SWM 2015: Rwanda - Promoting peace through sustainable urban development in Kigali

Embargo: 2 July 2015 00.01 (GMT+1)

Case study by Paige Wilhite Jennings

April 2014 saw the 20th anniversary of the genocide in which an estimated 800,000 people – three-quarters of the Rwanda’s Tutsi minority, as well as moderates from the Hutu majority – were killed in 100 days. While this small landlocked country’s population density, the highest in Africa, may have contributed to social tensions, ethnic differences had long been manipulated and exploited for political purposes in Rwanda. Belgian colonial policies favoured the Tutsis until independence in 1962, when the Hutu majority began to dominate. In the run-up to April 1994, Hutu extremists from the political class, the security forces and the main political party’s armed militia used radio broadcasts from Kigali to incite ethnic hatred, playing on Hutu fears of a Tutsi uprising and coercing ordinary Hutus into taking part. Though orchestrated from the capital, the genocidal campaign took advantage of the hierarchical structures of social organization that permeated the countryside to reach throughout the country.

The slaughter was only ended by the advance from Uganda of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), made up of significant numbers of Tutsi refugees. By July the RPF had defeated the Rwandan army, forcing hundreds of thousands of Hutus, including génocidaires, to flee.

Over the last 20 years Rwanda has made great strides in rebuilding its devastated institutions, infrastructure and services, and has taken important social measures such as those promoting gender equity. The impact of some legal and judicial steps, however, has been mixed. While community-based trials (gacaca) and other platforms have dealt with thousands of cases against alleged génocidaires, claims of RPF abuses have generally not been investigated. New measures banning identification on ethnic grounds in favour of a common national identity have effectively denied the indigenous Batwa their right to their own identity and culture, and have prevented positive measures to redress the inequalities they clearly face. In this context, programmes such as the ‘Bye Bye Nyakatsi’ project, aimed at improving housing by replacing traditional thatched roof houses with iron-roofed ones, were found to disproportionately affect the indigenous Batwa minority due to their frequent use of traditional building methods, in the short term appearing to leave many without shelter. Finally, laws prohibiting genocide ideology, genocide denial and sectarianism have in practice been used to limit fundamental freedoms and to punish dissent.

Mass returns of former refugees, alongside rural–urban displacement due in part to fears of ongoing insecurity due to the actions on Rwandese territory of armed groups based in the DRC, for instance, have led to one of the world’s fastest urbanization rates: Rwanda’s urban population grew from 385,000 in 1990 to almost 2.5 million today. To cope with pressure on land, the government has developed a national land use plan and framework for land registration and management. Meanwhile the authorities have embraced urbanization as a means of achieving their goal of making Rwanda a middle-income country by doubling the country’s urban share of the population, currently around 18 per cent, to 35 per cent by 2020. According to President Kagame, urbanization is ‘part and parcel of our unity and reconciliation efforts’. An ambitious Master Plan with design input from the US and Singapore is in place for Kigali, which in 2008 became the first city in Africa to be awarded the UN-Habitat Scroll of Honour Award. Six smaller cities have been identified as poles of growth. The Rwanda Housing Authority is elaborating Local Development Plans for each of the country’s 30 districts, with sustainable settlements organized around pre-planned infrastructure.

Critics say, however, that Rwanda’s urban development to date has benefited its upper and middle classes to the detriment of its poor. In Kigali, where half of the urban population lives, authorities have systematically removed informal settlers from public land to make way for approved works. It is unclear where they have gone; poor families have been increasingly priced out of urban property as high demand has raised prices. In order to profit all Rwandese, Rwanda’s urban development efforts must meet the needs of its poor for low-income housing and sources of work: otherwise, the new Kigali risks becoming an elite city, with no place or use for low-income Rwandese. For this, however, the authorities must listen, not just to the international developers and experts who have recently been advising it on urbanization, but also to the most marginalized of its people – even when their views contradict official plans for the future. For ultimately, in the words of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, ‘a society without room for critical voices speaking freely and peacefully is unsustainable’. Inclusive growth for all in Kigali is therefore crucial in ensuring that Rwanda continues to move forwards from the tragedy of the genocide towards lasting peace and stability.

This case study appears in MRG’s annual flagship report State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2015. View the full report.

Photo: Jeanne Sibomana, a Batwa woman from Kigali

Credit: Young Womens Christian Association

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Date: 18/06/2015




State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2015
Indigenous Peoples

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