Rwanda: City Development Needs a Smart and Synchronised Ecosystem

23 September 2019
interview

Pudence Rubingisa assumed office last month as the Mayor of the City of Kigali.

In an interview with The New Times’ Donah Mbabazi, he outlined his plans and also spoke widely on how he intends to make Kigali more vibrant and attractive to tourists.

Below are the excerpts:

It’s been over a month since you assumed office as mayor. What is your assessment of the current situation and what projections have you made going forward?

Once I assumed office, I had to keep the momentum as far as the development of this city is concerned. This, I had to do with the same speed and push for more so that we can achieve more.

We found a lot of projects in progress on the ground. So the current situation is a busy city, be it in development, social affairs or economics. So we are coping up with that speed, we are coping up with the expectations to be able to deliver without wasting any single day.

About projections-I would call them priorities because we found an action plan on our table, it had targets that we had to revise and consolidate. So coming back to the question, we didn’t sit and set projections per se but rather we set priorities such that we can push forward the agenda of Kigali.

What new developments are on the horizon for Kigali city?

The new developments are more or less related. One is the readiness for Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) but I would also align it with other international meetings that the Government of Rwanda is expected to host. You know the City of Kigali is becoming very attractive from within and out of the country, so new developments are aligned with getting ready to be able to host with quality service delivery, best infrastructure and a smart city.

But also something very important is on the agenda as new development and this is related to the wellbeing of our population, this is linked to human security.

However much we talk about a clean city, a green city, a smart city, we need to mind about what is happening within the city. Human security has become an issue that we have on our table, though this is not a new development per se, we are considering a new way of forming it up.

Problems in public transport have persisted, hence affecting the mobility of people in the city. How do you plan to fix this?

This has become a government concern and citizens can’t wait to see something happen. First of all, I need to commend the work that has been done to improve transport in Kigali, and it keeps improving but this is not at the same pace as the citizens want because we are still experiencing long queues especially during peak hours.

But there are two things to consider, one is to keep working with those companies to make sure that there is a special deployment of buses during those peak hours and of course work with the users to also cope up.

The City of Kigali together with other stakeholders is working to finalise a feasibility study aimed at improving this issue.

We plan on establishing a rapid bus transit as one way of creating a dedicated line whereby buses especially during peak hours won’t be interrupted by traffic jam or traffic lights. This, of course, requires a detailed follow-up study and it is, of course, going to be considered in the next budget year.

Currently, with the existing means, we have deployed a monitoring team to see if the existing public transport system is used efficiently.

Do you have any timelines for your solutions?

Much as it is really a priority we can’t say that this is going to happen next year. What I can say is that a detailed study is going to be commissioned and revised in the next budget, we expect that six months down the road, we will be having a clear picture of what it is that we have to do in terms of which roads to expand, how many buses we need for different lines, how many users we have from different
angles. So the detailed feasibility study is going to give us the timeline and the cost.

However, people need to understand that the city is attracting people and hence transport issues can’t be eliminated at once, but we shall keep modifying and improving things.

You cited green development as one of your major focus when you were elected. Why do you have priorities set around this and what projects are being explored to achieve this?

Look at the size of Kigali, currently, we have a population of 1.3 million and in 2050 we will be close to four million. This is more than three times the population we have now and the size of the city won’t change.

Now, why do we need green development? This will help cope up not only with the climate change issue but also the urbanisation that is really affecting the city in a way.

That is why we need to start thinking of a green city and the key major factors include all Rwandans being or having that environmental responsiveness and understanding. We need to utilise land properly, be innovative and use less polluting materials.

We need to think about treating the waste which can also be used to generate energy, there are projects being explored to achieve this and some of these are in the pipeline because of we have already commissioned a study in Masaka for water treatment.

It is becoming an emergency to treat solid waste for the dumping site in Nduba sector and there we already have some people who are interested to join and we are also planning to reuse it as energy or fuel.

So those are the studies that are being commissioned currently and related to the green city that we have. On top of that, we are working with REMA and the Ministry of Environment to create a greener environment by maintaining and planting trees.

A city’s capacity to attract investments is often correlated with enhanced living standards. Would you say the same for Kigali?

There is no correlation, those factors can contribute but there is no linear correlation.

We can always improve our living standards for instance by developing a saving culture, look at those initiatives in place such as ‘ejo heza.’

Through savings, one can afford housing and this can definitely contribute to people’s improved standard of living and definitely cope up with the speed that the country has in development.

It mostly lies in the culture and the way we do things individually.

If you could provide three tips for cities to improve their quality of living for their citizens, what would they be?

The first tip I would say is to start planning for longevity, both the government and the people. The government always gives direction but as Rwandans should start planning right now.

Of course, I am always inspired by our leadership that calls for thinking big, our population is growing, and managing this requires proper planning.

With the second one, I will take you back to saving. Start small as you develop the culture and this will help a lot, today we are talking about affordable housing but we actually need people, themselves to afford affordable housing.

The third one is being mindful about a smart ecosystem. You plan for longevity but if you don’t have a synchronised ecosystem, it’s going to be an issue. If we don’t plan now to migrate to green energy it’s going to be hard, we are going to be having vehicles and plastic polluting the environment and that is going to kill everything.

So we can plan to live better but if we don’t put everything in a smart ecosystem, we are done.

We need a synchronised ecosystem that can help us manage our natural resources.

What investment opportunities does Kigali offer?

They are so many but I can probably respond to this by describing the Kigali we want. You see, we are already becoming a conference or service hub so definitely there are investment opportunities in the service sector. We are seeing Kigali being a tourism hub, it is also creating opportunities in aircraft, international travels, and it can create some recreational areas that can also attract people.

And businesswise, we see this city being a financial hub.

There are investment opportunities but also the political will and I encourage Rwandans to grab these opportunities.

Unemployment remains a challenge for the people who live in Kigali, especially the youth, what are you planning to do differently in terms of addressing this issue?

Yes, it is still a problem I had a chance to interact with the youth in my previous assignments, we can only keep telling people especially youth to be innovative, creative, let the government probably create platforms to support you in how you can be able to create jobs yourselves.

That’s the best solution.

Kigali has for long been criticised for having a boring nightlife, making tourists stay for a short time. How do you intend to overturn this, given that the city is also short of sufficient tourist attractions?

This is one of the major challenges that we face and we have this on our agenda to find solutions. We need to create a vibrant city, vibrant in the real sense, we need to create more recreational facilities and we have talent but so far we have limited options for these activities. We are planning to meet up with artistes in Rwanda, and we want to assure you that we have this on our table not even in a one-year term but we want it as soon as yesterday.

The city is still grappling with various challenges, among them, poor sewage system, poor waste management, the lack of affordable housing as well as delayed compensations for people relocated to pave way for development projects. Which innovations will you introduce to address these problems?

For affordable housing, we are doing a Public-Private Partnerships with investors to provide land and build up some houses, but also bring the costs down such that people can afford them but this also calls for a change in mind-set as I said.

The Government is providing houses for people in low categories of Ubudehe, those living in risky zones.

For sewage systems and waste management, I think I have provided some of the solutions that are being considered and, of course, we are thinking big because we are also anticipating a rise in the population of Kigali.

In regards to compensation, we admit some cases are delayed but this is at times related to the budget issue. Other times, it’s how we do planning plus linking this with developments that are taking place and cash flow. But we are dealing with this so that we reduce complaints that are frustrating people.

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