Capital growth, for good and ill [Journey to Rwanda]
Sue Horton, Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times, is in Rwanda on a two-week Gatekeeper Editor fact-finding trip organized by the International Reporting Project. She is chronicling her trip on the Opinion L.A. blog.
Tuesday, Nov. 8: Kigali has an immensely ambitious master plan. Growth is a given in the capital, and the Kagame government is determined that the city's spread won't be chaotic -- for better or worse.
First the good news: Rwanda has set a goal to be "the green financial hub of Central Africa," as one poster I saw put it. All over the city, high-rises and high-end housing are being erected. Development is everywhere.
An architectural model of the future sits in a planning office downtown, and we had it explained to us by both an urban planner ex-pat from a Denver architectural firm, who is a contractor for Rwanda, and her very impressive colleague, a young Rwandan woman, Liliane Uwanziga Mupende.
(An aside: Before we departed the U.S. for Rwanda, we met with Boston University political science professor Timothy Longman, who has made Rwanda and its genocide an academic speciality. He gave us his quite brilliant analysis of the deeply nuanced and complicated situation on the ground in Rwanda. One of the things he told us was that those with high-level bureaucratic jobs tend to be not just Rwandan Tutsis but Rwandan Tutsis who lived out the genocide as exiles in other countries, including Uganda. It's considered extremely rude to ask whether someone is a Tutsi or a Hutu, especially because Kagame is insistent that Rwandans consider themselves simply as Rwandans rather than as members of an ethnic group. But if a person returned to Rwanda right after the genocide, it can almost be assumed that he or she came back out of relief at the Tutsi victory. We asked Liliane how long she has been in the country, and the answer was "since 1994." That's the year of both the genocide and the Tutsi victory.)
And now the qualms. One criticism of the master plan is that it creates a lovely capital that belies the reality of the rest of the country, and that to do so, it is removing structures (and the people who live in them) that don't fit with the new image. Longman, the BU professor, went so far as to call Kigali a "Potemkin city."
We asked Liliane about the people forced to move. She couldn't give us a number, but others have told us it will be many, many thousands. I've asked the planning department for a number, so maybe I'll get it (though transparency and openness are not this government's strong suit). Both Liliane and the planner from Colorado mentioned one community of hillside shanties that had already been relocated. Our journalist guide Fred knows where it is and says he'll take us there, so stay tuned.
Photo: Liliane Uwanziga Mupende, a government urban planner showing an architectural model of the government's plan for Kigali to our group of International Reporting Project gatekeepers. Credit: Sue Horton