Kigali gets more beautiful by the day, or shall we say by the night? New street lights are being put up along major streets, such as Central Business District-Kacyiru road, and they have literally turned night into day; they are so bright.
They are also so beautifully installed, with the posts done in a very stylish manner. The Kigali City Council surely gets an A here. They confirm my long held view that, in fact, Kigali is more beautiful at night. And so begs the question; why is there very little business at night? Why does the city sleep so early? Why are we not a 24-hour city?
New York City personifies the 24-hour city best, with almost anything accessible at any time. Sights to see, places to visit, and shopping, partying and serious cultural gems dot the city and a visitor is spoilt for choice. With all the buzz, it is no wonder it is America’s largest city.
Naturally, entertainment leads the way in evening and night time economy. But when you think out of the box (and probably against the box), with a little innovation, this can be expanded. At UTC Building, for example, Nakumatt supermarket opens 24 hours. In the same building, there are food courts, a bank, two cafes, salons, travel agencies, clothing shops, among others. These offer complimentary services to Nakumatt supermarket activities.
But they all close by eight or nine. The city centre is also virtually deserted at night yet, during the day, there are hawkers running around with city authorities hot on their heels. Can they, perhaps, be allowed to hawk in the CBD from 7p.m? Human traffic is very important in business. You situate your business where there are people.
Almost all the time, buying is an emotional decision and, sometimes, impulsively so. You see a nice dress and you are most likely to buy it then than later. The hawkers instinctively know this. The nice market away from human traffic is actually not nice at all to the seller! What is more, it is a revenue opportunity for the authorities, a win-win situation.
It is also a great way of doing business real time with other parts of the world. When we wake up, some of our trading partners in the west are going to sleep and vice versa. With a 24-hour city, problems arising from time zone differences are eliminated as we will be functioning around the clock
The 24-hour city is a concept Kigali should adopt. Much as it unquestionably raises policy issues, it is a challenge we can take upon ourselves and utilize the opportunities while controlling the risks. Issues that need to be looked at are evening vis- a-vis night time economy, seasonality and weekends and the role of informal economy. It is a great way of mainstreaming the informal economy.
The opportunities and challenges presented by this concept can best be addressed by putting in place relevant policies. The competing needs of visitors, residents and workers would best be addressed herein. Thus, the increasing and diverse needs will be balanced with regulation over the 24-hour cycle. Thus everyone’s needs will be included as the city remains safe and vibrant.
Naturally, extensive consultation is called for. Melbourne, for example, came up with four key areas; activation and cultural context, infrastructure, regulation and partnerships.
If Kigali is to be a world city (and it should be) it must do two things from this moment on: One; it must develop a distinct character, something that is uniquely ‘Kigalian’ (like gondolas of Venice, or closer home the safari image Nairobi projects). Two; we must stop sleeping under the bright lights and become a 24-hour city. Entrepreneurs, are you listening?
Sam Kebongo is a skills and business advisory services consultant. He teaches entrepreneurship at Rwanda Tourism University College.