Rwanda has experienced the highest urban growth of any African country since 1990. Rwanda is not the most urban country in Africa, but its recent rapid growth is significant. Part of this growth can be attributed to the mass population shift caused by the Rwandan Genocide from 1990 to 1993. The Tutsi minority, who were the victims of the genocide, fled their local villages and settled in cities after the genocide ended. In addition, Tutsis exiled decades ago by the previous government began populating the cities. Hutu refugees returned later, settling in overpopulated cities. At this time, urbanization grew at 18% annually, which is unmatched by any country in the last 60 years. The new Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) government quickly developed Kigali, the largest city and capital. The RPF was formed from military officials and their methods were authoritarian, which allowed for rapid development.
Rwanda faces several challenges to becoming a developed urbanized country. The GDP is still largely made up of agriculture, which is not sustainable because of Rwanda’s small land area. Industry has only grown 3% in the last 10 years, which may slow the potential for urban growth. Rwanda’s recent stabilization also caused a surge in births. A young population is helpful for the economy in the short term, but in the future, it will be difficult to support a older population.
Rwanda’s growing population and the lack of flat land makes rapid urbanization a necessity. The urban population is expected to grow at a steady rate over the next 30 years. Cities are also expected to grow in population density as the infrastructure is developed further. Rwanda’s cities are spaced evenly throughout the country with Kigali at the center. These secondary cities are developing at a fast rate, but not to the extent of Kigali.
The RPF government focuses on sustainability and security within Rwanda’s cities, which is uncharacteristic of African countries. Kigali is one of Africa’s cleanest cities because the government is still moderately authoritarian and has the ability to enforce laws to keep the city clean. Also, the Rwandan culture is based on individual citizens’ accountability, which causes many citizens to volunteer to help the cities. This “top down” system also mitigates the need for a large police force. Rwanda’s environmental policies are more progressive than those in many western countries, which will help Rwanda remain a tourist destination in the future.
In the future, Rwanda plans to continue to modernize its economy and cities. Rwanda is different from other African governments because it actively facilitates urbanization rather than preventing it. The government also makes quick decisions, which may make rapid growth in the future possible. One of these decisions is to modernize the city as part of their Kigali 2040 plan, which includes building high-rises to accommodate the growing population. Kigali is already a distribution hub for tourists and the government is trying to make the city a main attraction to fund the Kigali 2040 plan.
As with any African country, building infrastructure is expensive and takes time. Instability in the region is also turning away investors. These factors may slow urbanization, but urbanization is still expected to revolutionize Rwanda and all African countries.