali, unless there was an accident somewhere along the city roads. However, all of a sudden things were changing in a way that was difficult to fathom, unless of course it is your job to do so. These days travelling from the city center during the rush hours of the morning, lunch time and evening, is a nightmare. These days such hours are characterized by thick traffic jams that last somewhere between 30 minutes and even longer.
Canny taxi men have since started devising ways of beating the traffic jams in order to maximize profits, just like their East African counterparts discovered years ago. Don’t be surprised to see a taxi heading to Kacyiru or Kimironko, avoiding the conventional route at the round about, down St. Famille to Sopetrad, and instead taking the ORTPN-Milles Collines road, down to BNR, before turning left near the Germany Embassy towards the main road again. By doing this, they hope to reach the main road while the vehicles that took the conventional route are still held up by the traffic lights at the Kiyovu junction, therefore beating the jam by a few vehicles.
But that is if you are lucky to get a taxi in the first place. These days, nobody wants to be in town up to 5 p.m. if they can help it. Most of the time when it is past four and you are still in town, brace yourself for a long evening because the latest you might get home could be 9 p.m. especially if you live in Kimironko, Remera or Kacyiru. And these are the most inhabited suburbs. It’s a sight of despair and pity every other evening at the famous ‘Rubangura’ taxi stages where hundreds of people scramble for the few available taxis, hoping to board and reach home.
This kind of situation has attracted pickpockets who take advantage of the desperate people to steal from their pockets as they hassle to get into the taxis. Getting to work on time for civil servants whose mandatory reporting time is 7 a.m. is also proving impossible because getting a taxi in the morning is also a big problem. It’s not yet clear to me whether it’s the taxis that are few or whether the population has outgrown the city’s transport system.
Talking of the requirement of rugby skills (and physique) to be able to get into a taxi to take you home, some people might soon find themselves in a big dilemma because there might be no home to go to anyway. Kigalians have for long been enjoying the ‘luxury’ of ‘unity and reconciliation’ settlements where shacks have been peacefully ‘cohabiting’ with bungalows all round the city. But it seems that this will soon come to a disappointing end as rukarakara shacks seem to be the most unwanted structures in the city of Kigali.
This has put the majority of the population on a constant run, shifting from one suburb to the other, looking for alternative cheap houses, after the expropriation of the ones they were staying in, for the construction of modern structures. The problem is that while people are being evicted in large numbers to give way to the construction of commercial structures, there is no corresponding investment into cheap residential houses to cater for these people.
And the few people who own residential houses that are for rent are taking advantage of this crisis to exploit tenants. In areas which are not earmarked for expropriation, property owners have hiked rent because they are aware of the high demand for residential houses. Those who have been evicted from expropriated areas are finding it hard because they now have to pay more than they can afford to have a roof over their heads, and they are being asked to pay for at least five months in advance. A two-bed roomed house that used to cost about Frw40,000 at the beginning of last year has been hiked to Frw60,000 or even Frw70,000.
People are now being pushed towards the city’s periphery, but as the transport crisis continues to pinch harder and harder, things might never get worse for this city. Well, it’s indeed true that every good thing has a bad side to it, including rapid development.
But something has to be done about these two serious problems all the same.