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 It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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