Early this month – 6th October 2008 to be exact – Kigali City won the Habitat Scroll of Honour Award “for many innovations in building a model, modern city symbolised by zero tolerance for plastics, improved garbage collection and a substantial reduction in crime”.
“In just one decade, Kigali has been transformed into a place to which people come from all corners of the world to see and learn how they can replicate the Kigali modernisation and urban conservation model at home.”
Yes, and this is not from me. I am quoting the UN-Habitat executive director, Anne Tibaijuka, who announced the prizes at this year’s World Habitat Day celebrations in Luanda, Angola.
And if this does not excite you as a ‘Kigalois(e)’, you are cooler than a cucumber!
‘Cooler than a cucumber’ because you do not at all appreciate the blue blood that flows in the veins of those cities of the world that Kigali runs shoulder to shoulder with, in winning that award.
The Chinese cities of Nanjing, Shaoxing and Zhangjagang stand out in world class metropolises. As Chinese cities, maybe they are expected to outclass other world cities, considering the sky-rocketing pace at which that country is developing.
However, the other winners are not run-of-the-mill, dwarf cities either: Bugulma of Russia and Ciudad Juarez of Mexico.
All the other five combined, however, cannot impress the way Nanjing City does. I remember sampling the rare privilege of a Nanjing visit in the mid-1990s.
The way the gardens blended in with the landscape and the old, traditional structures, with the sophisticated, modern architectural wonders, and a dizzying, interwoven road system, simply took your breath away.
Its sophistication, however, sometimes turned out to be offensive. I remember storming out of one of the myriad, top-notch-clean public conveniences dotting the streets, in ‘black’ fury.
I was furious because I thought their toilets were ‘racist’ as, after seeing me zipping up, this one released a torrent of water, on its own, as if to cleanse itself of my Rwandan dirt!
What’d you have thought if you’d been me, coming from Kigali of the time?
Kigali then had no running water in residences, let alone public places. In any case, public conveniences did not exist, or any other sort of public place for that matter.
For toilet-facility purposes, people made do with any hidden place like the back of a building, an electricity pole, an advertising poster and suchlike.
In fact, Kigali in the ’90s was one big, stinking mountain of dirt that had been curved out into nooks of influence by all types of scum, delinquents and hoodlums. Any decent human being who ventured into the ‘city’ did so at their own peril.
That today the city is fit for human habitation is a miracle only ‘craft-able’ in Heaven and you’d better believe it!
All types of plastics had clogged up any semblance of a drainage system, which only vainly tried to exist in Kiyovu-For-The-Rich, turning the area into the least putrid garbage dump.
The rest of the ‘town’ was one big mountain of waste that formed around a once-green garbage collector and spread to all corners of the city, into the outskirts.
It is upon this colossal rubbish mass that running battles raged daily, pitting different rival gangs against one another, as each fought to retain its turf. First, there were ‘ba-Karaningufu’ (cart pushers and load carriers) whose ‘Tsssiiii..!’ spread terror among ordinary mortals.
Woe unto you if you didn’t immediately jump out of the way at its sound, for Karaningufu would either run over you with his cart, or dump his 100-kg load on you!
Then there were abavunjayi (money changers), ba-mayibobo (street urchins), daylight robbers, conmen/women, rapists, name them. To recount their exploits would need thousands of pages.
Suffice it to say that Kigali has come a very, very long way in a very, very short time!