A standoff between Kigali City authorities and over 1,000 families living in Bannyahe slum over relocation terms signals difficulties likely to complicate the on-going drive by municipal authorities to get rid of slums.
The government seeks to make Kigali slum free based on a master plan to replace unplanned settlements with high-end housing projects, commercial developments and green spaces.
The residents of Bannyahe slum oppose a plan by Kigali City authorities to compensate them with alternative housing instead of with money as was the case in the relocation of Kimicanga and lower Kiyovu slum residents five years ago.
Kigali City authorities say they resolved to provide alternative housing for current and future relocations.
However, as the approach draws mixed reactions from disgruntled families, there are concerns that this could hamper future plans to relocate residents of other slums.
While the expropriation law provides procedures for protecting the rights of property owners in the expropriation process, studies show the implementation of that law has caused concerns about potential human-rights violations.
The research also shows how expropriation is affecting the population both economically and socially.
For instance, a study carried out by Legal Aid Forum Rwanda between October 2014 and August 2015, showed that expropriated households faced a severe decline in their monthly income.
They also sometimes were unable to make basic improvements to their properties due to the expropriation exercise remaining pending for several months.
“We are in support of the plan to relocate these families. However, unless there is a way to examine and address the needs of the families on a case-by-case basis, the project will hardly achieve its intended results,” Marie Immaculee Ingabire, Transparency International Rwanda chairperson, told Rwanda Today.
“There are so many aspects the City authorities need to consider when allocating houses such as the number of family members and the existing sources of income for these families. My take is that these aspects are being ignored, which is why there is resistance,” she added.
Officials from Legal Aid Forum, Rwanda also cite insufficient and delayed compensation as the biggest problem reported by both government stakeholders and slum residents.
This problem requires better collaboration efforts. Another challenge is arbitrary variations in property values, which could be addressed by improving the independence of the valuation process. Compensation-related issues also have a negative impact on residents.
However, Kigali City officials insist the current relocation approach will not be changed.
“The government has resolved that finding residents better settlements is the best approach. Monetary compensation only enables residents to create new slums elsewhere,” said Bruno Rangira, media and communication officer for Kigali City.
According to Kigali City officials large slum areas and the creation of new ones was a big barrier to the city’s master plan.
Figures from the 2013/2014 Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey showed that about 79 per cent of residents in Kigali lived in unplanned settlements.
Like Bannyahe, most of the slums are in areas meant for commercial developments or other uses and so residents have to be resettled to pave the way for redevelopment.
There is no exact figure of the number of people living in such areas, pending an on-going inventory that is expected to also show the estimated value of properties in slums earmarked for expropriation.
However, priority is on slums on over 5,000ha high risk slopes of the City namely Mount Kigali, Rebero and Mount Jali City, which need to be recovered to pave the way for reforestation.
Other areas for expropriation are Nyabisindu, Gatenga, Muhima, Gitega, Biryogo, Nyarugunga and Gatsata.
Concerns about the high cost of property expropriation and further expansion of slums have seen City authorities impose strict building regulations in these areas.
Jean Marc Rossignol, a Kigali-based urban planner said that Kigali City authorities should opt for slum upgrading instead of forcing residents out of their homes, since most of these areas are already designated as residential.
“The areas could be modernised with required infrastructure like roads, water, electricity and other services, which would see only a few families being moved,” said Mr Rossignol, adding that even investors would be willing to develop these areas if offered incentives.
He said trying to get rid of slums by moving dwellers to other locations, which are far away from their jobs and other sources of income, not only disrupted their lives, but also created long-term socio-economic implications.