People visiting Kigali have always got a first impression of, "Kigali the cleanest and safest city in Africa."
They say they are used to seeing other cities littered with plastic bags, people eating and leaving trash on roads creating dumpsites everywhere. Without shame, people in these towns also urinate on roadside. Waste management in some of these regional cities is appalling.
"Our city is not as well organised as Kigali which is green and calm. Let's hope our leaders learn from Kigali because they have started to put in place public dumping sites," said Desiré Nshimiyimana, from Bujumbura, the capital city of Burundi.
Richard Kabonero, Uganda's High Commissioner to Rwanda says, "Kigali is a nice city to live in. I am a Dean of diplomats here and my colleagues report that pollution is minimal and most importantly, the city is very secure."
Kabonero adds that in his country's capital city-Kampala, people no longer cook and eat on the road side nor throw rubbish wherever they find. He believes it is changing as Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) enforces the law on city cleaning. Yet he agrees, Kampala needs to learn a lot from Kigali.
Other foreigners echo similar views.
"Your city is very clean and it's very safe to live," observed an English volunteer, Caroline Anne, working in social protection.
For the ten months she has been in Kigali, she says Kigali beats Nairobi in beauty and safety.
The Kigali city authorities believe the town is different because they are putting everything in the right place for the city to really look beautiful.
They share what it cost to achieve the current face of Kigali city.
The Authorities believe community involvement has been critical in achieving the current state of Kigali. The work however is encountering challenges of poor housing in some neighbourhoods and a small budget.
Immaculée Mukashyaka, joined the Kigali city council in 1999 under the department of environment and public health as officer in charge of greening and beautification of the city. She narrates that efforts to clean the city were started by Major Rose Kabuye, then mayor of Kigali city in 1995 using a few waste management trucks donated by the Japanese government. But even these could not do the work well.
Five years later, in 2000 different people brought ideas from cities they visited and from these ideas the Kigali city came up with different policies to implement suitable ideas.
At first the city involved associations of the former sex workers to clean roads, but they didn't perform to the expectations.
In 2002, the cleaning cooperatives were formed and since then, the public roads beautification and the waste management in the neighbourhoods is tendered to the 2000 existing cleaning companies.
The roads that link at least two districts, said Mukashyaka, are managed by the Kigali city, while district roads are the responsibility of a district to manage. The sectors in turn clean the internal roads.
The waste management in neighborhoods was also entrusted to private companies who drive door to door and collect garbage which they drop at public dumping sites.
Mukashyaka disclosed that this costs the city more than Rwf600 million per year.
Allergy to the pollution
According to Mukashyaka, the city beautification could not succeed without everybody's input. "Even when the president himself finds rubbish on road, he calls the Mayor and the Mayor calls us so that we can find the person in charge of the road to remove it. Any road has a company in charge of it."
She gives an example that if a car hits a dog at Kabuga, she learns of it from the wide network and calls the person in charge of Kabuga road. Then that person removes the dead dog in time before it becomes a hygiene problem.
She added that every morning there is a-3 wheel motorcycle owned by Ikondera Company which moves on all the main roads in Kigali to remove the rubbish left by the night drunkards and other careless people.
Enter the private sector
The private sector is also involved. TIGO manages the Kigali main round about; MTN was entrusted with the Kimihurura round about, while the US embassy in Rwanda takes care of the Kacyiru round about.
"It's in their interest. We sign a business agreement where they manage this infrastructure with their money and put their adverts. In future, we might ask that someone wanting to put a bill board on any road be given some kilometres of that road to manage."
Kigali residents are sensitised to respect this beautification, a culture which they are adopting well.
But they also know the consequences. For example, when a driver destroys a traffic light, he/she pays a hefty fine of Rwf15m; a public light Rwf2.5m; while if one damages a palm tree they are fined Rwf1m.