April 12, 2018 / 7:48 PM / 3 months ago

Controversial slum relocation kicks off in Rwanda's capital

NAIROBI, April 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - About 1,000 families are readying to move out of a slum in the Rwandan capital as construction starts on a controversial city masterplan that aims to turn Kigali into Africa’s Singapore.

Ground was broken on the new $11.7 million Savannah Creek housing project in Busanza, some 13 km (8 miles) south of the city centre, on March 31, Denis Karera, head of the private construction firm, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

“We are talking about a housing estate that has all the infrastructure ... roads, public lighting, sewage management treatment system, a school, public centre and a market,” said Bruno Rangira, a spokesman for the city authority.

“Everyone will be moved.”

Africa has the fastest growing cities in the world, with 40 percent of its one billion people in towns and cities. But a lack of urban planning means sprawling slums are mushrooming alongside expensive housing and luxury flats.

Residents will be moved out of Kangondo slum, nestled between high-end residential areas in northern Kigali, popularly known as Bannyahe, meaning “Where are the toilets?” in the Kinyarwanda language, as people have to share pit latrines.

Their shacks will be replaced with new buildings in line with urban planning regulations.

Rangira said the relocation plan has faced resistance from landlords who want cash compensation instead but added that the city is working within the law.

Landlocked Rwanda has ambitions to be a tech-savvy logistics hub mirroring Singapore’s rags-to-riches rise, boasting years of solid economic growth and pristine streets, although critics say gains have come at the cost of political freedom.

“What we are doing now is mobilisation for the master plan,” Rangira said, referring to the Kigali city master plan, which was introduced in 2013 to build an environmentally sustainable city and reduce the risk of landslides, a common hazard.

The ambitious plan was praised by urban planners for its focus on sustainable land use, and won several awards, although its strict implementation drew fire from human rights groups.

Kigali’s population is expected to almost triple to about 3 million people by 2030.

The authorities have pledged that the city’s numerous informal settlements, where the majority of residents live, will be a thing of the past by 2040 and have embarked on large-scale slum clearance.

But critics say the government is unfairly dispossessing people of their properties because the new houses are in a less central location where it is harder to find work.

"People who own houses there stand to lose more than tenants who can easily move elsewhere," said Vincent Manirakiza, an urban planning expert with the University of Rwanda, who argues that it is more pro-poor to upgrade informal settlements. (Reporting by Kevin Mwanza; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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