All content for billboards in Kigali must be approved by the city authorities prior to being put out for public consumption.
In a directive to various companies issued, yesterday, the Mayor of Kigali, Fidele Ndayisaba, said the new guidelines for the management of the billboards take immediate effect.
"With effect from to day, every message to be posted on a billboard shall be subject to approval by the City of Kigali prior to its posting for public advertisement on either billboards or any other type of outdoor advertisement," the mayor said in the directive.
However, the move by the city has drawn mixed reactions, with many wondering the rationale that informed the decision.
"I wonder why the City Council would censor billboards only, not adverts in the newspapers, radios and television. This move might have a negative impact on businesses," Bosco Rushingabigwi, a media and communications expert, said.
Alliance Media, a continental outdoor advertising agency with regional offices in the country, is concerned that the directive could harm their business.
"The concept sounds good, but we have a problem with the approval of artworks. We believe the City Council should just set standards to save us from sending work all the time for approval," Abraham Mingech, the Alliance Media's regional manager for Rwanda and Burundi, said.
He added, "We run businesses for continental companies that may have one advert running on all billboards across the continent. I don't understand how all other countrites can have similar adverts and Rwanda has a different one."
Mingech, however, said the City Council should be given a benefit of the doubt on the policy effectiveness.
The Corporate Affairs Manager of BRALIRWA, Freddy Nyangezi, however, differed, saying his company is comfortable with the directive since they find no reason for the City Council to reject their billboard content.
"We censor ourselves to ensure that the information we put out there is not harmful to the public. We don't think the city council would reject what we present to them," Nyagenzi said.
John Agaba, the senior marketing officer of Banque Populaire, one of the largest banks in the country, said the key concern is about the time that would be spent in vetting the content.
"We opt for guidelines regulating the kind of content to be put on a billboard, so we wouldn't need to always go back to KCC for approval," he said.
There were similar concerns from Telecom giant MTN-Rwanda, who have billboards all over the city.
The Head of Public Relations at MTN-Rwanda, David Kezio-Musoke, said they have raised concerns of confidentiality and delays in approval.
"MTN-Rwanda is a law abiding corporate organisation and will definitely comply with the new law. However, we are already engaging the City of Kigali on many issues," Musoke said.
Just like the banks, the Telecoms sector is extremely competitive, making it imparative for the City to assure businesses of confidentiality as leaks can be disastrous to the companies.
Musoke wondered if the City Council had adequate resources to protect the information.
Rwanda Development Board, the caretaker agency for all local and foreign businesses in the country, seemed unaware of the development.
The acting CEO, Claire Akamanzi, said she needed to consult with the mayor before commenting on the new directives.
The Public Relations and Communication Expert at the City of Kigali, Bruno Rangira, said the approval process is meant to ensure that there is no "indecent" advertisement.
He added that the vetting will take a maximum of 24 hours from the time the content is submitted and that any billboard raised without the content being vetted would be pulled down.
The City Council, yesterday, held a consultative meeting with stakeholders in the advertising business, but the directives in the letter still stand.
"This letter, therefore, seeks to request you to abide by the above regulation and also to plan for the smooth replacement of the existing messages in the billboards," the mayor wrote.