Kigali — An ambitious programme aimed at developing six green secondary cities in Rwanda is underway and is expected to help this East African country achieve sustainable economic growth through energy efficiency and green job creation.
At a time when natural resource efficiency is described as key for cities in Rwanda to move towards a green economy, the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) is supporting the government in implementing its national development plan by creating a National Roadmap for Developing Green Secondary Cities.
Six cities have been identified in this East African nation to become green: Huye (south), Muhanga (central south), Nyagatare (northeast), Rubavu (northwest), Musanze (sorth) and Rusizi (southwest).
According to GGGI, the roadmap serves mainly as an implementation tool for other national development programmes as it provides key actions and practical planning guidance to policymakers in order to strengthen economic growth, enhance the quality of health and basic services, and address vulnerability in Rwanda's urbanisation process.
With the urban population growing at 4.5 percent a year, more than double the global average, Rwandan officials are now emphasising the need to develop secondary cities as poles of growth as the country has set a target to achieve a 35 percent urban population by 2034.
"The initiative has so far helped to develop a Green Investment Plan for these six cities, and a number of project concepts were then shortlisted as possible green projects," Daniel Okechukwu Ogbonnaya, the acting country representative and lead Rwanda programme coordinator of the GGGI in Kigali, tells IPS.
By supporting the implementation of the Green City Development Projects, GGGI in collaboration with the relevant government agencies also developed a Green City Pilot vision, parameters and concepts that will enable a demonstration effect on how green urbanisation could be showcased in a flagship project.
Among some quick win projects that were identified during the development of the National Roadmap, it includes for example the Rubavu Eco-Tourism in northwestern Rwanda, which aims to conserve the environment while improving the welfare of local people through job creation in the tourism and travel industry.
In Rwanda, some key interventions by GGGI to support a 'green economy' approach to economic transformation were to move from ideas into project concepts that could be used to access investment opportunities which have a good job creation potential when implemented.
Major focuses of these interventions are mainly on sustainable land use management, promoting resilient transport systems, low carbon urban systems and green industry and private sector development.
"But the limited capacity to understand the paradigm shift at local level makes it sometimes difficult because they don't have a proper understanding of the business environment," Ogbonnaya says.
While the initiative appears to be a strategic tool for the National Strategy for Climate Change and Low Carbon Development that was adopted by the country in 2011, experts suggest that it is also important for local administrative entities to understand the mechanisms of green urbanisation and secondary city development.
Some experts in urban planning believe that with the mindset for Rwanda's green secondary cities development changing from "quantity" to "quality," top priority should be given to marrying individual and community interests in these remote urban settings.
"With the high rate of energy consumption growth, the new approach for green secondary cities seeks implementing and enforcing energy efficiency standards for industrial and residential uses," Parfait Karekezi, who is in charge of Green and Smart City development at the government's Rwanda Housing Authority, tells IPS.
A key focus of these interventions is the provision of affordable housing with due regard to adequate water and sanitation facilities for secondary cities dwellers, promoting grouped settlements locally known as 'Imidugudu'.
With the weak residential infrastructure in secondary urban settings in Rwanda, Karekezi stresses that current efforts supported by GGGI are helping local authorities to adopt a set of housing standards with appropriate design for some parts such as windows to provide energy savings in electric lighting.
"Absolutely, there is a long way to go for Rwanda, including efforts to raise awareness on energy efficiency and other issues, such as urging people in these listed areas not to build housing that does not meet the required standards," Karekezi tells IPS in an exclusive interview.
Within these efforts supported by GGGI, both climate change experts and Rwandan officials believe that the ability of secondary cities to create job opportunities would help draw people from rural areas.
While official estimates indicate that land as a basic resource for many people's rural livelihoods and for new productive activity is pressured by increasing population density, especially in rural areas, the Rwandan government aims to create at least 200,000 jobs a year through the second phase of its Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy.
Rwandan officials believe that developing secondary cities will be a key part of national efforts to ensure that the local economy enables the direct creation of green jobs, especially in the service and industrial sectors.
Both Karekezi and Ogbonnaya are convinced that capacitating local actors and the private sector to understand how projects and concepts are designed represents a shift in how the implementation of green urbanisation will be properly managed.
Despite some successful projects including the ecotourism initiative which is currently contributing to improving the welfare of local residents in Rubavu, a lakeside city in northwestern Rwanda where local residents have long struggled over control of natural resources and tourism profits, experts believe that the focus should be more on private investments than on direct government aid.
In 2018, GGGI supported the government of Rwanda to receive a readiness project grant of 600,000 dollars, funded by the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The grant aims to ensure that the country has improved capacity to develop and deliver green city development concepts, identify investment priorities, and is ready to qualify for, and receive, GCF climate finance.
Ogbonnaya said it should also focus on how each submitted project aimed at green city development is designed and how it aligns with government priorities.
For example, GGGI provided support to draft the Rwanda Green Building Minimum Compliance and Standards that will replace the current building codes and therefore accelerate green growth and low-carbon development in Rwanda's urban areas.
In addition, the World Bank committed 95 million dollars in 2016 to support targeted infrastructure development and local economic development in the above listed six secondary cities.
But still, locally-based organisations and administrative authorities with private companies need to be the main actors for the successful implementations of the green cities initiative.
"At local level they still don't have a proper understanding of the green business environment in prioritising projects based on profits rather than impacts," Ogbonnaya says.
Currently GGGI is capacitating the local administrative entities in the listed secondary cities to develop their own District Development Strategies (DDS) ) for six secondary cities as reference tools for the better implementation of green initiatives at local level.
Thanks to these interventions, some local actors are being empowered to implement projects such as garden cities, which have been described as another opportunity to attract investment and create employment as well.
"But to really grow, these green city projects needs to bring in financing and to get this happening, we need to have interesting projects and interesting businesses such as clean energies in which private companies can invest," Karekezi tells IPS.