History of Kigali

Published on 27th June 2006

Kigali is the capital and largest city of Rwanda. It is situated in the centre of the nation, and has been the economic, cultural, and transport hub of Rwanda since it became capital at independence in 1962. It has population of approximately 851,024.

The city is built in hilly country, sprawling across about four ridges and the valleys in between. The city centre is located on one of these ridges, with the main government area on another. The bigger houses and office buildings tend to be on the tops of the ridges, while the poorer people live in the valleys.

Kigali is an important centre for trade in local produce, including coffee, cattle, cassiterite (tin ore), and tungsten. Manufacturing industries include textiles, chemicals, tin-processing, paints, and cigarettes.

The city was founded in 1907 under German colonial rule, but did not become the capital until Rwandan independence in 1962. The traditional capital was the seat of the mwami (king) in Nyanza, while the colonial seat of power was in Butare, then known as Astrida. Butare was initially the leading contender to be the capital of the new independent nation, but Kigali was chosen because of its more central location. Since then the city has grown very quickly and is now the major political, economic and cultural centre of Rwanda.

Kigali was part of German East Africa 1890–1916, when it was captured by allied forces during World War I. As part of the former Ruanda-Urundi territory, it came in trust under Belgian control 1919–62, when the independent states of Rwanda and Burundi were created. Kigali was heavily involved in ethnic violence between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples in 1994. As a result the population of the city decreased by over 100,000.

Dramatic population increase has been recorded over the past two decades with the post genocide period being the period this city experienced the highest population growth. This was because most of the returning Rwandans tended to go to the capital where there was considerable security.

The challenges facing Kigali city right now is modernization so that it can take the face of a true capital city, create jobs for all who are capable, making the city a place that is attractive to, and supportive of, business and investment, both within the Central/East African region and within the world’s economy. The city lacks basic social facilities such as clinics and schools because population density long surpassed the social service facility meant for it in almost all sectors.

In addition, the urban market status does not support the rural-urban influx and results in a severe unemployment crisis. In search for alternatives, many people are forced into criminal activities.

The majority of urban dwellers are lacking knowledge and skills to be economically productive. Parents have had a significant role in improving the status of education in the city especially after the 1994 genocide mainly through construction of several parents’- owned schools.

The post 1994 period witnessed a boom in the construction sector mostly because of the influx of 1994 refugees but most of it was not organized because there was no respect for the City master plan.

Business in Rwanda is growing, and many new buildings are emerging across the city. Tourism and expatriate NGO workers provide important input into the economy also. The city is home to an international airport, Kigali International Airport. It is the hub of the Rwanda transport network, with hourly express bus routes to all major towns in the country.





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