Kigali: A city on the fast-track
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Twenty years after the genocide, Rwanda’s capital city is a monument to modernity. Whole districts of Kigali have been renovated - though sometimes at the expense of the poorest. The memory of the genocide can never be erased, but Rwandans are moving on. Our reporters visited this booming city.
Arriving at Kigali international airport you quickly get the impression that Rwanda is a rather atypical country.
You’re told by airline staff that you must leave behind or conceal all plastic bags, because the Rwandan government has outlawed them. It’s a bid to be environmentally friendly is just one example of the policies adopted by Paul Kagame’s government which are aimed at changing Rwanda, making it cleaner, safer and more efficient.
On the roads of the capital more of these rules become apparent: motorbike riders must wear helmets, cyclists must have reflective jackets, and drivers must strap in their seatbelts at all times. If not, they receive a hefty fine from one of the many police officers posted on Kigali’s streets.
Kigali in 2014 is vastly different from the scenes of devastation and carnage that most people have fixed in their minds due to the Rwandan genocide.
In the centre, new skyscrapers and office blocks have been built, many roads have been widened and paved with tarmac, and public spaces are meticulously maintained by gardeners. A lot of emphasis has been on boosting business here; the government aims to make Kigali the go-to city for regional conferences and a high tech hub. The last time I was in Rwanda in 2010, authorities had installed a costly fibre optic cable system to boost the digital economy. Now, they’re on the brink of turning on a 4G cell phone network.
There’s no denying this modernisation is impressive. But if you dig a little, you find people who feel left behind by this relentless march forwards. Nervous about speaking out and being seen to critcise the government, they will tell you off camera that not everyone is benefiting from this development. Take the residents of Batsinda on the outskirts of the capital, for example. Hundreds of families were moved to this zone 15km from the city centre when the government decided to bulldoze their homes in the name of cleaning out Kigali’s slums. Their old neighbourhood, nicknamed ‘poor Kiyovu’, has been earmarked for private commercial development. And meanwhile some of the poor people shunted to Batsinda say they had no financial choice other than to take the (partially) government funded new home. Outside the capital Kigali, you only have to drive for 15 minutes to see very poor villages still with no electricity and unpaved dirt roads.
But mentalities are changing in Rwanda.
Many people, especially among the 60 percent of the population aged 25 or under, who are hungry to move past the genocide of 1994. People still talk about the killings with tears in their eyes and tell of terrible suffering and loss. No one wants to forget. But there does seem to be a desire now to move on, and construct a more positive, united future.