FEATURE : Nyamirambo: A unique suburb whith more than one face

The unbothered kids walking the streets, the car horns hooting from all sides, the screeching noise from wheelbarrows taking produce to the elusive markets, the outstanding call of the Imam for Moslems to come for prayers, make a big part of Nyamirambo’s daily rhythms. 
The Biryogo street where the nocturnal market goes on (Photo / M. Gahigi).
The Biryogo street where the nocturnal market goes on (Photo / M. Gahigi).

The unbothered kids walking the streets, the car horns hooting from all sides, the screeching noise from wheelbarrows taking produce to the elusive markets, the outstanding call of the Imam for Moslems to come for prayers, make a big part of Nyamirambo’s daily rhythms.  
Nyamirambo, a renown Kigali city suburb is a place always bustling with activity most times of the day, making it arguably the only place where night lifers can purchase items until late to spice up their night.

Here, most of the bars and restaurants close at least four hours after the rest of the city’s have closed while some operate trans-night.
Most of the town’s features are distinct from other places, and its people exhibit a peculiar range of characteristics quite different from other places-peculiar not in a cynical sense but in a way that displays fullness of life.
What welcomes you is the loud music from the small cubicles and shops which are; video libraries, music burning centers and boutiques and a blend of aromas from the various delicacies prepared in the many restaurants.
It is not easy to identify in specific terms why its people, are more excited than people from other parts of the city.

But a combination of factors make a conclusion that you can always tell who comes from Nyamirambo, just like you can tell who drinks Bell, as the saying goes.
The commuter taxis to the place are designed with celebrities ranging from musicians and footballers and to walk the talk, they play loud hip hop, crank and R&B music by American stars like Rick Ross, FloRida and Keri Hilson.
Even when blind-folded from wherever you stay, on reaching there you can realize that you are in Nyamirambo because of its unique air of vibrancy and entertainment which sets the place apart.
This ecstatic status that the neighbourhood is currently enjoying is however a contradiction from Nyamirambo’s frosty history, which earned it its sinister name that literally translates as “a place of dead bodies”.
According to Jean Louise Kagahe, a resident, the name was derived from the fact that in the ancient monarchical times, this area was the dumping place for dead bodies resulting from the violent battles between the Rwandan monarchies and Banyoro; in the same rhythm other places bordering Nyamirambo like Akumunigo got their names.
However despite the notorious history, it is evident that people in Nyamirambo have lived to make the place the liveliest settlement in Kigali city, where many have enjoyed their beer, partied like rock-stars and most importantly offered variety of services and products, in what can be mistaken for a deliberate effort to overhaul the name of the place and make people forget the bloody past.
The times I have visited Nyamirambo can be counted on my fingers despite its being fun. It is not because I don’t like the fact that it’s full of life, but perhaps I don’t have many social connections. However, something irresistible about the place has taken me there.
This place has more than one colour especially when it comes to economic activities; there are markets that only appear when it clocks seven in the evening, one of them is the famous clothes and shoes market in Biryogo where youngsters go for stylish outfits and shoes at a reduced price.
It is out of a desire to get myself a nice pair of shoes that I find my way to Nyamirambo, but the time I always spend there I get a completely strange experience.
It is here that I came to realize that Kinyarwanda, has a fully fledged slang version spoken by a certain group of people in certain situations.

At first, it would be hard for me since, let alone the slang, Kinyarwanda was also a problem but as time went on, I could understand what my shoe sellers were communicating.
Jean Claude Niyonzima looks very unsettled as we negotiate the price of shoes; he looks in all directions almost instinctively.

His fears, are because the police always confiscate their products, since the market is illegal which also explains why the hawking happens between seven and nine o’clock in the night.
When I asked him why his business only starts in the night, and for a few hours, he explained that “it’s because his products are few” adding that he “cannot manage paying taxes and rent like what happens in mainstream businesses.”  However, he promised to open up a serious venture when he gets capacity.
There, is a variety of businesses in Nyamirambo. Many are operated by young adults in the range of 16 to 28 years of age and most are conducted informally, which partly explains the little progress.
 Nyamirambo is sandwiched by outstanding hills, on which a myriad of houses hung overlooking each other to form a mixture of a gorgeous splendour of shimmering roofing and a rusty outlook that is almost brown.
When accessing Nyamirambo from Nyabugogo one passes through Kimisagara and Nyakabanda. This takes 15 minutes in a commuter taxi in a journey that is like a rugged curve up to the city centre.

Most of the houses in Nyamirambo are not only old but old fashioned as well; walking through it during the day brings one face to face with the most pathetic settlements in Kigali city.

Houses are close to each other from the start to the end, the shops are painted with graffiti-like drawings advertising the various products sold in each shop ranging from clothes to spare parts.

The crime rate is relatively higher in Nyamirambo compared to other parts of Kigali, partly because of overpopulation in the slums with a high number of the unemployed. This adds to social disorders like hooliganism. 
It is intriguing how the place has a high number of Moslems compared to other places. When asked why it’s like this, I was told that it’s a historical arrangement.

The Moslem culture that is significantly felt in the area has to a certain extent tried to bring sanity, according to Mzeei Mustapha Kajuga, a resident of Biryogo, one famous locality.

The Moslems in Nyamirambo did a great job of hiding people from being killed during the Genocide.
The roots of the Moslem culture in Nyamirambo according to Kajuga; “can be traced way back in the colonial days, when Arab merchants made it their first settlement.”
During the previous Idd celebrations, the leader of the Moslem religion in Rwanda Mufti Saleh Habimana urged the Moslem community in Nyamirambo, to embrace development by adopting progressive activities as opposed to indulging in illicit activities.
Neighbouring Nyamirambo, is one of the largest Universities in the country, the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology [KIST].

Many students reside in the surrounding areas of Nyamirambo, because of affordable accommodation near the university.
If only the place can be developed and the slums transformed into modern, secure settlements, Nyamirambo would make a much more productive neighbourhood, strategic for business due to its proximity to the city center.