14 December 2013

Rwanda: Of Kigali's Nightlife, Food and Roadside Benches


Kigali is getting smarter by the day. It is not just the impeccably clean streets; the skyline of the city is rising, the central business district is a beehive of activity, the shopping malls have become trendy. Reputable international hotel chains are investing in the largely untapped hospitality sector; cafés dot the city centre. A modern cinema is a new addition to the allure of the City of Kigali.

Finding your way around the City is a lot easier now. Streets have new names and every home a number. You can also find your way through an online direction navigator on Google maps.

Arguments over the public transport fare are now a thing of the past with the introduction of automatic metres in taxis.

These may seem basic services that you would expect to find in modern cities but it has been painstaking work for city authorities to achieve this.

To accentuate this progress, recently City authorities launched 'The Smart Kigali' initiative. Through a Private-Public partnership, city residents can now enjoy seamless internet connectivity in specific Wi-fi hotspots all over the city. Such locations include hospitals, public buses, the city's main bus park, restaurants and commercial buildings.

This initiative offers immense opportunities to city residents and visitors who desire to access information and make use of the different IT solutions provided.

Despite all this progress, the City of Kigali is still far from a convenient city. Let me take a peek into the City's public system to which I have devoted space before. The city transport system is far from efficient though a lot of progress has been made. Long queues are still evident at bus stages during peak hours. Buses are still obscenely overcrowded.

The decision by City authorities to institute fines on operators who flout contractual obligations such as disregard of route schedules and overloading is laudable. An efficient city transport system is the bedrock of urban life. City dwellers should be able to go on with their business with the assurance that they will be able to catch the next bus home or to any part of the city with ease.

The quality of services delivered in public places like hotels and restaurants require a massive lift to meet the increasingly diverse demands of city residents and visitors. One area that I believe needs improvement is the cuisine.

In a recent article on Rwanda's hospitality sector published in Uganda's Daily Monitor, Kadumukasa Kironde II, a consultant chef, food critique and writer, shared his experience at one of our three-star hotels; I couldn't agree more.

"..[the hotel] lives up to its expectation (three stars) in everything but matters culinary... I was attending a conference based in the very hotel where we were staying, meant that we were more or less sequestered in the place and besides having breakfast on daily basis we were subjected to partaking of lunch and supper on more than a couple of occasions and frankly what a letdown," he wrote.

There is a need to scale up entertainment and other social amenities in Kigali. One reader of this newspaper penned a Letter to the Editor urging City authorities to set up a zoo. Visitors don't want to go to their hotel rooms at 8p.m; exploring night life is a hallmark of a visit to any city.

The City should also be 'user friendly.' There are no public places to sit around Kigali. The roadside bench culture has not picked up here. If people are to take advantage of the free Wi-Fi connection in public places like shopping malls, they will need a place to sit. The beauty of it is that they will not be just seated; chances are that they will be munching away on that burger or sipping coffee from the cafe next-door. With a clean and secure city, many a tourist will love to just sit, recollect and have a 'feel' of Kigali.

All these amenities may not come in a day but the onus lies especially on the private sector to seize these opportunities and use them to promote their businesses. With our Wi-Fi enabled buses, there is no doubt that they will attract many passengers. Owners should now be thinking of how to increase their fleet to better serve the surging number of commuters.

Everyone has a role to play in making Kigali a modern and convenient city.

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