Government of Rwanda has embarked on the task of closing all businesses and structures situated in areas gazetted as wetlands.
According to authorities, previous sensitization efforts to woo occupants to voluntarily leave wetlands has failed which prompted government to massively supervise closure of any activities in affected areas.
On Wednesday, Ministers of local government, Environment along with Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (REMA) and City of Kigali officials launched the exercise at the famous Gakinjiro area in Gisozi sector, Gasabo district.
President Paul Kagame recently warned property owners with facilities located in wetlands that they should start relocating or face a hardline stance.
While participating in a monthly community work –Umuganda in Kicukiro district, President Paul Kagame told residents that wetlands have to be exploited appropriately or left as they are.”
“Everyone with business in the wetland; farm, school, residential house…we are going to find an alternative for them so that such infrastructures are relocated to places where they should belong,” Kagame said.
Despite the warning, REMA and officials City of Kigali said some property owners in wetlands have since turned a deaf.
For instance, at the famous Gakinjiro area, property owners ignored the warning even when local officials were consistently knocking at their gates to remind them.
“Some of these people (property owners) had been told to relocate two months ago but they refused. What else would they expect from us?” said Eng. Coleta Ruhamya, Director General of Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (REMA).
Ruhamya, Ministers Francis Kaboneka, Dr. Vincent Biruta and other officials walked from gate-to-gate closing businesses located in wetlands.
The exercise saw more than four facilities including steel and generator supplier a church and a maize milling plant closed in Gakinjiro.
Thousands of facilities are located in wetlands and none of them will be spared, Eng. Ruhamya told KT Press during the exercise.
She however admitted that some of the property owners have license from government but others adamantly breached the law.
“Government will have to deal with those owning certified facilities in wetlands on how to relocate. But we want everyone to understand that this is being done in a sustainable way which Rwanda has chosen,” she said.
While the exercise was conducted following prior notice as confirmed by REMA, some property owners maintain that they were taken by surprise.
“We were not informed ahead of time,” said Valence Mugisha, a manager at Tedmer – one of the facilities closed.
But Mugisha’s claim was dismissed by Parfait Busabizwa, City of Kigali Deputy Mayor in charge of economic development.
According to Busabizwa, “Some of these people declined our notification letters.”
Rwanda’s wetlands consist of marshes, lakes and rivers and water courses making up about 14.9% of the national territory, including 6.3% of marshes and 8.6% of lakes, rivers and permanent or seasonal fresh water bodies.
A comprehensive analysis of the problem of wetlands in Rwanda shows that they are mismanaged and used in a disorganized manner for agricultural and quarrying purposes without prior studies of the impact on water resources and human health.