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Kigali Satellite Towns Put Wall on Land Scramble

by Oswald Niyonzima
3:43 pm

Aerial photo Bugesera district towards Nyamata. Bugesera authorities are waking up to protect the arable land

Rwanda’s satellite towns have turned into the other option to Kigali city residents who dream of owning a home.

This, according to those scrambling for satellite towns, is triggered by the rising cost of buying land in the capital Kigali.

However, those heading to Kigali’s neighbourhoods may also have to think twice as authorities in these satellite towns have also started raising the bar higher.

Districts neighboring Kigali have realized that it is high time to protect the land which is largely dedicated to farming – the backbone of economy.

Each district has now taken a sovereign decision on how they will manage their land before it turns into a crisis.

Going by such guidelines for example, Nyamata in Bugesera district, Eastern Province which is a 30-minutes drive from the capital Kigali, may no longer be an immediate option for buying land.

No more construction permits

The district has halted issuing construction permits pending physical plan from each and every village of the district which is set to be a participatory exercise where citizens will decide the fate of their land.

Officials in this district said that they took this decision after realizing that there is a growing trend of land buyers interested in housing development, which is ‘invading’ arable land in the fertile region of the far South-Eastern Rwanda.

“We have to stop this. If everyone continues to acquire land for construction, we will soon end up having unplanned settlement where there is no air to breathe,” Richard Mutabazi, Bugesera district mayor told KT Press on Monday.

Muyumbu in Rwamagana district

Mayor Mutabazi says the arable land is at risk, and so is the green and the natural vegetation which the district relies on to get clean air.

The district is designing physical plans from one zone to another, where citizens in a particular village will decide on what to make of their land.

Their plan is to start with the most popular sectors; Nyamata, Ruhuha and Mayange. It is only after this physical plan is done that land owners will be allowed to use their land as planned, according to the Mayor.

“We shall not involve the government in expropriation. Residents through village land committee will sit and decide what should be put in different plots of land such as habitation, schools, roads, green area and so on,” he said.

“The land officers at district level will record citizen’s wishes and make required adjustments.”

At some extent, some plots will be affected by infrastructure of public interest, but the mayor said, the neighbors will come together to compensate the owner, “because it is an activity that will benefit all.”

A close view of Ruyenzi

Meanwhile, the thinking is almost the same in Kamonyi, a district across Nyabarongo in Southern Province.

Officials in the district told KT Press that they have been very generous and they now want to tighten.

“From offering a construction permit for 40×30 meters land, we have now reviewed the size downward to 15×20 meters,” said vice mayor of economic affairs in Kamonyi district.

Who is forcing Kigali residents out of the city?

Naturally, districts neighboring the capital city attract city dwellers who expect better land deals, but Kigali residents started looking at Bugesera district and other areas around Kigali with particular interest since 2004 when massive expropriation from slums started with lower Kiyovu in Nyarugenge district.

Some residents were given houses in exchange of slums in Batsinda – Gasabo district, but others were given money to look out for another house in an area that suits them. Going for cheaper land outside Kigali was an option.

The trend continued and was intensified by the expropriation of Kimicanga in 2012 where more sites attracted the attention of former slum dwellers.

Ruyenzi in Runda sector, Kamonyi district across Nyabarongo River started gaining fame, Muyumbu in Rwamagana district adjacent to Kabuga town also was in the limelight.

On top of everything, Bugesera is now luring people who see it as a potential booming city, the home of Bugesera International Airport under construction. The airport’s first phase is expected in 2019.

Kigali vision city apartments. Despite recent discount of the houses, they are still beyond the purchasing power in the Rwandan society

But before this, the 2013 Kigali city master plan by Surbana, a Singaporean company almost wiped out the hope for middle income earners, including civil servants to own a decent house in Kigali. It obliged city dwellers to run to the land that feeds the country.

“The city has a lot of requirements that you may hardly fulfill. We opted to look out for affordable land and affordable house plans,” Jean Baptiste Ndabananiye, a resident of Ruyenzi since 2014 told KT Press.

In Kigali master plan, a house for a single family is supposed to be a villa that is described as; The Single Family Residential District (R1) is intended for high end villa housing and complementary public facilities as needed. The minimum lot areas in the R1 District are larger to distinguish the R1 District as a low density good class residential neighborhood with a spacious character.

“The purpose is to create a high-end single family housing area, characterized by large plots, lush greenery and quality housing,” reads part of the master plan sentence.

“The Kigali master plan dictates so many requirements when you want to build a family home. It’s very expensive,” Ndabananiye said.

According to Athanase Gasirabo, owner of ABC Business Company, an engineering company based in Kigali, a-3 bedrooms cadastral house can be completed at a tune of Rwf35 Million in Nyamata, compared to Rwf 45 Million for a similar house in Kigali.

“The difference in cost is caused by the price of a plot, the cost of construction materials, and of course, rigidity in Master Plan for Kigali compared to upcountry,” he said.

We are looking far ahead – Kigali City 

Though faced with rigidity allegations, Kigali city says there is no plan to loosen standards provided that they are intended to ensure better future of the city.

According to Engineer Fred Mugisha, Director of Kigali City Urban Planning and Construction One Stop Center (COSC), the city of Kigali is estimated to be  6 million people by 2050.

“If we do not take strategic measures, we would only cater for about 2 million citizen by that time. So where shall we put the remaining 4 million?”

Mugisha’s office is reviewing the city master plan to gather views and ideas on how city dwellers can have homes in Kigali, instead of crossing to neighboring districts.

“We are gathering suggestions from the citizen to see what they propose, but there are standards we will not ignore,” Mugisha said.

In satellite towns, you find spacious plots housing a single family

To cater for all the residents, Kigali is luring investors to develop housing units, especially for the middle and low income earners.

“We will not afford to allow every city dweller to have own gated house because this would exhaust our land quickly. We want investors who venture in apartments,” he said.

Some investors have responded to this call. A Marrocan company in partnership with Development Bank of Rwanda (BRD) have opened application for houses in a project that is set to develop about 5000 units for the middle and low income earners, conventionally called ‘ affordable housing’ in Ndera sector, Gasabo district.

Previously, Urukumbuzi cooperative started a project in Kinyinya, Gasabo district and have catered for hundreds people. Houses in this category range between Rwf 17 million and Rwf 35 Million.

Considering the 350,000 housing gap in Kigali, the units are still a drop in the ocean while price is still high to many. A high interest rate for mortgage loan worsens the situation of housing in the country.

The country allocates 30% to every affordable housing project.