Rwanda: How Kigali Has Responded to the Coronavirus Lockdown

An aerial view of Kigali Convention Centre and its environs in Kimihurura.

Restrictions came in force Saturday, March 21, 11:59 p.m.

One day after the government declared a countywide lockdown allowing only essential services to remain in operation, a few banned activities in Kigali continued to operate, ignoring a move aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The lockdown is part of the effort to combat the coronavirus (COVID-19) which has ravaged the world. Rwanda has, so far, registered 19 cases.

At a construction site near Remera-Giporoso, two groups of about 25 men pushed and shoved as they gathered around a middle-aged man, who one-by-one was collecting each one's National IDs.

Thierry Niyonteze told The New Times that the IDs were being collected as part of the process to register the workers so they get paid.

Responding to a question regarding keeping the Ministry of Health's advice regarding social distancing, Niyonteze said that the workers' main concern at the time is to get paid.

"I live nearby but there are people who woke up very early and walked all the way from places like Kabuga to come and get paid. What we are all concerned about right now is making sure that our families are fed," he said.

In the main Giporoso trading centre, the place that is usually bustling with both human and vehicular traffic was like a ghost city. Commercial motorcycles, commonly known as 'taxi moto' have vanished from the streets.

Only restaurants are open with the exception of 'Big James Liquor Store'. The proprietor of the store told The New Times that he had not been under pressure to close his business because his is 'walk-in'.

The attendant said that since the news of the lockdown became public, the liquor store's business has improved tremendously with most customers seeking to stock up in large quantities.

An empty sanitiser bottle lay on the counter and there was no visible hand-washing area.

On further questioning, the attendant said that he did not see his business as a threat.

"Some authorities have come here, looked around and left. They did not have a problem because no one sits here to drink. People buy the alcohol, pay and walk out," he said.

At Tally's Bakery, a number of customers are ordering takeaway. Despite the guidelines that restaurants should only provide takeaway services, a group of clients can be seen seated so close to each other.

The waitress in charge told The New Times that they are not allowing anyone to eat from their premises and those who come in must wash their hands.

However, none of the clients who walked in during the duration of this interview were instructed to wash hands.

Waiting for enforcers

In Nyarugunga Sector, Kicukiro district, the trading centre that is always very busy seemed deserted.

Ali Maniraguha commonly known as 'Mugande' sits at the entrance of his salon hoping for the next client to arrive.

He tells these journalists that though he is aware of the outbreak of the coronavirus, he did not see the reason to panic.

"Everyone around me looks healthy. If we continue washing our hands, we will be just fine. I am not closing my salon unless someone physically forces me to. This is my only source of income," he says.

Patrick Dukuzumuremyi, who is a barber in the same salon says that he came to work because he needed money for food.

He says that he is uncertain how his life would turn out if the barbershop closes.

"I heard the announcement that non-essential service providers should close and stay home. Maybe I will get another job in a restaurant since they will continue working but I must work," he explained.

Packed bags

Despite the government's decision to ground all public transportation, the streets had people with luggage hoping to catch a bus to their rural homes.

At the bus stop at Kimironko, Josiane Uwamariya told The New Times that she had been waiting for a bus or a taxi moto' that would take her to the Nyabugogo Bus Park. She was hoping to make it back to Huye by sunset.

However, she said that after waiting for hours, she was losing hope.

"I have only been working in Kigali as a shop attendant for six months. I cannot stay unless I am sure that this will be over in two weeks. I do not want to get stuck here," Uwamariya says.

Total lockdown

In a statement released Saturday evening, the prime minister declared that effective midnight on Saturday, all the country's borders will be closed for the next two weeks.

Other measures include a temporary ban on non-essential travel between different cities and districts across the country, while all employees in the public and private sector will work from home.

The announcement follows several other preventive measures whereby schools, places of worship, conferences and other events, were suspended.

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