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Is it possible to save the funk of Nyamirambo?

In Africa –as in other developing countries– managing the cities is an overwhelming task. For this reason, as well as for other econo-political ones, wiping out parts of the cities is still a common strategy to solve urban issues for authorities. Despite the existing, more responsible approaches democracy and people’s participation is limited, and planning can yet be a despotic procedure.

Nyamirambo is part of Kigali’s Nyarugenge District. With a population of over 98,827 inhabitants (2002 census) and a 21 km² surface, its density goes over 4,700 inhab/ km². This area was the center of Kigali, and during Belgium colonial times urban development was limited within Nyarugenge hill. Today Nyamirambo shows its evolution in a complex mix of population and activities, and easily labels itself as the liveliest area in all Rwanda.

As could be imagined, Nyamirambo’s sprawl doesn’t look the best compared to new areas in Kigali. Small streets and sidewalks, great mix of land use, high population density in a small housing area (plus a fragile housing condition) do not fit the image of the “new Kigali” proposed by authorities, with suburban-like housing projects and medium-rise buildings.

For this reasons, sound rumors run about the future deletion of Nyamirambo to foster a better city environment. But why to erase the place where everything started for this city?

Before 1960 the only developed areas were the top of Nyarugenge hill and the Muslim core down the same hill –areas that ended up merging into a unique quarter. This quarter exhibits values and is testimony of the Rwandese evolution (freedom, colonialism, independence, genocide, and its aftermath); it is evidently connected to the dynamic African spirit, while associated with events, traditions and beliefs.

Then how to protect it from a wipe out?
Despite the criticism of its informal housing quality, real upgrading programs are running slow –or not running at all– and the apparent chaos seems to keep running high pace. Nevertheless, its limited surface could be the ground for a medium-to-major upgrade proposal. Funds will be there as development agencies would be interested due to its “humanitarian, development” outcomes –including avoiding forced evictions.

Furthermore, to protect Nyamirambo the historical argument could be strong enough to prepare a candidature for a World Heritage Site. The proposal would be most likely held for long (there are few listed towns or centers in Africa), but joining the Tentative List is at least one step that could be achieved, knowing the UNESCO’s game-like support to disadvantaged countries.

Districts of Rwanda
Wikipedia info
Kigali Master Plan
First image


Beatriz Maturana said...

Thank you Tulio for this important information. It is extremely valuable to learn about a place from which we hear little or nothing about--great photos too.
Here a few questions: does the "future deletion of Nyamirambo" mean forced relocation? Do you know if there is already a campaign to support the Unesco's listing of this city? And, is there a role for arch-peace in supporting some of the work there, campaigns for example?

Tulio Mateo said...

The "deletion" does imply "forced relocation" to the affected ones; and basically with little consideration of small businesses around.

There is no campaign to support the UNESCO listing, but the idea came up in a conversation with people carrying research in the area. So far the city Gov't is moving towards the mentioned "renewal".

For the last matter, I think a proposal could be made on behalf of A4P. Will talk with local colleagues, and reply soon.


Tulio Mateo said...

The Kigali city authorities have defined an area close to the "CBD", which has been partially cleared after a forced relocation. Fear of a similar action are alive on the rest of the Muhima neighborhood.

The expected "renewal process" for Nyamirambo is still in hold. In my opinion, the interests will focus on Muhima, due to the info available on the master plan and the difficulties to deal with people in Nyamirambo.

However, it is an important, well located part of the city and the tension will still be there.

Will keep updating on the issue.

Arlinda Sheqiri said...

I think 4,700 inhab/ km² is over disturbing,most difficult point is that there city growth only in horizontal way and material of the building is not very good.

Maybe the municipality should find a solution best example is in China where the municipality decided to make tall building with better conditions of living and destroyed their poor houses.

Similar example is in Karakas where there isn't any rule of making houses. Their motto is 'Build if you can and how you can'.

beatriz said...

The favelas in Rio de Janeiro also offer a good example of government recognition of informal housing. While (from my understanding), titles have not been granted, many of these communities are now serviced by "legal" electricity supply, water and sewer. These steps assist these communities not only from an infrastructural perspective but also by encouraging the upgrading of their houses and neighbourhoods as they feel more secure in their tenure.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for generating this discussion Tulio. I am currently reading "Development & Dispossession: The Crisis of Forced Displacement and Resettlement" edited by Anthony Oliver-Smith to educate myself more deeply about this global issue and to imagine possible feasible alternatives.
Maggie Zraly

Tulio Mateo said...

Beatriz, the favelas in Rio have the Gov't recognition. In RW that is still a step to take by the authorities.
UN agencies and other organizations work slowly for it, but the desire to change drastically the city blinds the leaders.

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