First, there were Rubangura and Centenary House. Then came the UTC building. Next, almost simultaneously, the new mall that replaced the old market, Kigali City Tower (KCT), Pension Plaza and the new T2000-building next to KCT. And recently, it was announced that a mega shopping mall will be built at the MTN roundabout in Kimihurura, opposite the convention center also under construction.
Elsewhere in the city too, high-rise buildings are mushrooming, the majority of them providing office and shop space. This of course raises the question: are there any takers for all this space, or are these just shiny buildings that are mostly empty? Aren't the city authorities over-ambitious? And with so many shopping facilities being created at once, can they all be profitable considering that Rwandans' average purchasing power is still low?
The KCC vice-mayor in charge of economic affairs, Alphonse Nizeyimana, explains that Kigali needs high-rise commercial buildings, multi-storeyed housing blocks and state-of-the-art infrastructure for the development of the country. He adds that this is also done in accordance with the Kigali master plan, which is based on research and analysis of a wide range of conditions and technical aspects, like environment, land use, infrastructural, cultural, and socioeconomic factors, as well as economic and demographic projections, and outlined opportunities and constraints for urban development.
Emmanuel Biseruka, a resident of Kagarama- Kicukiro district, recognizes that buildings like KCT, Pension Plaza, Centenary House and others has had a very positive impact on the image of Kigali city, which will certainly contribute to attract more visitors, but he thinks many Rwandans still have to get used to them.
Richard, a salesman at Simba supermarket agrees. "There are still few Rwandans coming to the shopping malls, it's mostly the well-to-do and expatriates," he explains, adding that that contributes to the perception ordinary people have of such places. "I think there is under-utilization of the shopping malls; people think they are for the rich and the majority of Kigali citizens still go to the traditional markets."
Yet mall developers and owners are optimistic, saying that it is just a question of replacing old, worn out infrastructure with modern ones.
At Kigali City Tower, the tallest building in the city, officials say it is full to capacity. Those renting the spaces are mainly regional and international organizations.
And Charles Habyarimana, the property manager of Caritas-Rwanda which owns Centenary House, points out that Rwandans enjoy shopping in these modern places, saying that for example if there are two shoe shops, it's easier to compare prices and quality. "It is comfortable to shop in, as it is air conditioned; there are places where one can rest and eat, etc. So all this put together makes it a convenient experience for the consumer," he argues.
Habyarimana adds that in Centenary House too, all the spaces are taken. "The building is 100% occupied; on the first and second floors there are shops, and above it's a place for firms and offices that offer different services".
And he doesn't think that the rapidly growing number of high-rise buildings poses a problem either, since Rwanda is developing and many international and regional companies are coming to Kigali. "All I can say demand for such buildings in Kigali city is still very high," Habyarimana says. "But as more are being erected, the prices will fall and more Rwandans too will be able to work in a better environment."