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In Rwanda, Rapid Urbanization Chases The Poor Out Of Town

As cities in Rwanda are urbanizing and gentrifying, the poor are forced to move to the countryside, where land prices are rising nearly as fast.

Construction in Kigali
Construction in Kigali
Fulgence Nionagize

KIGALI - Here in the capital, and other cities around Rwanda, land prices are rapidly rising, and pushing poor families deeper into poverty. When authorities expropriate properties, and the poor are forced to sell land and homes, families must figure out where to go next.

The little houses, bars and kiosks so typical of the Kimicanga district in Kigali have almost all vanished. Any minute now, the last houses standing could be demolished. "The bulldozers are coming to destroy the remaining houses," says one of Kimicanga's last inhabitants. "We've received our expropriation compensation, but we still don't know where to live, because land is so expensive in the countryside."

In the past four years, most houses in the extremely poor Kiyovu and Gacuriro districts have been bulldozed. According to city officials, they will soon be replaced with new commercial or residential buildings. But in Kiyovu, only three buildings have already been built or are in construction; and in Gacuriro the bush has claimed back the town. "The high cost of plots has slowed down activity," explains one city official. In 2009, a square meter in Kiyovu cost $180, but timid sales have knocked the prices drop by half in 2011. Apart from the paved roads, nothing has been built on these large plots.

Urbanizing the countryside

This appetite for buildable land is a not limited to Kigali -- it has spread to the rest of Rwanda, to country towns where land is cheaper than in the capital. Many people are looking for respite from the noise and agitation of the big city, and many cities are building new neighborhoods to accommodate the new arrivals. A few years ago, Ruyenzi in the Kamonyi district of south Rwanda was just a small hill 5 km away from the city center, where people cultivated their land. But they built pretty houses with red corrugated iron roofs and now at night the lights are as bright as the city's.

"There aren't any kavukire (locals) left, the rich are buying up all the land, says a farmer who is waiting for prices to rise so he can sell his land and buy somewhere else.

Overnight, land prices have boomed in this area, as they have in many other regions, including Muhanga in the south, Musanze in the north or Nyabihu in the west. "Here, you won't find a plot to build a house for less than $4000. Two years ago, the same plots were going for less than $1800," says an agent whose job is to advise buyers in Ruyenzi.

In the cities, the poor are hard pressed to keep up. "You're between two castles and your house is just a thatched hut stuck in the middle," describes a Kacyiru resident. "To them, we're an eyesore, so we end up negotiating for them to pay us to leave." The Kigali city authorities saye there is an urban development plan for lower income neighborhoods, like the Gasabo district built in 2008 for those displaced from Kiyovu.

Building for the poor

Not everyone wants to move from the city to the countryside. This prompted the Rwandan Housing Authority (RHA) to build apartments for residents who don't want to leave. "We have to build for all categories of people, otherwise Kigali will turn into a ghetto for the rich," said Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi at the inauguration of 100 houses built by the Rwandan social security office in January. These houses, by the way, are very expensive: up to $100,000.

According to the Kigali city blueprint envisioned for the next 50 years by American architects, the old shops and shantytowns must make way for residential or commercial neighborhoods and infrastructures. Nevertheless, for those who are forced to leave will become victims of the process without better compensation.

Read the article in French in Syfia.

Photo - Syfia

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What's Spoiling The Kids: The Big Tech v. Bad Parenting Debate

Without an extended family network, modern parents have sought to raise happy kids in a "hostile" world. It's a tall order, when youngsters absorb the fears (and devices) around them like a sponge.

Image of a kid wearing a blue striped sweater, using an ipad.

Children exposed to technology at a very young age are prominent today.

Julián de Zubiría Samper


BOGOTÁ — A 2021 report from the United States (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) found that 42% of the country's high-school students persistently felt sad and 22% had thought about suicide. In other words, almost half of the country's young people are living in despair and a fifth of them have thought about killing themselves.

Such chilling figures are unprecedented in history. Many have suggested that this might be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sadly, we can see depression has deeper causes, and the pandemic merely illustrated its complexity.

I have written before on possible links between severe depression and the time young people spend on social media. But this is just one aspect of the problem. Today, young people suffer frequent and intense emotional crises, and not just for all the hours spent staring at a screen. Another, possibly more important cause may lie in changes to the family composition and authority patterns at home.

Firstly: Families today have fewer members, who communicate less among themselves.

Young people marry at a later age, have fewer children and many opt for personal projects and pets instead of having children. Families are more diverse and flexible. In many countries, the number of children per woman is close to or less than one (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong among others).

In Colombia, women have on average 1.9 children, compared to 7.6 in 1970. Worldwide, women aged 15 to 49 years have on average 2.4 children, or half the average figure for 1970. The changes are much more pronounced in cities and among middle and upper-income groups.

Of further concern today is the decline in communication time at home, notably between parents and children. This is difficult to quantify, but reasons may include fewer household members, pervasive use of screens, mothers going to work, microwave ovens that have eliminated family cooking and meals and, thanks to new technologies, an increase in time spent on work, even at home. Our society is addicted to work and devotes little time to minors.

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