In search of home and hearth

Before I move further, I want to say goodbye to Professor Wangari Mathaai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and ‘Tree-hugger in Chief’. Our natural environment is something that we take for granted a bit too much but Prof. Maathai was someone who, through her advocacy work and political travails, made planting trees ‘sexy’. While some people couldn’t understand why she was awarded the Peace Prize, an honor that she shares with Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Aung San Suu Kyi, I believe that the Nobel committee hit the nail right on the head when they awarded her this prize. I believe that the next major global conflict will not be one caused by stresses due to ideological differences (the nonexistent ‘Clash of Civilizations’ was simply a conflict fomented in the minds of US neo-conservatives on one hand, and Islamic fundamentalists on the other) but rather bread and butter issues, such as clean water and arable land.

Through her Green Belt Movement, the Professor reclaimed thousands of wasteland, simply by planting trees. While that sounds easy now, at the time, she had to contend with dangerous land grabbers and corrupt politicians happy to put personal interests before the needs of their citizens. She got locked up and tortured for her pains. The lesson that her life has taught me was that as mankind develops more and more, we have to make sure that the very environment that sustains our progress keeps up with us.  We are close to a global population of seven billion people and we need to think about not only how we shall feed these increasing mouths but how we shall do so in a sustainable manner. Rest in Peace Mama Mathaai.

I read in yesterdays issue that the Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA) is planning to begin a campaign to encourage Kigali residents to start building residential apartment buildings. Talking to the New Times reporter Charles Haba, the Managing Director of Century Real Estate, said that the “best way to effectively and efficiently utilise the available land is to live in apartments.” No truer words have ever been spoken. In fact, it’s mind-boggling that we are even having this kind of discussion.

Rwanda is the most densely populated nation in Africa, we have a growth rate of about 2.7 percent per year  and the fact of the matter is that we simply cannot afford to build our homes the way our fathers did. Kigali’s population is now close to one million people; imagine if each and every person decided that they were going to buy a plot of land to build their home on? The price of a plot would simply skyrocket and hyper inflation would befall us. Luckily, almost everyone rents their place of abode. However, the rent of even a simple three bedroom house in modest neighborhood is out of the price range of the average salaried worker. What then happens is that this worker ends up living in a hovel. This wouldn’t occur if there was another option. This option is the high-rise apartment.

I agree with RHA belief that apartments are the way forward; however, I don’t believe that the onus of building these apartments should be put on the shoulders of Kigali landlords. Building an apartment block is an extremely costly endeavor and for such a project to turn a profit would take forever. No one individual would, or could, invest in any kind of affordable apartment. The only entity able to do that is the government. So, what the RHA should be doing is encouraging the State to invest in this kind of real estate. Only when this happens shall the private sector jump onboard the bandwagon. Every citizen deserves to call a place home, irrespective of whether they are a secretary or a Secretary-General.


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