Fingers crossed, the car-free zone will not become the new Kigali dead-zone

The Central Business District: Before

The Central Business District: Before

The Central Business District: After

The Central Business District: After

“You have killed my business. It is all your fault”. “Not one customer has come to my electronic shop since morning whereas before I received between thirty to fifty customers daily”.

Those were some of the words that were thrown in my direction as I walked through the new Kigali car-free zone on Monday morning. The irate business owners blamed me for instigating a move that they believe will put them out of business and leave them impoverished, an accusation that I feel is unfair.

Firstly, as I told them, the pedestrian-only zones in Kigali were always part of the City Master Plan; the move was always going to happen. Secondly, I’m not egotistical enough to believe that the timing of the move was a direct result of my penning an article two weeks ago. Perhaps all I did was remind people of a plan they had in the first place.

So, as I told those who put me on the spot, perhaps they would be better served if they directed their ire in the right direction i.e. City Hall.

I cannot pretend to not feel their pain; I sincerely do. I would be heartbroken, angry, desperate and frustrated if I woke up one day and found out that I would have to change the way I did business with barely a warning. Let us be honest enough to acknowledge that some of the businesses along the road are going to have to leave or go under. They should have gotten more warning than a few days.

There is a saying, ‘to make an omelet, you need to break a few eggs’. The move to create pedestrian zones in our city is delicious. Walking along the road, I felt a sense of peace; instead of honking and the throat-irritating exhaust, I could actually hear the wind swirl around me. Instead of a rat race, I saw people spend time talking to acquaintances they met without being barged over by others in a rush. I even met a fellow writer sitting on the curb typing furiously on his laptop as he ‘stole’ free Wi-Fi from Pension Plaza.

Which brings me to my next point. We cannot allow this move to stagnant. We shouldn’t allow that public space to become a dead-zone. Too often I’ve seen our public spaces become dead-zones. For example, almost no one enjoys all the greenery in front of the defense ministry. No one enjoys the park in front of foreign ministry. They are just beautiful facades that are good to look at but are utterly useless to the general public. Despite the fact that they are maintained with our taxes.

What the Kigali car-free zone can become if done right

What the Kigali car-free zone can become if done right

I worry that despite city officials’ best intentions, they will create a zone that is like the rest of our public spaces, extremely boring. Here is my suggestion, create a semi-autonomous body, overseen by the City Council of course, that manages the zone in the publics best interest. I don’t see why we cannot have farmer’s markets on Sundays. I don’t see why we cannot have pop up markets every so often. I don’t see why we cannot have a street party. We can have Wi-Fi zones that attract students and tourists. We can have food and drink trucks. The sky is the limit.

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There is no reason someone should be publicly humiliated and sent to jail for consensual sex. No matter the circumstance

There is no reason someone should be publicly humiliated and sent to jail for consensual sex. No matter the circumstance

How many of you knew that you will actually go to jail for months for having a sexual relation with someone who is not your spouse? According to Article 244 of the penal code you will go to jail for between six months to a year if you are convicted of adultery.

I understand that the law should be followed; however, I totally disagree with the people who decided to criminalize this. The State really doesn’t need to get involved with what two or more consenting people do in their bedrooms. There is absolutely no justification for it. Sure, its sad when a marriage breaks down but the public is not damaged in any way. In fact, it can harm the public good.

Let us imagine a scenario where the parent of a five-year old is caught literally and figuratively pants down. Not only does that child have to suffer through the unraveling of their parent’s marriage, they also have to suffer the ignominy of seeing their parent dressed in pink. Even if the children don’t remember the sight of their parent in pink, they will not enjoy their parent’s love for possibly a year.

Who in their right mind wants that? The only one would be a vindictive spouse. And our laws should not support such vindictiveness.

Who is letting possible child rapists out of custody?

A few days ago a friend posted a comment on Facebook that saddened and angered me at the same time. In the post, she details not only the defilement of a twenty-two month old infant, which is bad enough. But what makes the event even more tragic was that although the alleged pedophile was arrested, he was then released from police custody pending trial.

I don’t know if the suspect committed the heinous crime for that is for the courts to decide. However, I must ask; how was he able to be released from custody in the first place? An alleged pedophile? I would have assumed that such a person would only be released on bail following a court ruling; so the question I must ask is, who in the world authorized his release?

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The state of the Rwandan Franc vis-à-vis the all-powerful dollar is quickly becoming the talk of the town (although as a conversation starter it still is inferior to the one about the state of the electricity and water sector).

The Central Bank governor, John Rwangombwa, took to The New Times on Monday to state that ‘there was no dollar scarcity’. I will not presume to understand finance as much as the good governor; however I must ask, if there isn’t a scarcity of dollars, then why is the Franc weakening against it? It’s about demand and supply isn’t it?

Anyway, what he did mention was the high import bill and low export sector. We cannot do that much about the import bill (especially when it comes to things such are vehicles, household appliances and industrial raw materials) but it would seem to me that even the little we should be doing to decrease our import bill we aren’t doing.

For example, all the offices in the country, big or small, provide coffee for their staff. Guess what kind of coffee they provide? Not Bourbon coffee, not Maraba Coffee; rather they provide for their staff Nescafe instant coffee, a low quality, Swiss brand that more often than not will give you a headache soon after consuming it.

I look around our supermarket shelves and search for products that could be termed ‘purely Rwandan’ but other than hot sauce and Inyange products, there is little else. And if there are any products that are ‘homemade’, nothing about tells me, the customer, that. In the US for example, producers go out of their way to sell the fact that their products are ‘Made in America’. An advert for a milk producer will incorporate the flag, a farmer in the Mid-West, the Bald Eagle and an All-American family. They will not only attempt to sell you the milk, they will be attempting to sell you ‘America’.

There is a hot sauce that I love called ‘Sabana’. It’s a great, local condiment that can go toe to toe with Tabasco and beat it where flavor is concerned. But if you look at it, nothing tells you that it is made in Rwanda. Nothing makes you want to buy it. It doesn’t appeal to the patriot in you.

Honestly, only our coffee brands have been able to sell themselves as national ‘champion’. Which is sad because I know we have much more to offer than mere coffee.

I know that my friends in the national police and other judicial officials read this newspaper quite often, so to them I ask this question. Was what happened in this case part of normal judicial procedure or was someone fiddling with the law? If it was the normal way of doing business, what is the point of going to court and asking for bail? And if someone committed some illegality, what shall be done about it?

As we welcome back Gen. KK, let us hope that the truth will eventually come out (Plus a rant about dollars and traffic)

It’s been only two weeks since I put my thoughts on paper but it feels like it’s been longer. I guess that’s what happens when one’s written something weekly for close to a decade.

I was on leave helping to organise a sibling’s nuptials and all I can say is this, it was a relief when everything was done. I finally understand why very few Rwandans get divorced; the thought of enduring another bunch of wedding meetings and fundraisers gives them nightmares. They’d probably rather stay in an unsatisfactory marriage than go through another bunch of ceremonies again.

All jokes aside, when I returned to work yesterday and flipped through the day’s issue of The New Times, three things caught my eye. Firstly, the headline ‘ Gen Karake is free’. Secondly, the photograph of President Kagame walking from the new M.Peace Plaza building to City Hall. Thirdly, the story in which the Central Bank announces the prohibition of the pricing of goods and services in foreign currencies.

Gen. Karenzi Karake poses with members of the Rwandan community in the UK following his legal victory

Gen. Karenzi Karake poses with members of the Rwandan community in the UK following his legal victory

The release of General Karake is a victory against those who attempted to misuse international law to slander his good name (and therefore the Government of Rwanda) and turn history on its head. These well-known people assumed that they would get an easy ride. They were sorely mistaken. But while we celebrate the legal victory, let us not forget that the foul and immoral arrest warrants still exist. And until they are consigned to the dumpster of history, we mustn’t rest.

That is why I will not be satisfied when the Spanish Supreme Court annuls the indictments next month (I’m quite confident that it will). Why won’t I be happy? Because the Supreme Court will rule on the legality of Spanish universal jurisdiction and not on the facts of the indictment. What I wish is for a court to state unequivocally that the allegations have no legal merit and should be dismissed and treated with the contempt that they deserve. Until that happens, those who wish to rewrite history will always have a straw to cling to. They will be able to say, “we lost on a technicality, but not on the facts”. And that sends my blood to a boil.

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The above photograph of the President walking to the newly inaugurated City Hall got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be great if we all could do that? When I look at the stretch of road from Pension Plaza to just beyond City Hall (which I’ve coined ‘Rwanda’s Wall Street’) with all its imposing structures and hundreds of offices, I wonder, how will anyone control the traffic jams that will eventually arise when the many offices get fully utilised?

I mean, even today sometimes the gridlock makes it almost impossible to move ten meters a minute. Imagine when the M. Plaza and the planned Equity Towers gets fully occupied? It will only get worse. Throw in the fact that the road cannot be expanded and one realises that City Council is sitting on an infrastructural nightmare. Here is my solution: between 6am-9pm make the Central Business District a car-free zone. It would reduce pollution in the city centre, encourage public transport use and reduce the creeping incidences of adult obesity due to the free ‘gym tonic’ people would get by speed walking to work.

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The Kivu Serena is notorious for pricing its rooms in US dollars

The Kivu Serena is notorious for pricing its rooms in US dollars

Lastly, the issue of foreign exchange use in the country. A few months back, I wrote complaining about an incident in Gisenyi where I was forced to pay my hotel bill in US dollars simply because I chose to pay using a Visa debit card. According to the hotel management, they only had a PoS machine was compatible with dollars. I was outraged. How could a hotel in the country not have a PoS machine that accepted payment in Rwanda’s legal tender?

Forcing people who stay in Rwandan hotels to pay in foreign currencies is not only ‘agasuzuguro’ (contempt) but also a ploy to fleece them of their hard-earned money. For example, if you decide to stay at Hotel X in Gisenyi that charges $100 a night you have two choices; pay in dollars OR pay the equivalent in Rwandan Francs. The problem is, the hotel unilaterally chooses what the Franc-Dollar rate will be. So, whereas in one place you’ll pay Rwf 73,100 for a night (which would be the Central Bank forex rate), in other you’ll pay Rwf 80,000 (which is their rate).

Our country cannot become one where our own legal tender is second-class citizen of sorts. I urge the Central Bank to investigate the many hotels that are playing with our currency. Mister Central Bank Governor John Rwangobwa, who can we report to if we catch a business engaging in this act of financial trickery? And what will you do when we do?

The New Times published this blog