SEATTLE — The war and 1994 genocide grievously impacted infrastructure in Rwanda. Roads and buildings were destroyed, staff members from utility companies and ministries fled or were killed and many government and private records were destroyed. Immediately after the war, infrastructure rehabilitation was not a priority, and in fact, was further strained due to poor management and the resettlement of refugees.
In recent years, however, Rwanda has reprioritized infrastructure and made important gains. In 2000, President Paul Kagame launched a series of development goals called Vision 2020. These goals included the development of economic infrastructure, the renewal of older infrastructure and the construction of new infrastructure. Nearly a tenth of Rwanda’s budget has been dedicated to infrastructure, with an emphasis on transportation.
One of the key pieces of Rwanda’s plan to revive its infrastructure is private sector participation. For years, the Rwandan government relied on the international donor community. Now it hopes that, by engaging its own private sector, it can avoid wasting cost and effort and it will be able to create jobs and develop indigenous businesses.
In 2016 alone, the following infrastructure milestones were achieved: the Nzove water treatment plant was inaugurated, the government signed a deal with Volkswagen to host an assembly plant, the KivuWatt gas power plant became the world’s first gas/water extraction energy plant, the construction agreement for the Bugesera International Airport was signed and RwandAir acquired three new airplanes. In addition, a convention center and three new hotels were completed and inaugurated: the Kigali Convention Center, the Radisson Blu hotel, the Marriott Hotel and the Ubumwe Hotel.
Future projects include developing feeder roads (which are the rural roads that allow farmers and entrepreneurs to reach local markets) as well as urban roads in the capital of Kigali and the secondary cities of Rubavu, Musanze, Huye, Rusizi, Nyagatare and Muhanga. The development of these secondary cities will ease some of the pressure on Kigali and diversify the economic landscape of the country.
Plans are also in the works for roads connecting Kibungo, Ngoma and Nyanza; Nyagatare, Byumba and Base; and the Kigali Ring Road. The Bugesera International Airport is poised to become an international hub in East Africa with both passenger and cargo capacities. Currently, Rwanda does not have its own railroad system, which limits its economic activities since it is landlocked. The government would like to construct two regional lines, the Dar-es-Salaam-Isaka-Kigali line and the Mombasa-Nairobi-Kamapala-Kigali line.
Some of this success regarding infrastructure in Rwanda can be attributed to Chinese, Japanese and World Bank investment. The World Bank is financing road rehabilitation, particularly in rural areas where the war and the 1997 flood caused major road deterioration. The Japanese International Cooperation Agency has a hand in improving electrical substations and electricity distribution, as well as facilitating trade among East African community members. China has invested in the Kigali City Tower, a number of government buildings, the construction of local Confucius Centers run by the Chinese ministry of education and a myriad of other endeavors.
The development of adequate infrastructure in Rwanda still faces many challenges and inadequate infrastructure is the root of many other systemic issues. For example, poor road conditions (especially feeder roads) create barriers to accessing rural markets, health and education, and as a result are a barrier to poverty alleviation. Many Rwandans in both urban and rural areas still lack access to potable water, electricity and the telecommunications network.
Local financial markets, inadequate institutional capacity, a slow bid evaluation process and a project selection/prioritization/planning system with a lot of red tape all slow or halt infrastructure development. However, Rwanda is well on its way to achieving its infrastructure-related Vision 2020 goals, and with the help of its own private sector and international investors, infrastructure in Rwanda will likely continue to develop in the coming years.
– Olivia Bradley