A bus queue in Kigali. (Screengrab from one of the videos below.)

For the past year, Kigali has been swapping its traditional minibuses for buses fit for a modern capital city. It may have seemed like a good idea on paper, but, today, taking the bus in certain neighbourhoods in the Rwandan capital has become an ordeal because of the incredibly long queues and extended waiting times.

In August 2013, the Kigali municipality decided to reorganise the public transport system. This included “giving priority to modern buses, which would be bigger and more elegant” to help relieve the traffic congestion in the centre of the capital, according to a report written up by the Rwanda Utility Regulatory Authority (RURA).

In their attempt to clean up the urban transport system, Kigali authorities banned minibuses from certain parts of the city centre from June 2014. Instead, five bus operators who charter bigger buses (with 47 seats each) have been given authorisation to operate in these areas. About 6 million euros has already been invested in this project.

In August 2014, an initial report concluded that very long queues were building up at the city’s bus stops. The mayor of Kigali said these problems would be “resolved before the end of the year”. However, our Observers in Kigali confirm that never-ending queues are still common during rush hour because there are not enough new buses to replace the multitudes of minibuses now banned from the city centre.

This video was filmed by our Observer on January 19 in the centre of Kigali, near the "Nyamirambo" bus stop.

"The official version of the facts is that wait time is no longer than 15 minutes"

Mukasonga (not his real name) lives in Kamisiraga, a neighbourhood in eastern Kigali. He takes the bus every day to go to work in the city centre.

Nearly every morning, between 6am and 9am, I am forced to stand and wait a minimum of 40 minutes before getting on my bus. In the evening, between 5pm and 9pm, I have had to wait up to two hours to get a bus home. The official version of the facts is that we don’t have to wait longer than 15 minutes maximum [Editor’s note: Official documents even mention a seven minute wait]. But I feel like these estimations were made without any consideration for the reality experienced by bus users!

"I stopped taking the bus because I couldn’t wait any longer"

Aware of the long waiting times, the city of Kigali decided last June to increase the number of buses in its fleet from 180 to 300. However, many users of public transport like Theoneste (not his real name), who lives in the centre of Kigali, said increasing the number of buses had not solved the problem. 

I stopped taking the bus and starting driving again even though the bus was more convenient for me. The main reason I stopped was because I couldn’t bear the long waits, but also because the price of bus tickets doubled [Editor’s note: From 100 Rwandan francs, or roughly 13 euro cents, to 200 Rwandan francs, or roughly 25 euro cents]. Most mornings, I carpool with friends, or even strangers. We don’t understand why, seven months after the first assessments were made, there are still such long queues for taking the buses!

This video was filmed on Monday, February 9 by our Observer Mukasonga in the centre of Kigali. On this particular evening, bus users had to wait at least 30 minutes at this bus stop on the Remera line.

"Kigali looks more like a modern city with these big, elegant buses"

While most of the Kigali residents contacted by FRANCE 24 complained about the frequently long queues to take the bus, some, like Leon (not his real name), applauded the modernisation of the bus system:

Most of the minis were filthy and substandard, even dangerous: I often saw fights taking place. There were queues even back when we only used these smaller vehicles, but it is true that the waiting times weren’t as long. Still, I think that this modernisation programme was a good idea because Kigali looks more like a modern city with these big, elegant buses.

"We didn’t underestimate the needs of Kigali’s bus users"

Did the city of Kigali underestimate the needs of its bus users? "Not at all", says Bruno Rugira, the spokesperson for Kigali city hall. He said:

It’s true that there are queues. However, we did a needs assessment, which resulted in our decision to double the number of buses. We’ve also set up a comprehensive list of bus companies so that users can complain if buses are late or if there are any other problems. This wasn’t the case with the minibuses, many of which don’t have an official licence.

Rwanda is often cited as an example of economic development on the African continent; it’s sometimes even called "Africa’s Silicon Valley". Numerous projects have been launched since the end of the civil war, like a policy of modernising the housing sector (with the goal of helping Rwanda get classified as an emerging country by 2020.) The Rwandan government often talks about bringing the country up to “Western standards.” However, as the example of  public transport demonstrates, these measures don’t always turn out exactly as expected.