As it seeks “green city” title, Rwanda’s capital encourages outdoor sports & urban tourism with car-free zones and eco-parks

Kigali City, located at the foot of three hills—Mount Kigali, Jali, and Bumbogo—is endowed with wide sidewalks, immaculate roads, trees, and plenty of green space. It is a city whose calm appearance is part of a healing process that is still very important 30 years after a genocide left its people scarred.

From a modern high-rise, the best way to see the city is from a hill, where you can see the growing number of “eco-parks” in the city.

According to Faustin Munyazikwiye, the Deputy Director General of the Rwanda Environment Management Authority, the city’s latest project, which includes the creation of green and car-free zones, encourages sporting and urban tourism. The city has zeroed in on its ecological hotspots.

“The government of Rwanda, indeed, in the bid to promote environmental sustainability, has taken a decision to prioritise the rehabilitation of critical ecosystems, including wetlands, forests, and other critical and endangered ecosystems,” he explained.

Visions of a “new age” of modern, commercial, recreational, and innovative African urban centres are carefully and deliberately shaping the city.

Inspired at least in part by what Ghanaian author Sangu Delle describes in his book “Making Futures: Young Entrepreneurs in a Dynamic Africa,” Kigali aspires to be a city of moguls-in-the-making, of social-preneurs, creatives, and techies, another crucial element in the country’s physical and psychological recovery. And very clearly, the way forward is green.

This has meant removing homes from the city’s five wetlands: Kibumba, Nyabugogo, Rugenge-Rwintare, Rwampara, and Gikondo. Environmental officials and city planners say this will “improve access to basic services, increase resilience, and strengthen urban planning and management” for the city.

“We are offering a recreational hub or recreational environment where people can start enjoying nature. We are not destroying the environment or critical ecosystems,” Munyazikwiye said at the launch of the initiative.

One of the landmarks of the rehabilitation of the wetlands is the Nyandungu Eco-Tourism Park. Formerly housing an informal settlement, it is now a key urban tourist spot.

For the sake of environmental restoration, we want to see economic benefits, biodiversity benefits, and, most importantly, social interaction between people and nature,” said REMA’s Deputy Director General, adding that the work, which began in 2016, had cost approximately 5 billion Rwandan francs (US $4.5 million).

The restoration of the Nyandungu wetland and the creation of an eco-tourism park involved planting 17,000 trees, comprising 55 indigenous species.

The 121-hectare park features a medicinal garden, five catchment ponds, three recreation ponds, an information centre, a restaurant, and 10km of walkways and bike lanes. It also sports a “Pope’s Garden” in honour of Pope John Paul II, who visited the country in 1990, four years before the genocide.

The city is today a jumping-off point for tourists visiting tea plantations and parks up-country, including the world-famous Virunga National Park with its mountain gorillas, which is kept clean by an army of women in reflective yellow jackets. Signposts point the way to international hotels like Marriott, Sheraton, Radisson, and Serena.

Roads are lined on either side by flowers and palm trees, and the traffic flows smoothly. It takes just 30 minutes to get to the city centre from Kigali International Airport using an E-moto or any other cab service.

And what strikes you is the cleanliness and fresh air that greet you as you enter the city, which is kept clean by an army of women dressed in yellow reflective jackets.

There is a litter bin at every turn. “Put your litter in here! “, notices instruct passers-by.

Grace Muhawenimana is a cleaner in the neighbourhood of Kimihurura. She starts work at 6.30 am, helping ensure the city remains spotless.

“There are people who may think lowly of my job, but I am proud of what I do. This is what supports our families and keeps our city clean,” she said.

In monthly clean-ups across the city of 1.2 million people, President Paul Kagame, who espouses the age-old communal spirit of Umuganda (helping each other), personally participates.

Now, the Green City Kigali project is seeking to develop a model community in a 600-ha area. Situated in the Kinyinya Hill area of Gasabo District, the model village will provide affordable housing for target groups in a sustainable and culturally compatible, climate-resilient urban community.

The area will “establish new standards that can be replicated elsewhere in Rwanda and beyond–setting a trajectory towards a Net Zero future,” according to the city’s planners.

The development is seen as the start of a planned US$5 billion Green City Kigali initiative, part of the long-term vision of making Rwanda a green economy that generates sustained economic growth while ensuring social well-being and mitigating environmental risks.

The planners are keen to ensure that all new infrastructure – including roads, housing, and commercial buildings – conforms to climate-resilient urban standards.

“Rwanda is committed to promoting sustainable cities and the Green City Kigali will demonstrate that it’s possible to build a sustainable, large-scale urban development,” said Teddy Mugabo, Chief Executive Officer of Rwanda Green Fund, the main body that collects and sources funds for the city’s green programmes, during the unveiling of FCB Studios, the company designing a 16-hectare mixed-use pilot in the northwest section of the Kinyinya Hill development.

According to Mugabo, the country is committed to the green agenda.

“It will undoubtedly serve as a catalyst for change, not only in Rwanda but also in the region. We are delighted to be working with FCBStudios on the design of the Green City Kigali master plan and detailed designs for the pilot phase. We can’t wait to get started!” she said.

Story/Photo Credit: Ange de la Victoire Dusabemungu for bird story agency

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