When it comes to building a city, you cannot focus only on banks, coffee shops and insurance buildings. You have to have neighbourhoods.
Although Kigali is very clean, well-organised, and in fact quite a beautiful city, the newest developments in the city have been relatively austere in veneer, a little, boring to say the least.
Kigali has a blooming downtown business district. Buildings continue to go up, visitors and investors roll their Rangers to and from the Ministries and Serena.
But what it lacks l are distinct streets-neighbourhoods, and commercial strip that build an identity unto itself, becoming a ‘brand.’
Great cities become great cities when they become known for more than merely their financial and international institutions, but as well by their ‘personality.’
This encompasses not only public parks, museums, galleries, and schools, but neighbourhoods. Look at examples of Barcelona, Brooklyn, Cape Town and even Zanzibar.
In Barcelona there is a famous pedestrian street, Ramblas which permeates and resurrects and entire neighbourhood with charming shops and cafes.
Bo-Kaap, the Malay neighbourhood in Cape Town is known internationally for its hilly views and multicolour homes.
Kigali can take this next step. It doesn’t have many great distinct neighbourhoods, but there is one that raises above all to offer the city a unique opportunity to create a true culture of its own.
Being set next to centre ville, it is close enough to be seen as a natural continuation of the city proper. Yet set back by forest-green and KIST, it has the insulation to develop a unique character, one that it already has.
Known as the 24-hour part of Kigali, it is popular for its restaurants, many run by foreign Africans, and music shops. It has one main strip, which branches into two popular streets that surround Nyamirambo’s main landmark, the first mosque.
With an already booming food and fashion economy, Nyamirambo’s Avenue de la Justice, is more than ideal for development, hopefully into something that could become a Ramblas of Kigali, where you can stroll the music shops with some street-sold popcorn, enjoy dinner at a Senegalese restaurant, and then window-shop through the dozens of clothing stores until late in the night.
What is needed now is brand-building of popular restaurants in the area, clean-swept streets, and new benches built and grass filled into the dirt areas. The local mosques, stadium, or Kigali banks should finance new street lights to be built and electrogaz paid for.
City-famous restaurants Green Corner and Panaroma already exist in other parts of the neighbourhood, and this should be built off.
Repainted buildings and advertising should complete the steps to an invaluable improvement and addition to what Kigali offers both its tourists and its residents. This is not simply about making Kigali a good place for tourists. This kind of ‘national;-selling-out’ makes me sick.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni mentioned cousins of this during his speeches at last week’s East Africa Investment Conference, a nominal success.
But worries Mr. Museveni had about the conference—that Africa seeks too much from outside and not enough from inside—mirrors this worry; that the litmus test for Rwanda’s success seems sometimes ride on how many tourists it can pull in during one season.
This is not simply about making Kigali a good place for tourists. It’s about making it a good place. And at some point, when Africa develops itself thoroughly, and you could list great African cities as just as ‘worthy’ as European ones, these will be the things that make the difference.
Is Kigali a charming, green African city where you can stroll the cosmopolitan streets, or will it be the next “Developing-World Capital”, burying its development in clouds of dust, pollution, and dirt?
Sometimes you can see the potential when you walk the deeper lengths of Aveneue de la Paix, and between national and municipal symbols the green lush beauty of Central African flora rocket above you.
In some parts of Kigali, you can see evidence of a city truly built in African gardens. This is an atmosphere that has made the city renowned and earned it praise.
In this way the city has already earned one ‘personality.’ Developing Nyamirambo as a vibrant, fun, and above all, safe Kigali neighborhood ,will add another.
The UMVA centre looks in this way to develop projects ranging from the renovation of Club Rafiki library and sports grounds, name-branding of Nyamirambo restaurants and cafes, and lastly engaging the neighbourhood business community in infrastructure development and night-time security. We ask Rwanda to join hands with us.