5 June 2012

Rwanda: Kigali - The Green City Without Any Public Parks

Photo: La Presse
Preservation of the environment

BY any account the people at Rwanda Environment Management Agency [REMA] are a powerful lot. Anybody constructing anything anywhere must pay extreme attention to them or risk having their structures knocked down at a future date.

In Rwanda, the environment is a serious issue to which there are no shortcuts or derogations. We have even gone as far as ratified the Kyoto Protocol on reduction of carbon emissions. In a country that is among the least industrialized in the world and has a limited number of automobiles, some may say this is not only unnecessary but makes the cost of any future industrialization very expensive. On top of the already high costs of energy that is currently being rationed to industry, industry captains will have to use even more expensive imported green technology.

Energy costs may start to drop as hydro-electric dams currently under construction and the methane gas from Lake Kivu starts to come online. Green technology will remain quite expensive for awhile unless our bright scientific minds can come up with cheap and domestic alternatives and judging by current progress on that front, this may take some time. These costs combined with the need to import a large proportion of raw materials means that factories shall continue to produce goods that are uncompetitive pricewise.

However, I digress. My intention was not to express my short-term pessimism in the progress of industrialization in Rwanda but rather to wonder at the lack of public parks in our beautiful city. Kigali presents a happy mix of construction and greenery. Avocado and palm trees are ubiquitous on Kigali's streets and, unlike many African cities, there are not many places with unsightly expanses of garbage strewn dirt. It's all pavement and strips of lawn in this town.

So with all the cleanliness and obsession for observance of environmental laws, how is it that there is no public park in Kigali? There used to be the beginnings of one outside of the Ministry of Defence, but the park benches have since disappeared. There even seem to be fewer trees than before. National security concerns have turned the place into a pleasant but brisk walk through a lawn. Lounging, lingering or loitering of any sort is discouraged.

Then there is the patch of greenery in the middle of the roundabout at the Prime Minister's Office. The roundabout is a favourite for evening joggers and the gardens within used to host weddings and last year held a musical festival. Unconfirmed reports suggest that it has since been placed under the same conditions as the nearby ex-park at the Ministry of Defence. That leaves the green space below the Canadian embassy in Rugunga. It holds a basketball court, a few pathways and a stream. In fact, one can only characterise this place as a public park with extreme charity.

So what is to be done? Most places in the city are built areas and there is no point putting public parks in the empty outlying areas of the city. REMA has been quite vocal about protecting wetlands and getting individuals and companies to leave the marsh areas of the city. Instead of having large areas of the city get taken over by nature (and someday the criminal element), these wetlands could be converted into a belt of public parkland. We could even temporarily use the empty area that used to be "Kiyovu of the poor", grow a few trees and put up a few trails as we wait for the skyscrapers to occupy the area. Every major city in the world has public parks, it's about time we had a few ourselves.

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