When it’s good to recreate the wheel: First impressions of Batsinda

I have seen the new homes. My friends are moving. My friends who lived for years in Lower Kiyovu are being shipped out—many of them happily—to the outer rings of Kigali, the Batsinda Project near Kagugu, a Frw1000 moto-ride away from home.

I have seen the new homes. My friends are moving. My friends who lived for years in Lower Kiyovu are being shipped out—many of them happily—to the outer rings of Kigali, the Batsinda Project near Kagugu, a Frw1000 moto-ride away from home.

Let’s not pretend; the new homes near Kagugu, as aesthetically unpleasing as they are, are a major improvement in some faces of daily life for the new residents.

To start, these are solid, fortified constructions, which won’t be lost in the midst of rain and wind, which has happened so many times in Lower Kiyovu.

On top of that, each unit has access to its own water tank, something supremely unavailable to residents before. Authorities are in the act of cabling electric wires into the community and running them down into each private home.

But the electric wiring could have been put in before. None of the units are designed with location for electrical plugging, and although no accusations are being made, it would seem to have been more sensible for the wiring to be added when the units were being constructed.

There are some other—"inconveniences"—with the estate.

Despite Rwanda’s and Mayor Dr. Aisa Kirabo Kacyira’s dream of a "clean and green" Kigali City, the settlement units at Batsinda have no visible waste management containers. Not one garbage can or recycling bag in sight. Result? The few families already living in the housing project have thrown their trash—plastic, metals and papers—on the ground, giving a noxious and sadly familiar sight and smell to the surroundings.

Even more problematic to day-to-day life is the vastly inadequate access to the settlements, namely by two "roads," one so poorly maintained that a vehicle requires four-wheel power drive and substantial shock absorbers to not be seriously damaged by the journey. Residents of the settlements must walk a distance to a local market where matatus can pick them up. They could also pay close to Frw1000 on a motor-taxi to the city, or walk close to an hour up and down hills and roads with no lighting at all.

It is in effect a quarantine.

That is nothing new in public-housing projects. It’s something old. It’s something old and not good. Rwanda constantly says it does not, in reference to development, need to ‘recreate the wheel.’ Sometimes it should.

Beyond all of this, though, is the lack of care shown by the authorities to human happiness in the architecture and design of the units. Through and through, the physical presence and lack of creativity—the sameness, monotony, lifelessness, the claustrophobia—has left serious socio-economic and demographic marks on society, and those in charge of Batsinda obviously did not do their homework by looking at other cities.

To the residents of Lower Kiyovu

Your destiny is in your own hands. The Government has given this to you, in the form of down payments on the new estate. Unlike the residents of other cities across the world, including New York City, Paris, and Barcelona, who are put in vertical prisons without space and without ownership, you will not be paying rent; you will come to own the place where you will live. It is yours!

So make it yours.

Community participation and ‘ownership’ of the Batsinda Project Houses will be the difference between a crime-ridden ghetto and a colorful community as vibrant as it had been in its ancestral home on the hill by New Cadillac. It will be the difference between poverty of the mind and pocket or a prosperity of purpose. It will be the difference between just another ghetto outside a national capital, where their surrounding and facilities are banged into their psychology, or a place where people rise above what they have been given. They do not shrink into their self-pity.

This means you must decorate your homes. Decorate your yards. Paint your homes and think and act like a community.

To public policy makers

You must endow the former neighborhood of Lower Kiyovu, you must endow Ubumwe cell with acknowledgement of what once was. A vibrant, peaceful neighborhood rich in culture and fraternity is being moved. It is not being lost—virtually the entirety of the inhabitants will live together again, just miles away from the city-centre—but it is being replaced.

Choose one plot of land and reserve this for use as a community museum and cultural centre, a place where the lives and stories of those who fought against genocide and survived and created their own community can be remembered. Let us prove our high-mindedness; we are a young nation, we have the world ahead of us, let’s take luxury and freedom of choices to our best.

We can only hope that we have overcome not just our past of genocide ideology, but our past of not appreciating people altogether. What harm does it do us to save one house and put the few funds into it needed to add great value to our lives and real estate?

But at the end of the day, no one should expect anything from anybody if not first from themselves. It is up to the new residents of Batsinda to give their new home life. They have been given blank stencils of grey concrete to work with. They must color it in themselves.



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