Kigali City: Determined More Than Ever to Embark on a Resilience Trajectory

Rwandan history tells us of times of hardship, during which our ancestors adjusted to changing circumstances by creating solutions grounded in cultural and traditional practices. With a philosophy of supporting each other using the scarce resources at their disposal, they survived tragic events such as the 1943-1944 prolonged drought and associated Ruzagayura famine, as well as several political upheavals of their time. The same ancestral philosophy drew our country in more recent history to develop solutions such as community courts (Gacaca) and community work (Umuganda). Building on Rwandan social and cultural capital, these homegrown initiatives helped us nurture a shared identity and reconstruct after the titanic tragedy of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. The country’s ability to bounce back after such a calamity in itself offers an inspiring story of how traits of good leadership and effective public sector management could contribute to fostering resilient nations and cities.

Kigali Chief Resilience Officer Japheth Habinshuti

Today, a complex set of challenges in Kigali – Rwanda’s capital and principal economic engine – hold the potential to knock the city off balance when faced with disruption. Unprecedented rapid growth in Kigali City within the last two decades has ushered in new stresses: we are seeing slow-moving disasters like unplanned settlements, encroachment on sensitive agricultural land, and difficulty in providing quality basic services, on top of limited capacity to create decent jobs for the fast expanding population. Current projections estimate Kigali’s population of 1.6 million to more than double, reaching 3.8 million by 2050. Left unchecked, this increase would surely add enormous pressure to the city’s resources, aggravating existing challenges such as delivering adequate and affordable housing for our residents. By that time, we can expect that the impacts of climate change will exacerbate the shocks we currently face in Kigali – catastrophic events like heavy rains, floods, landslides, and infrastructure failure.

In view of these trends, the city administration is committed to addressing its resilience challenges, aiming to become a centre of urban excellence in Africa by nurturing inclusive economic growth and sustainability. We see great promise in a new approach to integrated planning, coupled with tactical efforts to create more productive jobs and provide tailor-made quality services for residents, and especially for the most vulnerable segments of society. A readiness to mainstream resilience into City strategies further demonstrates that Kigali is more determined than ever to embark on a more resilient pathway for the future.

Resilience-building measures are already underway, with many more in the pipeline. The Kigali Employment Service Centre, an initiative spearheaded by the City, has worked with thousands job seekers each year since 2012 to build their capacity in skills demanded by the market. An “own a business” program encourages the creation of cooperatives and provides loans to city dwellers to start small and medium business enterprises; the program targets vulnerable street vendors and persons with physical disabilities, and has contributed significantly to fighting delinquency. Additionally, the City has undertaken a lot of work to improve liveability and accessibility through a range of initiatives: upgrading informal settlement areas across Kigali, increasing public transport infrastructure, reviewing the existing City master plan, initiating bus dedicated lanes, and incentivizing affordable housing projects, among others. Regular car-free days and a zero tolerance for plastics have afforded us a high ranking in urban well-being.

Furthermore, many opportunities exist to scale up our resilience building efforts. Kigali’s global reputation as a safe and clean city has earned it many global awards, and can be leveraged to boost the tourism sector. A conducive investment ecosystem in Rwanda will likewise prove critical in attracting new foreign investment and fostering job creation. We also hope to learn resilience best practices from other cities in the global 100RC Network. In my role as Chief Resilience Officer, I hope to build upon lessons from my peers worldwide and existing efforts within Kigali, to ensure that resilience becomes an integral part of the City’s planning process.

As we progress on our resilience journey, Kigali City will continue to evaluate and anticipate future risks and vulnerabilities, adapting in the face of these challenges like our ancestors before us. We will nurture a mix of soft and hard solutions, to strengthen our city as a whole and to prepare for both the expected and the unexpected. A resilience lens will help us transform Kigali into the city of excellence we envision.