Why is Kigali burning?

I have been asked by several Facebook friends to comment on Kigali fires but I resisted until now. I initially held back for obvious reason that I would not know the cause. I am thousands of kilometers away, so I have no way of knowing whether these fires are due to accidents or sabotage.

Nevertheless, we can comment on what we have observed in the aftermath of these fires that have caused anxiety among the population and untold losses of property, investment and jobs.

First, the leaders of Rwanda have been largely and uncharacteristically silent – usually they are quick to assign blame on one “traitor” or other. I found this very odd. The official police line is that fault electrical wiring is the cause, although this would not explain fires in wetlands.

Second, the response to fires, or rather lack of national preparedness accompanied by the poverty of infrastructure cannot surprise anyone familiar with priorities of the current government. We saw for example airport fire equipment and personnel rushed to the city and citizens using jerrycans and buckets to put out fires. This is scary! What if an accident happened at Kigali International Airport when its equipment has been borrowed? This series of events indicate a government driven by prestige of building a smart city on the surface but without requisite infrastructure underneath.

This brings us to what I often write about, water and sewerage systems befitting a real modern city. In this regard, the current government hides its head in the sand hoping the challenge and urgency will somehow disappear. Nonetheless, for a country with so many rivers and lakes not to have water in its the capital city and urban centres seems insane – which it is.

Here then is the main point. It is not surprising that there is no water to put out fires in Kigali – they struggle to get regular supply of water to drink, cook, and take care of their needs.

As I was thinking about, I saw the attached story in the East Africa, which describes water realities in urban Rwanda. MOST SHOCKING ARE THE FOLLOWING:

* “There has not been a single investment made in the upgrade of city water infrastructure for the past eight years, despite an urbanisation rate of at 16 per cent.”

* “The most recent investment in city water supply services was made between 2005 and 2006 during the upgrade of Nzove water treatment plant.”

* “So, while the city’s population has grown to 1.1 million people, water production has for years stagnated at a paltry 70,000m3 per day against a target of 100,000m3…”

* This “translates to a short fall of 30,000m3, creating a need for rationing.”

Meanwhile, more people are streaming into urban areas in search for work; more people are buying cars and YES OF COURSE MORE high-rise buildings are going up. It is a no brainer to be aware that all these factors mean increased demand for water and associated infrastructure.

David Himbara