In Rwanda, Kigali dreams of being a green city

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Kigali city center, in May 2021.

Placide wipes the sweat from his forehead. “It would have taken me over an hour to do this bus ride. But there, by bike, I only had twenty minutes “, loose this young Rwandan trader, getting off a brand new bicycle. Green wheels and yellow handlebars: the start-up Guraride has chosen the colors of the Rwandan flag for its self-service bicycles, available in Kigali since early September.

It is in this small hilly country of Central Africa that the Nigerian-American entrepreneur Tony Adesina, already at the origin of two companies specializing in eco-mobility and based in Rwanda, decided to launch his new project aimed at reducing the use of polluting transport.

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And for good reason: in a region where urban centers are often exclusively reserved for cars, Kigali is an exception. “Rwanda is making a lot of efforts in terms of infrastructure for cyclists. The country is ready to adapt its policies and put in place the necessary measures for the proper functioning of initiatives like this one ”, says Jerry Ndayishimiye, marketing director of the start-up.

Some of the main axes of downtown Kigali have in fact recently been lined with cycle paths. In total, the town hall ensures that it is working on a network of 17 kilometers across the capital. The country has also put in place economic incentives to attract companies to the “green transport” sector: exemption from import tax on equipment for electric vehicles, preferential tax rates or even reduction in electricity costs.

Kigali, showcase of the regime’s ambitions

Today, Guraride is still in its infancy: just under a hundred bicycles are scattered over thirteen stations in the city. But Tony Adesina ensures that the application has already been downloaded nearly 9,000 times and that it records an average of 180 trips per day.

It remains to be seen whether its economic model will be viable: the service is currently free to attract as many customers as possible and the start-up claims to have not yet defined rental prices. It is in any case supported by the town hall, a partner in the deployment of bicycles. “Guraride corresponds to our technological, ecological city project, where life is good”, assures Pudence Rubingisa, the mayor of the Rwandan capital.

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Indeed, Kigali has become a real showcase for the ambitions of Paul Kagame’s regime in terms of climate. The Rwandan president, regularly singled out by human rights organizations, nonetheless carries a daring project to protect the environment and reduce greenhouse gases.

The country is the first on the African continent to have deposited, in May 2020, its second national contribution to the Paris Agreement with the United Nations Framework Convention on the Climate. It is committed to reducing its CO emissions2 by at least 16% by 2030.

Become “the jewel of the country”

Every second Sunday morning, several kilometers of roads in the capital are closed to traffic. These “car-free days” are particularly appreciated by the well-to-do classes of Kigali who come to jog, walk or cycle on these axes. The president and the first lady regularly lend themselves to the exercise.

Lately, the town hall has also undertaken to renovate the pedestrian zone of the city center, where city dwellers can now enjoy free Wi-Fi on benches installed in the shade of palm trees. ” It is really nice. Provided that this brings us back more customers and allows us to increase our turnover ”, says Joshua, who sells clothes around the corner. Waiting for, “The more the city transforms, the more rental prices go up. And, so far, our recipes haven’t really improved. So we hope that will change soon ”, he breathes.

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Kigali’s transformation master plan by 2050 raises concerns about the exclusion of the poorest populations from the new Rwandan capital, in a country classified, in 2020, at 160e place out of 189 in terms of human development index by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

“Kigali has become a brand image destined to be the jewel of the country”, estimates Benjamin Michelon, consultant for the World Bank and author of a thesis on the transformation of the Rwandan and Cameroonian capitals (Yaoundé). “The city has transformed in a tremendous way, at a speed never seen elsewhere in Africa., he describes. But it also has consequences for the population. Some neighborhoods have been completely demolished, their inhabitants relegated to peripheral areas where they lose economic and social ties. “

At the end of 2019, a vast operation of evacuation and destruction of homes in Kigali had caused controversy, some evicted people denouncing problems in compensation. The town hall, for its part, explained that these constructions were in wetlands with high risk of flooding.

The Rwandan government denies that it wants to pursue a green urbanization policy at the expense of the poorest. This is evidenced by its “Green City” project, which provides for the construction of a 100% ecological district on the outskirts of Kigali. In addition to the use of renewable energies, the establishment of waste recycling systems and the use of environmentally friendly materials, this future new town is supposed to appeal to all Rwandans, including the most modest. Affordable housing should be offered to them, along with an innovative loan policy. Still, this green city, announced in mid-2019, is still largely fallow today.

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In Rwanda, Kigali dreams of being a green city