Why have we let Kigali Car-Free Zone become Kigali Dead Zone?


The Central Business District: Before

I have a love-love relationship with the Kigali Car-Free zone. As I wrote almost three years ago, a car-free zone 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’.

When the zone finally came to life, I hoped that the pedestrian-only area would bring new life to the city. Writing two weeks after the zone was announced, I warned that “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’.


The Central Business District: After

Unfortunately, the Zone hasn’t lived up to expectations. I’m not saying that it is a complete desert, but we need to be honest and admit that, as an entire Kigali community, we have failed to take ownership of the space.

I know that it’s easy to fault the Kigali City authorities, but we also need to take some of the blame as well. Where is our innovation? Where is our business-savvy?

On the 9th of this month, the Zone was alive with the sounds of children playing, young people dancing and parents enjoying a Saturday afternoon, courtesy of the European Union.

The event, called the ‘European Street Fair’ included, as The New Timesreported, ‘a variety of activities, like art exhibitions, traditional dances and drumming by Ingoma Nshya Troupe, jam sessions, and music from upcoming and popular local artistes’.

Forgive me but this rubbed me the wrong way. Not because I have any issue with the European Union, or Europeans; rather it bothered me because, once again, our community was being served by others. Where is our local event companies? Why isn’t the Private Sector Federation doing something?

Rwanda aims to bring in $800 million in tourism dollars by 2024. This is doable but only if we utilize fully the resources that we have. The Car-Free Zone is one such resource. So, why aren’t we doing something about it? Kigali City Council, over to you.


Rwanda-Arsenal: Les faits sont têtus



Lisa Delpy Neirotti, a professor of sports management and tourism studies at George Washington University, unfortunately bit off more than she could chew when she attempted to pooh-pooh the Rwanda Development Board- Arsenal Football Club partnership that was announced last month.

She hasn’t been the only misguided so-called expert. Mais les faits sont têtus (But facts can be stubborn).

The ‘Visit Rwanda’ deal is the talk of the town. This ‘talk’ has manifested itself not only in the media, but also on the Google search engine.

In May 2017, Google searches for the keyword ‘visit rwanda’ in the United States, Rwanda’s main tourism market, numbered a measly 110 searches. In May 2018, 1,600 searches were recorded, an increase of 1,355%. Globally, during the same period, Google searches for the keyword ‘Visit Rwanda’ rose by 5,600%.

In two published papers, Pablo Pedraza, a research fellow at the University of Amsterdam, and Irem Önder, an associate professor at the Department of Tourism and Hospitality Management at MODUL University Vienna, strongly suggest a predictive link between online interest and tourism activity.

In layman’s language, this shows that the more people know about a destination, the more likely they will visit it. And that is plain common sense.

Rwanda’s tourism strategy makes sense. It is grounded in Vision 2050 and EDPRS II. It is well thought out, systematic, and has played a major role in helping the local community living around the national park. Calling the Rwanda- Arsenal deal anything other than a masterstroke in marketing is simply a case of sour grapes.

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