Getting Transformation Right
Kigali Mayor Pudence Rubingisa talks to Governance Matters about how the city became one of the most liveable cities in Africa.
Governance Matters: You were in office for less than six months after you took office when COVID-19 swept the world. Beyond the urgent public health challenges, cities face the urgent task of sustaining jobs, economic activity, and livelihoods. How has Kigali done this?
Pudence Rubingisa: Kigali managed the public health challenges first while also addressing their parallel socio-economic consequences. We have used the lessons from the COVID-19 crisis to come up with better solutions for the city.
When the pandemic hit, a lot of effort was made to ensure that all our residents met, and continue to meet, their basic needs, and that universal access to essential services is maintained across the city.
As the City authority, we have worked very closely with the community when it came to dealing with the effects of COVID-19. We had to implement measures to prevent the spread of virus while also allowing, wherever possible, the continuation of peoples’ livelihoods. At some point, we had lockdowns but essential services continued to operate.
The City of Kigali, with the support of the central government, has provided food support to more than 300,000 families that depend on a daily income and were, thus, immediately affected by the lockdown. Further, with the support of the central government, we established a recovery fund for businesses that were affected by COVID-19. We believe that this support will go a long way towards reducing the long-term effects of the pandemic.
The City of Kigali has seen rapid transformation and growth since the end of the genocide against the Tutsi. Today, Kigali is one of the most liveable cities in Africa. What are the most critical challenges to maintaining the liveability and economic competitiveness of Kigali?
Given our history, the vision of the leadership in Rwanda is to learn from our past as we move forward and build a country that is people-centred. The mission of the leadership in our country is a transformational one. Some examples of how we have made Kigali more liveable while also providing more opportunities include:
- Improve walkability: A lot of effort has been made to design and construct roads and neighborhoods that encourage walking instead of driving. This is done by promoting mixed-use neighborhoods. Homes, jobs, shops, schools, and other everyday destinations are within easy walking distance of each other. The street network is convenient for pedestrians, with high-quality footpaths, short blocks, few cul-de-sacs, and higher-density housing.
- Promote public transport: We are working on strategies to make public transport an attractive option in Kigali. We are planning to introduce second-generation public transport contracts that aim to increase ridership, reduce pollution, and improve passenger satisfaction through improved route planning, increased capacity, strict scheduling with a proposed waiting time of 5-10 minutes, and alignment of fares with distance travelled.
- Provide public open spaces: Green spaces have many physical and mental health benefits for people, and social and environmental benefits for communities. Parks provide opportunities for physical activity, such as jogging, ball sports, and dog walking. Some of the green public projects that we are working on include Imbuga City Walk, Nyandungu eco-centre, Street for Kids, and the rehabilitation of Kigali’s wetlands.
- Facilitating affordable housing development.
- Facilitating both public and private investment to provide employment.
- Upgrading informal settlements by progressively building affordable housing and providing them with basic infrastructure
Developing cities often face a lack of financial and human resources. Although the World Bank classifies Rwanda as a low-income country, the government has successfully promoted liveability and economic opportunity in Kigali. How has the government managed to leverage innovative means of raising funds and resources for various city projects?
In line with its decentralisation efforts, the government of Rwanda has put in place a fiscal decentralisation policy. The policy established various sources of revenues for decentralised entities, including the City of Kigali, such as decentralised taxes and fees, and earmarked transfers through intergovernmental fiscal relations.
Further, the City of Kigali considers our citizens’ active engagement in planning and implementing development projects as a way of securing community ownership and sustainability of projects. In other words, we believe in the involvement of people in projects to solve their own problems. People are not forced to participate in projects that affect their lives but are given the opportunity where possible.
We also have the Joint Action Development Forum (JADF), which brings together non-governmental entities and local government, to ensure sustainable socio-economic development and improved service delivery for communities. The JADF facilitates active participation, dialogue, and accountability by sharing information and effective coordination of stakeholders’ interventions in decentralised entities.
And finally, we have the Local Administrative Entities Development Agency (LODA) whose main role is to contribute to the capacity building of the population and decentralised entities. It does this by mobilising funding from development partners to finance the socio-economic development projects of decentralised entities and reduce extreme poverty in Rwanda.
City leaders have a huge number of partnerships to build and maintain — with the state government, the business community, schools, NGOs, and others. How did you approach building those relationships, given the competing demands on your time?
First and foremost, I would like to state that building those relationships is not challenging, in my context.
Since the Rwandan Patriotic Front came to power, it has initiated an inclusive community-level approach to development. Local administrative structures were given the primary responsibility for development activities, and subsequent mechanisms were established to involve citizens closely in the management of all affairs pertaining to their welfare. This was institutionalised through the decentralisation policy on the one hand, and sustained by the community development policy on the other. Implementation of these two policies focused on empowering populations to make decisions towards self-reliance.
The Community Development Policy of Rwanda states: “Community operates at different levels, both formal and informal. The core formal community addressed in this policy is the “Umudugudu” (Village). Villages (Imidugudu) are aggregated to form the cell (Akagari) community, then the sector (Umurenge) community, district (Akarere) community, and ultimately the Nation of Rwanda community. But the policy also recognises that there are other more informal communities within these jurisdictions, beginning with the family and broadening to include youth, women, kin, religious organisations, civil society, and the private sector, all of which contribute to and form the larger community.
As part of the efforts to reconstruct the country and nurture a shared national identity, the government drew on aspects of Rwandan culture and traditional practices to enrich and adapt its development programmes to the country’s needs and context. The result is a set of home-grown solutions — culturally-owned practices translated into sustainable development programmes.
Home-grown solutions include applying a number of traditional, self-help good practices to enhance citizens’ participation in the implementation of development programmes. Just to mention a few, Umuganda (Community work) and the Joint Action for Development Forum (JADF) bring together NGOs and the local government, while the Kigali Investors Forum (KIF) brings together the private sector and the city authorities.
Kigali has embarked on the Green City Kigali pilot project in Kinyinya Hill. The Green City pilot aims to serve as a model for sustainable urban development with affordable housing and adaptation and mitigation measures for climate change. How does this project fit into Kigali’s future vision of liveability?
The Green City Kigali project aims to develop a model community in the 600-hectare Kinyinya Hill area (Planning Area) of Gasabo, a district in Kigali. The model will provide affordable housing for low-to-middle income target groups in sustainable, culturally-compatible, and climate-resilient urban communities. This will establish new standards that can be replicated elsewhere in Rwanda and beyond, setting a trajectory towards a Net Zero future.
This project aims to demonstrate how Kigali can become the preferred city for green, affordable housing, given the project’s ambitions regarding innovation, design quality, affordability, materials, and supply chain.
Although the project introduces new concepts, it is still cognizant of the unique needs of the Rwandan people. It allows for the achievement of international standards but embraces the sociocultural norms and expectations of local buyers.
What advice do you have for other mayors in developing cities who are just starting out in their jobs? How should they establish their key priorities and plans in their first few months in office?
Kigali is lucky to have a visionary and pro-people leadership at the national level. This has helped us serve the people well, even in the face of a pandemic. If you have a supportive working relationship with the central government, it makes your work as the city mayor much easier.
It is also important to work closely with the communities to understand their needs and issues, and collaboratively to find solutions. This is done though different fora, such as weekly meetings with members of the community at the level of the neighbourhood (umudugudu), and working frameworks with different groups, like the private sector, civil society organisations, and non-governmental organisations. This brings about unity, which then makes it possible to move faster and increase a sense of ownership of the development journey.
It is important to note that the city of Kigali is not an exception— the guidance and vision of our leader, President Paul Kagame, has made it possible for our country to work as one team.
Pudence Rubingisa was elected Mayor of Kigali in August 2019 for a renewable five-year term. Upon his election, Rubingisa pledged to protect ecology in the long term, promote affordable housing, meet environmental challenges, build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialisation that encourages innovation, transform Kigali into a “smart city”, promote economic and social progress, and assume the obligations of succession. Throughout his professional career, Rubingisa has been involved in academics and the field of finance. He was Deputy Vice-Chancellor in charge of administration and finance at the University of Rwanda, Vice-Rector in charge of financial administration at the Higher Institute of Agriculture and Animal Production, and Director of the Public Investment Technical Team at the Ministry of Finance. Before being elected Mayor of Kigali, he was Managing Director of Intare Investments Ltd. He has been, and will remain, a member of several Boards of Directors at National and Regional levels. Rubingisa holds a master’s degree in Finance from the Université Saint-Louis, Belgium, and a postgraduate diploma in public procurement from the International Law Institute.