In 2013, cabinet adopted a plan to immediately merge all public universities and colleges into a single University of Rwanda (UR).
It turned out to be the last breath in the slow ‘death’ of Huye district – which had been one of the most vibrant towns in the country.
More than five faculties had moved from Huye since 2009 to Kigali – with them more than 5,000 students. Along with them was more than Rwf 170m that was pouring into the town every month.
It is the money government allocated to student welfare as personal bursaries.
Large complexes that were student hostels on the campus now lay empty. They had been built to cater for the big university population.
Individual private business-people who had also invested in hostels around Huye, found themselves with no tenants. Not to forget, nearly all had used bank loans.
Neighborhoods like ‘Cyarabu’ or Tumba or Taba, all became near-ghost areas.
The small businesses that were surviving on what the students bought from their shops, suddenly disappeared.
Faculties go back
Within a year, Huye town authorities were seeing a town in steady decline. The town had been getting billions of Francs flowing in from the government coffers every year, which was no more.
However, five years away, government again made another turnaround: some faculties were moved back to Huye district.
The schools and colleges shifted back to Huye include the School of Journalism and Communication (SJC), Economics and Business, and Information and Communication Technology, Law, and Creative Design.
For this academic year which started in September last year, the population rose from 4,500 to current 10,000.
Before the merging, there was the National University of Rwanda (UNR), which had been based in Huye for decades.
With the birth of the single University of Rwanda, the UNR was scrapped, like all the other facilities in different parts of the country.
But Huye was the biggest casualty because it had been established for longer before, and was more intertwined with the local fabric.
This year, life is suddenly back to Huye, despite the opposition and displeasure that the transfer came with – as a result of some sections that believe a university can better serve when it the capital city.
With each of the 5,500 student moved back, they come along with Rwf 35,000 government bursary for each. It is a government loan, which they will repay after school. All UR students get it.
Huye district is getting an injection of more than Rwf 180m monthly which is spent by the students from their bursaries. This does not include other sources of income the students have.
It also doesn’t include other government spending on lecturers, non teaching staff, services and infrastructure.
Considering what the students alone bring to the town, Huye is getting a flow of Rwf2.1billion this year going forward.
This a very large cash injection for such a small town. It surely must be creating envy from other neighbouring cities.
To make sense of how big that university cash flow is, The Chronicles compared with the 2018-2019 budget of Huye district. It is is Rwf 3.4billion.
In other words, the cash coming into Huye district is at least 62% of its budget.
So for every month, there is 62% more money arriving as sure deal for Huye district.
Students are back, so is business
In April 2015, when President Paul Kagame visited Huye, he met both students and the opinion leaders. The message they kept repeating to him was: do something for us, our town is dying.
The Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Institutional Advancement of the University of Rwanda, Dr Charles Murigande has said previously at a separate event that UR is not an island.
Any faculty or school will be relocated to any region if necessary as part of government strategy of developing secondary cities, said Dr Murigande, at the time.
Government is currently implementing an ambitious reorganization of the country. In addition to the City of Kigali, six other cities have already been selected, and Huye is among them.
The others are Rubavu, Musanze, Rusizi, Nyagatare, and Muhanga districts.
Jean Baptist Sebukangaga, a wealthy businessman whose portfolio goes across real estate, hotel, hostels and other businesses, told The Chronicles that Huye has been reborn, again!
“Our town has been lagging behind but that has change in a short time,” he said, adding: “Although students do not have as much money, their lecturers and other officials are our main customers. We are very hopeful for the growth of business.”
Perhaps the happiest lot is the team at Huye district headquarters. Vice Mayor of Economic Affairs and Development, Andre Kamana said all businesses that had closed are rising again.
“The presence of such a large number of students means alot to us,” he said.
“Students are the main clients for restaurants, shops and everything the surrounding communities can supply. New businesses are being opened and the town is being renovated. Some time back, certain businesses closed but now they are working. It is a change we really appreciate.”
Patric Ndayishimiye, a Burundian refugee who is manager of Ubuntu bar, located in Tumba which traditionally has many students, says the the town was cold but is not very vibrant.
He said: “When students were in Kigali, the situation was cold around here. The town is now changing so fast, as houses are being renovated. There are so many things on which students spend money like birthdays, playing pool and several other ways of entertainment.”
Julienne Nyiransabimana, a fourth year student in the school of Forestry and Biodiversity Conservation, said that Huye campus has good learning environment for her and faculty colleagues.
“We use Arboretum with its species of trees as a class,” she said referring to Arboretum Ruhande, a 200-hectare forest that was planted in 1933.
Emmanuel Gashema, a fourth year Law student, said Huye has limited job opportunities compared to Kigali.
“In Kigali I had part-time jobs which were a source of additional income. There are very few law firms which are also small and low level courts,” he added.