As the population of Rwanda grows, so does the total amount of people considered urban, with the official figure hovering around 17%. But a true sign of the times, even the concept of what constitutes urbanization is becoming increasingly outdated. Using a looser interpretation, the urbanized portion of the population has almost doubled at 31% today, compared to roughly 16% in 2002. Recently, Rwanda’s rapid period of growth has leveled off, signaling the end of true large scale urbanization. Looking towards the future, however, the overall population is expected to be on the rise again due to a combination of outside investors and scaled up agriculture production.
The large shift of citizens out of rural areas is fueled by the lack of advancement opportunities while stuck on a fixed income. A new urban environment is substantially more conducive to economic growth than dying communities with limited option in terms of land and jobs. Rwanda as a whole is still largely reliant on the profits generated from farming, but a sizeable subset of farmers are subsistence farmers, with entire families relying on agriculture to supply their basic needs.
However, the ability to find steady work is not guaranteed as an increasing amount of people flock to cities, mainly the capital Kigali. The Rwandan minister himself has been forced to acknowledge the correlation between rural urban migration and growing unemployment rates in an already competitive market. The job gap is widening, as those in rural areas seeking to escape their situation add to the pool of those searching for available work with varying levels of success. Those lucky enough to find positions often accept jobs they are overqualified for, or alternatively take on unfamiliar roles. Beyond the obvious, unemployment has broader effects, such as negative social impacts. This influx of people is arguably too much of a good thing, as the amount of people existing below the poverty line is increasing.
Many of the problems stemming from urbanization surround the ill-planned use of land during the building of many new structures. This includes physically illogical layouts that don’t maximize the space available as well as environmental concerns such as erosion. Post-genocide Kigali is one of the most visible examples of this change.
Both rural to urban and urban to rural migration is occurring, with each case presenting unique challenges. The process is cyclical, as people in search of work move to the city, while those alienated by the increasingly high concentration of people move to rural areas. The very nature of real estate transactions in rural areas have changed, with outside buyers fueling the market and driving up prices. Those with the means to buy plots of land in these quiet areas (whether it be the government or an independent buyer) have the ability to take over villages in order to maximize profit through expansion or avoid bringing down their own property value with the sight of modest homes.
To stave off of the negative effects of urbanization, the Rwandan government is looking towards the future and focusing on developing so-called secondary cities in all four provinces, namely Muhanga, Huye, Rubavu, Rusizi, Nyagatare and Musanze. These secondary cities are being formed as an alternative to the densely populated and landlocked capital, and some commerce has shifted accordingly. This is a huge step, as the government prepares to invest in the future by developing areas with the potential for resource expansion and continued economic growth. Rwandan officials are looking not only to contain current issues, but facilitate sustained success. The lofty aims of the government include eventual classification as a middle class country and a target of 35% urban population growth. Moderate measures such as an effective bus route could contribute to these goals and the overall infrastructure, with increased transportation allowing for the spread of business centers with less dependency on one area. Concrete and manageable propositions like this are what will define the path of Rwanda as the country works towards bridging the gap between rural and urban areas.