The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Kigali Central Prison to Become 'Heritage Hotel'

As Kigali City continues to champion a rapidly developing metropolis, officials say they are mindful of structures with historical significance, and among these is the Kigali Central Prison, commonly known as 1930.

The strategic property on which the prison sits - which is just hundreds of metres away from the epicentre of Kigali - in what is now called the Central Business District, is currently waiting for a prospective developer.

According to the vice mayor in charge of economic development, Kigali City Council, Alphonse Nzeyimana, the developer of the expansive property will be compelled to leave the 1930 structure in its current architectural design, and transform it into a heritage hotel.

As for the prison, considered the biggest in the country, plans are underway to relocate it to Butamwa, a rural part of Nyarugenge district.

According to the Minister of Internal Security, Sheikh Musa Fazil Harelimana, the City of Kigali is free to decide the use of the facility after the prison relocation to Butamwa.

"Kigali City Council, in their plan to develop the city would not be wrong to find a developer who can maintain that structure while making a great business," he said.

However, Harelimana, made it clear that the prison was not chosen to host the history of prisons in Rwanda.

"The history of prisons will be kept in Musanze Prison which means a lot in Rwanda's history of resilience," he said yesterday.

The minister was not aware of when 1930 and Remera (also known as Kimironko Prison ) will relocate.

The same redevelopment fate awaits Kigali's oldest commercial street, commonly known as Quartier Matheus, whose centrally located old buildings will be spared.

"We will not change the shape of the houses; we will only renovate them like paving them with tiles, reinforcing them and providing them with more aesthetic materials but not their shape," Nzeyimana said.

He said that these structures, which currently occupy stores dealing in various commodities, will be reserved for restaurants and apartments.

The same applies to the residence of the first western settler in Kigali, Dr Richard Kandt, a German native, which sits just metres away from the 1930 prison and the former Presidential Palace in Kanombe, which have since been transformed into a museums.

Another monument to be preserved according to the city official is Saint Famille Catholic Church, which, built in 1913, is the oldest church in Kigali.

Same efforts have been replicated across the country, according to the Minister of Sports and Culture Protais Mitali.

A case in point is the plan to preserve part of Hotel Faucon, in the country's old capital, Butare, currently Huye.

Faucon is arguably the country's oldest hotel and part of which to be preserved as the facility plans to undergo a facelift is a section that was used by King Mutara III Rudahigwa.

"In that hotel, King Rudahigwa reprimanded a white man who owned it when it came to his notice that he was preventing Rwandans to access the facility, which was exclusively used by Belgian colonialists," said Mitali.

However, some houses of historical importance have over the years been demolished due to what the Minister of Sports and Culture calls 'past mistakes.'

He gave an example of the Kigali main roundabout in downtown, saying the location of this facility used to be a residence of one of the Rwandan kings.

He also said that a house where Belgian colonialists jailed King Yuhi V Musinga in Rusizi district, before him to Bukavu in DRC where he was later to die, was demolished by the Rusizi authorities so they could build a bigger house. However, the ministry was notified and the plot was repossessed to reconstruct a symbol of that history.

And more recently, Mitali added, a house once owned by King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa, in Nyanza district, Southern Province was sold to a private investor who plans to allocate the plot to public parking.

"By mistake, the house was sold in public auction and we got to know about it late. Since the buyer acquired it legitimately there is no way to get it back," he said.

For the rest, Mitali said his ministry has written to all local authorities and demanded them to protect heritage sites in their respective areas.

Nzeyimana, however, said the main challenge with such structures is that most of them were not built with strong materials which makes it had to preserve them.

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