In the summer of 2008, the Rwandan authorities bought up and bulldozed the capital's remaining city-centre slum, which sat right next to the "rich town". Last week, one of our Observers there went to photograph the deserted area. What he found, was a group of families, still waiting to be compensated and moved out. Due to heavy rain, their homes have been destroyed, but they're still living in them. The authorities tell them simply "to wait".

Kigali's central district of Kiyovu was, until three years ago, spilt in two. On the upper side, "Rich Kiyovu" - home to government officials, grand hotels and international schools. Lying directly below it, "poor Kiyovu" - home to the most impoverished of the Rwandan capital, a patchwork of concrete shacks and mud huts.

In May 2007, the Mayor of Kigali, Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, announced the launch of an expropriation scheme which would see the homes of poor Kiyovu demolished and replaced with upmarket apartments. Depending on the material and size of their home, residents were offered up to 3.5 million Rwandan Francs (€4,450) in compensation.

After claims from residents that bulldozers were arriving without warning to demolish homes and that the compensation given was not enough, the mayor responded in July 2008 by calling on "Rwandans who love their country to embrace positive change".


"Poor Kiyovu" before it was destroyed

Photo posted by "Mostly Maurice" on his blog.

During demolition

The flat areas are where the homes used to be. A bulldozer can be seen in the centre. Photo posted by blogger "Morgan in Africa" in July 2008.

 After demolition

Photo posted in August 2008 by "Mostly Maurice".

The ones that got away: “Everyone was properly expropriated”

Maurice, who runs the blog "Mostly Maurice", is an expat living in Kigali. He followed the destruction of "poor Kiyuvo" through friends who lived there.

The government actually ended up compensating everyone who was properly expropriated from that particular site. People who took the government to court ended up getting the higher compensation demanded. My friend K (name changed), a musician who lived in Poor Kiyovu, won his court case and received a higher price that he was looking for. The last I heard he was staying with relatives and still looking for a place.

I was not expecting the scheme to be fair, as the Rwandan government has a poor reputation for fair expropriation schemes. However, in this particular case, it seems that the City of Kigali was acting somewhat independently of the presidency, and that there was a sincere recognition that mistakes were made. However, I also feel that there is a larger question here, regarding to whether the central city areas should be cleared of all low-income residential areas.

Incidentally, the area pictured [seen in 'after demolition'] has not yet been built on. Presumably because no developer has been found..."

“They're worried the state will forget all about them”

François D. is an IT technician and amateur photographer from Kigali. He went to "poor Kiyovu" district to see what was left of the shantytown (it has yet to be redeveloped).

The authorities expropriated poor Kiyovu's inhabitants in order to place them in better housing, but also so they could build fashionable new apartments on the former shantytown. The families were moved to houses which aren't central and are expensive. Although they're allowed to pay in instalments, the interest is high [14% over a 20 year period]. 

For the people left behind however, who I came across when I went to photograph the area, the situation is impossible. A recent bout of heavy rain has completely destroyed their homes. To rebuild them however, they need planning permission from the local authorities. Now seeing as they signed their homes over to the local authorities two years ago, they are not allowed this permission, because the properties no longer belong to them! They are constantly asking the authorities when they will receive the money to move out, but the response is always the same: "soon, be patient". They're worried they'll be there so long that the state will forget all about them. The family in the photos below told me they would have to move to relatives' homes soon, but they're worried that if they do that, then the government won't give them any compensation money at all."

François's photos of the remaining homes, largely destroyed by heavy rainfall.