Before the 20th century there were no cities in Rwanda. Its farming communities were highly structured, but scattered across the hills. In 2015, about 20% of Rwandans live in urban centres. Kigali, the capital, is by far the largest - almost half of Rwanda’s city dwellers live there.

In recent years, there has been a growing divide in Rwanda’s built environment. Modern glass-fronted office towers are now a feature of Kigali’s central business district; western-style luxury housing estates are appearing in the green-belt suburbs, while the poorest households live in small earth and timber homes on steep hillsides or in flood-prone valleys. 

The challenges for Kigali are typical of any country where cities are growing quickly. In the aftermath of genocide, many people moved to the capital, hoping to be closer to jobs, schools and health services. Infrastructure and town planning controls were almost non-existent, and so large unplanned and unserviced neighbourhoods quickly grew up. Currently, about 90% of the buildings in Kigali are ones which were constructed during that time of unplanned development. Rwanda’s hilly terrain makes town planning and the development of urban areas difficult. Building construction and the provision of roads, water, energy and sanitation services is both complex and expensive.

Again, most of the images here are screen grabs from video.
Unplanned housing on the hillsides of the capital, Kigali.
Typical small town in eastern Rwanda.
Traditionally Rwandans have been small-scale subsistence farmers, living in isolated dwellings scattered across the hills, and surrounded by their cultivated fields. Thatched roofs are now extremely rare.
Many rural homes have enclosures for small livestock such as goats, chickens and rabbits. Wealthier households have a small number of cattle.
Up-market housing in Gisozi, a suburb of Kigali, with the Kigali CBD in the background.
On the last Saturday of the month, local communities across Rwanda get together to carry out practical work on their neighbourhood. Gikondo, Kigali, Rwanda,
Market day, Ruhengeri, northern Rwanda. Most rural households live a fair way from community facilities. On average, it’s about a half-hour walk to the nearest primary school and almost a one-hour walk to markets, health centres and secondary schools.
Peak hour traffic in Kigali can get fairly congested. As you weave between overloaded trucks, cars, mini-buses and motorbike taxis, you’d get the impression that a lot of people in Rwanda own vehicles. But the statistics say otherwise: less than 1% of households own a car, and only about 13% even own a bicycle.
Bourbon Cafe in central Kigali. Rwanda produces great coffee and tea.
In 2014 over 90% of Rwanda’s children attended primary school - a remarkable achievement.
After the genocide, talking about the past became very complicated. Within education, it became so difficult that for more than a decade no Rwandan history was taught in schools. Only now are Rwandans finding it possible to teach parts of their history in a way which unites students rather than divides them.
Nyaratovu rural town centre, north-western Rwanda.
A very African wall

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