May 24, 2024

Kigali city is well-known for cleanliness and being well lit at night. Palm trees are ubiquitous on Kigali’s streets. Streets are all paved and strips of lawn in this town is what you see when you visit.

Skyscrapers are coming up. The city is home of upscale residences of ministers, diplomats and expatriates. Their mansions have neatly manicured lawns. Serenity describes the atmosphere in the city the best.

In Kigali, residents are hygiene conscious and will make sure that they hire the services of private garbage service provider. On the weekends, they will visit sauna and gyms in order to stay fit. But the elegant life in the city sharply contrasts the shabby life in the slums that live side by side with the city.

Like a monster, at the bottom of Kigali, the ugly faces of the slums meet you. It’s a reality where cleanliness is not known to people who reside here.

Metres away from the City centre where the popular and mighty Kigali City Tower (KCT) lies, there stands Cyahafi slum. The slum is located in Nyarugenge District near 1930 prison–Rwanda’s oldest and largest prison. Life is appalling. About 10 houses I have counted, two have pit latrines.

One needs a guide to understand all corners. Most of the mud houses you meet here are on the verge of collapse. The iron sheet roofs are open with huge holes and some only held by car tyres to keep them firm. Come rain, the residents swim in stagnant water.

“When I saw you, I thought you were a client who had come to buy marijuana. Many people from the city come here to buy it,” my guide, a cell leader in Cyahafi says. She declined to be mentioned on account of her security. She says if I reveal her identity in the newspaper, she could be attacked for talking to a journalist by areas thugs.

“It is a booming business here (marijuana) and police has tried to arrest them without much luck. I think we are cursed,” she complains. My guide says she has lived in Cyahafi since childhood.

If you were looking to rent a house, you can get some at Rwf10, 000. One man says he has a house for rent. He says he will charge me Rwf 40, 000 for three months. When I ask whether the house has a toilet, he keeps quiet. In one house, one man is being beaten by a mob. His crime? He stole a bottle of waragi from a neighbour.

There is cheap tot waragi packs (Kanyanga). Almost, everybody is drinking. It’s midday and people are drunk. Those who are not drunk shout at the top of their voices. A group of youth is playing cards while metres away, there is a dead cat. Opposite, kids are having lunch and laughing.

Without shame, one man in his late 40s from Ubumwe n’ubwiyunje(unity and reconciliation) cell in Cyahafi is urinating in front of us. We are ashamed and turn our heads the other side. He is drunk and is about to hit us. He hits the ground and kids giggle.

The drainage systems are clogged with stagnant water. And that is before it rains. All sides of the narrow pathways are strewn with rubbish.

The “tour” takes me four hours. When walking in this slum, you have to be careful because you don’t know what you are about step on.

The most we see of Cyahafi is from the main road that links Kigali to Nyamirambo. It is only when you visit this place and you see hell. Even worse, the fact that there are not enough pit latrines does not seem to bother residents.

“Several homesteads share one pit toilet,” says my guide. Now if the mud houses are on the verge of collapse that gives you a sense to understand properly the state of these pit toilets are in.

Further down near the swamp, marijuana is sold openly. My guide insists we go and take a look. A visitor will always be spotted from a distance. The stench here is appalling. Residents complain that human waste from 1930 prison flows down Cyahafi valley.

Every homestead is squeezed and entering the house one needs to kneel down first. On this day, I hear lots of vulgar language. Ubumwe n’ubwiyunje is so dirty yet nearby, children are attending Groupe Scolaire Cyahafi primary school.

Life in Cyahafi is the same life you find when you visit places like Gitega, Kimicanga lower area, some slums at Muhima, part of Kacyiru and Biryogo in Nyamirambo.

Housing for the poor:

Liliane Uwanziga Mupende, the Director of Urban Planning and Construction One Stop Centre at Kigali City Council explains that all areas located in high risk areas like in Marshlands, steep slopes, along drainage channels will gradually be relocated. «There is a deliberate initiative to create alternative affordable housing for the poor located in slum areas in the city like Cyahafi,” Mupende tells The Independent.

“Well as opportunities to relocate under the rural settlements scheme; those located within upgradeable areas, will be retained and systematically, the City will upgrade all these zones.”

However, Mupende explains in an email the move to relocate those settled in slums cannot all be done at once as there is limitation on funds.

“Therefore, there will be a need for prioritisation since under the environmental department, officials from Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), have started identifying the high risk areas for the first phase as these are the residents located in most precarious situations risking flooding, landslides among other dangers.”

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