Last week, the Mayor of Nyarugenge District, Theophila Nyirahonora, was quoted in the media as saying that the urban district would soon forcefully demolish all ‘unauthorized and poorly constructed houses’ in Kimisagara and neighboring suburbs.
The Mayor, reportedly, accused the owners of the houses of “exposing themselves to natural disasters and tarnishing the image of the country.”
Demolishing residential and commercial houses in Kigali City has been as much a preoccupation for city and district authorities, as infrastructure development over the past decade or so.
From the days of Theoneste Mutsindashyaka to the current Kigali City Council (KCC) leadership, under Dr Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, and, indeed, throughout the successive district administrators, thousands of houses have been pulled down, causing heavy losses to the owners and rendering many homeless.
Authorities have always argued that the houses in question had been constructed without municipal authorization.
Yet, the reality is that, authorized or not, these houses are constructed under the very noses of the authorities.
That officials, especially those at the grassroots level, indifferently watch as residents – desperate to own a home or a business premise – put up these houses, only for the authorities to descend on them with bulldozers when they are complete and occupied, is quite disturbing.
Some of these leaders are on record, shamelessly, arguing that the houses had been constructed without their knowledge. I do not support or encourage the unplanned or unauthorized construction of houses.
It is wrong for residents to violate construction rules– deliberately or not.
However, it is more sinister, for officials to deliberately let people spend their hard-earned cash on construction of houses that will surely be razed down upon completion.
And, it is even more perplexing for authorities to look on, without taking any measures, as tens of substandard houses mushroom in the city, as is the case in Kimisagara.
It is a typical case of neglect on the part of the leaders –one that shouldn’t, under normal circumstances, go unpunished.
One cannot help but suspect that some leaders are actually accomplices in these illegal activities. Incidentally, I have not heard of any leader who has been held responsible for such illegal activities.
Recently I was baffled when Kigali City authorized the destruction of a roadside commercial building, worth tens of millions, in Nyabugogo.
When I inquired why the building was brought down, one of the owners (it was owned by a cooperative), agonizingly told me that KCC had decided that the complex was too close to the road. A Kigali City official later confirmed this version.
One of the million questions that came to my mind was: how, on earth, could the cooperative have ‘illegally’ constructed a storied building – all the way to its completion – right in the heart of the city, without anybody at KCC realizing it?; How many more houses have been built and later brought down in less public areas of our city?
Well, the owners of these houses might be wrong, but does anybody care about the losses they suffer, and if so, what is it that the city authorities are doing to reverse the trend?
It reminded me of the Milimo court case, which KCC lost, and resulted in the government losing millions of Francs in damages. I believe if more victims were to drag the city council to court, more taxpayers’ money would be lost.
Kigali City Council and the three city districts need to review their strategy and put more emphasis on preventing ‘unlawful’ construction of houses, instead of waiting until people have moved in – either as residents or business operators – to raze them down.
The author is the 1st VP of Rwanda Journalists Association