In July last year, a convoy of SUVs from Kigali arrived at Kabeza trading centre, Ndatemwa cell, Kiziguro sector in Gatsibo district.
The speeding convoy with tinted window glasses branched off from the highway onto a dusty road and was later spotted at a giant rock.
The herdsmen and cultivators around this giant rock suspended all their activities for a while to closely monitor a strange group of Chinese in company of Rwandans.
This site was a quarry in the 1980s from which the Chinese blasted rocks to prepare gravel for construction of Kagitumba-Kayonza highway.
Until August last year, this quarry site was a source of stones used for construction of most homes in the area. The stones would be hand blasted by youths and few adults that would later sell to clients.
Few days after the Chinese were spotted at the quarry site, another team of strong youth, not residents of the area arrived with hoes, pick mattocks and sledge hammers.
They dug a 60cm by 20cm trench around the entire site to demarcate a boundary. No resident was allowed to go beyond this boundary.
In September, heavy duty trucks, graders and bulldozers arrived one by one at the site. Ground leveling started as construction of staff quarters also preceded.
Residents of Gakunyu village where the site is located were only left watching with scanty information but mostly worried about this Chinese project which worked day and night.
One evening, a massive blast and resultant quake shook the entire village. This is when residents realized that the Chinese were crashing stones that would be used in construction of the Kagitumba-Kayonza highway.
However, after the blast, crops were destroyed and a few livestock died from shock. A team of workers from the site were seen inspecting nearby gardens and taking notes. It was the first time they held a short discussion with owners of property and gardens surrounding the site.
Operating under Hunnan Road and Bridge Construction Group (HRBCG), the Chinese assured affected residents that they would be compensated for destroyed crops and livestock.
Affected residents were asked for National Identity cards (IDs) and other details. But none of them has been compensated up to today.
Affected residents storm Kiziguro Sector Office
For sixteen times affected residents stormed the office of Kiziguro sector Executive Secretary, they were only told that their issue would be fixed.
In November , the dynamite blasted the rock once again causing an earth quake. A resident that was harvesting in a garden was instantly hit by a flying giant stone and died instantly.
On Wednesday, January 3rd, Kigali Today visited the site following unending pleas from affected residents.
However, Richard Gasana – Gatsibo district Mayor had earlier summoned for a press conference and the issue of these residents was also raised.
“The Chinese have insured all their activities at the quarry site and will compensate for all destroyed property including houses that may collapse during the blasts. Don’t worry you will be compensated,” The mayor responded when asked about the fate of residents near the quarry site.
Affected residents Speak out
Urayeneza Esperance had placed hopes in the current season harvest but says she will go hungry since all her sweet potatoes were submerged by water released from the quarry site.
“I have not harvested anything because all my crops were destroyed including banana plantation. Stones have also filled up the garden. The entire loss is almost worth a million francs,” Urayeneza told Kigali Today.
For Sylvain Niyonsaba, he cannot contain his anger because whenever the Chinese blast the rocks, their gardens are ravaged.
“We have appealed to sector authorities but nothing has been done to compensate us. We just keep waiting because we don’t know what else to do,” he worryingly said, adding that the Chinese should compensate them or rent the entire area surrounding the quarry site since it is less than 100 meters away.
A deputy director of HRBCG Company at the site only identified as Mr. Huang said they have done all they are required to, “but for compensations, the affected should contact Bank of Kigali General Insurance (BKGI),”he said.
However, a source at the site that preferred anonymity revealed that the Chinese company did not carry out evaluation of property around the site and thus several residents may never be compensated.
BKGI told KT Press that the Chinese firm has not officially written to them seeking any compensation for affected residents.
“We are going to follow up internally and get back to you,” Shiela Usanase the BKGI Legal Services Manager and Company Secretary told KT Press in an email on Friday last week.
Pollution levels too high for residents
Since September, heavy duty trucks have been plying to and from the quarry site day and night raising too much dust which has polluted the entire village causing respiratory complications.
During this process there also high noise levels affecting people and properties adjacent to the site.
Some of direct effects caused include air pollution from carbon monoxide, nitrogen Oxides and other particulate matter, water pollution arising from dismantled surrounding area containing hydrocarbons and other toxic residues deposited by passing vehicles.
Until during the press conference with the Mayor, the Chinese had ignored pouring water along the dusty road.
Speaking to KT Press on Friday, January 5th, Eastern Province Governor Fred Mufurukye, said he was not aware of this issue.
“I have not received a report about this issue, but I will follow up. Compensating affected residents should not be an issue,” He said, adding that compensation has been made elsewhere in neighbouring Nyagatare district.
However, on January 8th, BKGI officials arrived at the site and told residents that the insurance deal only covers damages arising from road works, “The stone quarry site was not part of the insurance agreement. It is therefore HRBCG Company responsible for compensating all damages caused by blasting.”
Should expropriation be done?
According to provisions in the constitution, article 27 states; “the right to property may not be interfered with except in public interest, in circumstances and procedures determined by law and subject to fair and prior compensation.
Compensation may be monetary or in the form of alternative land and building equal to the value of the land to be expropriated.
In its article 36, compensation must be awarded prior to expropriation and within 120 days of the land commission approving the amount of compensation.