Development plans should not stifle innovation

With each passing day, Kigali city continues to look sparkling. The repaved roads and street lighting, sometimes, make you forget that you are living in what the Western media loves to describe as a ‘tiny central African’ republic. As if that is not enough, the ongoing beautification efforts have seen the roadsides getting an eye-catching green.

With each passing day, Kigali city continues to look sparkling. The repaved roads and street lighting, sometimes, make you forget that you are living in what the Western media loves to describe as a ‘tiny central African’ republic. As if that is not enough, the ongoing beautification efforts have seen the roadsides getting an eye-catching green.

Many visitors from other African countries, as well as Europe, are often shocked to see how organised Kigali city is. All this is happening before the city even implements the much touted Kigali Master Plan. Anyone who has had the chance of looking at this plan, especially in its 3D format will be quick to concede that it is simply breathtaking and many cannot wait to live in the proposed paradise-like settings.

The major concern has been and continues to be how the government, or precisely the city council authorities, plan to pull this off since it will involve relocating a significant number of people and business establishments. Already a huge section of the lower Kiyovu was razed a couple of years back to give way for modern housing.

Now there is talk of having all the embassies located in one area and I have also heard that businesses and offices that are located in residential areas will be required to move to areas designated for commercial establishments. According the proposed city master plan, whoever is putting up anything will only do so in the designated area.

All these efforts are geared at having a well planned city, something that is not easy to find in a number of African cities. However, with all plans a degree of caution is never a bad idea. My concern is particularly on the need for businesses not to be located in residential areas.

Generally speaking, it is understandable for businesses to be located in the ‘right’ place. However, some small enterprises are known to thrive in humbler backgrounds, especially start-ups and this requirement may end up stifling their birth.

In this era of start-up companies that have gone on to become major global brands, we are always reminded of companies that started small in obscure locations that our city master plan may not be ready to tolerate. For example, Facebook which now boosts more than 550 million users was started in a school dormitory while the behemoth that is now Google first occupied an ordinary house.

With Rwanda focusing on IT development, we are likely to see young people coming up with innovative ideas in the comfort of their homes or smaller premises. Take, for instance, computer programmers who only need a good laptop and access to the internet. We should not stifle this new energy by requiring that such people should immediately move to large office areas in the same place where you have already established companies.

Instead, we should give these start-ups their time and just like Facebook or Google they will move once they have matured. In the US many young minds are coming up with innovations which go on to become very large companies and once established they move to better locations, such as the now famous Silicon Valley in San Francisco.

ssenyonga@gmail.com

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