A nearly Rwf 4 billion hotel lays complete but idle. The paint is slowly going off. Workers are regularly seen trimming the bush trying to creep into the large complex.
Though empty, this hotel is by far the only multilayered complex in this region. In downtown, a small and dull city, it is a common sight seeing unemployed men seated, discussing European football leagues.
Welcome to Ngoma town of Ngoma district. It is located on the highway from Tanzania border. This road transports more than 70% of Rwandan’s $1.3billion imports entering from Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam port.
Ngoma doesn’t have much to show for this strategic location. Save for small shops selling edibles and household items, not much of business happens in the main town, through which the high way passes.
Its mayor Nambaje Afrodise is longest serving in the country, about to complete two 5-year terms. Others are either in jail, unemployed, or risen up to higher positions. With this level of political stability, one would expect the mayor and his team have had so much time to do wonders.
There is one monument that has become representative of everything wrong with Ngoma. In 2012, Nambaje and his district colleagues came up with an unlikely project; a huge hotel complex. Four years later in 2016, the hotel was still under construction. It was as if they were constructing a highway, or stadium.
Then came the 2017 presidential polls. Incumbent President Paul Kagame campaigned at a huge rally in Ngoma city. The previous night, hundreds who formed the ruling party campaign entourage, could not find accommodation. The only big guest house in the town, charged nearly three times for small rooms.
Many on the campaign entourage drove from Kigali, because not everyone could find where to stay that night. That same day, Kagame had a rally earlier in Kirehe district, the border region. Many on the trail came from Kirehe for the Ngoma rally.
It was July 23, 2017. There was thunderous welcome for Kagame. More than 30,000 turned up. Original campaign songs had been composed by local singers and party diehards. Apart from a rare breed of bananas and struggling agriculture, there was little to brag about from local officials.
The crowd had been around since the wee hours. Kagame arrived around 3pm. Within the same hour, he took to the podium. After the pleasantries, Kagame said Ngoma is called a town, but it doesn’t seem like one at all.
“This town still has the old look, yet it shouldn’t. However, I do take responsibility as head of those who were supposed to have done something, which we didn’t. We are going to act now,” said Kagame to loud chants of “Ni Wowe” (No other), a slogan that been at all previous rallies.
He went on: “After you entrust me on August 4 (election day), I will immediately ask the leaders for what we should do, because there is no other alternative. Ngoma will have to develop, not just agriculture, but in infrastructure [and] real estate. You have water, but it should reach everyone. Schools and hospitals, will increase beyond what is available today.”
It was the first time Kagame had commented directly on the outlook of a city. Nearly three years later, we have gone back to review the merits of Kagame’s promise. Next year, Kagame will be halfway through his seven year mandate.
District banned constructing shops
The hotel, which cost exactly Rwf 3.7billion ($3.9m), a relatively small amount, but a fortune in such a rural region, has not opened. It was to be 5-storeyed, 72 up-to-standard furnished rooms and large swimming poll. Mayor Nambaje announced in late 2017 after the polls that this iconic facility would host clients in early 2018. It is February 2020, no sign it will ever.
It is difficult to find anyone in Ngoma town who has kind words for the state of affairs.
Uhagaze Alex relocated here 22 years ago when it was still called Kibungo. He said: “I have not seen any tangible development here. Sometimes I wonder whether it has to do with the bad typography. First, there are no roads. Second, the high education institutions like UNIK which came, have since reduced their investment. We no longer get tenants to rent our houses. I believe if strategies are put in place, Ngoma can develop.”
UNIK is the University of Kibungo, a private university, but was heavily supported by government. Recent news reports show it is also at the tail’s end, it is struggling. In September last year, Some 20 employees dragged the university to court after they had spent more than 6 months without payment. In addition, instead of paying their salaries, the institution dismissed them all.
A court determined that UNIK had to pay Rwf 195m to the aggrieved workers. Specifically, court ordered the university had to pay Rwf 45m (US$ 49,300) immediately. The university had no money. Some of its property including two vehicles were put out on auction.
Nizeyimana Jean de Dieu, another Ngoma resident, cites the expansion added on the main Ngoma market by the district authority. Of the 24 commercial rooms added, 15 of them are empty as no one wants to rent them. The facility, which cost millions of Francs, is also falling apart. Nizeyimana also questions the motives of the district administration.
He said: “Where there is a small shop, clientele grows as more people arrive. However, the district authorities did not allow people to build small houses. Those who did so, saw their houses demolished. People who would otherwise have built here decided to relocate elsewhere.”
Another resident Musoni Theophile has lived in Ngoma for over 30 years. He blames the local administration, which he says has deliberately blocked people from building low cost commercial houses that can be rented at low rates since people have low incomes in the area. “I don’t see how a city can develop without starting from low cost buildings, which slowly evolve as business grows,” argued Musoni.
Such is just a small piece of a very large distasteful pie that locals see of their town. However, amid this widespread skepticism in Ngoma, there seems to be some light.
Rwf 114.8 billion needed for Ngoma’s ‘transformation’
As if the troubles in Ngoma aren’t enough, local farmers who have been growing banana variety used in the making of wines, instead decided to uproot their plantations. The project was brought by the central government as an anti-poverty initiative years ago. The factories that were to process the banana into wines, have yet to open, leaving the farmers with worthless plantations.
A city Master plan was developed in 2012 with graphic depictions of how Ngoma should look like in 2050. It shows Ngoma as a sprawling city, vast green expanses and extensive agriculture. The same was done for Kigali, the capital and all other towns. However, according to Mutabazi Celestin, Ngoma’s in-charge of infrastructure, implementation of the master plan was scheduled to start in 2020.
It explains why district authorities have not allowed construction of small buildings, which many of the residents and the small business community, comprising of those cite in this story, wish for. Mayor Nambaje and his team don’t want to allow every other person to construct anything, save for tangible business complexes. (Editor: The ban was only lifted late last year and people are able to again obtain construction permits)
In June 2018, as obligated by the central government, Ngoma, like all districts, unveiled its seven-year ‘District Development Strategy’ (DDS), modeled from Kagame’s National Strategy for Transformation 2017-2024 (NST1).
We obtained both the longterm master plan and so called DDS from the district headquarters after intense lobbying and two-week wait. It is Ngoma DDS which Mayor Nambaje says has been his guiding blueprint to transform his district.
The stadium Kagame promised Ngoma in July 2017 is already delivered. It has a small tribune hosting up to 5,000 spectators, but can take thousands more. It has an international pitch. By the writing of this story, though still in the final stages, some matches of the national clubs’ league, have taken place here. The district has its own Etoille de l’Est soccer team.
District executive secretary Kanayoge Alex is eager to defend their performance. Among the achievements he flouts is 84% access to water. He tells us that because the development white paper gives emphasis to inclusive development, the district team has so far spent Rwf 7billion on constructing rural roads around the district to link its sectors.
He said they have worked out a plan in collaboration with the Provincial Governor and national Ministry of Infrastructure for more tarmac roads, apart from just the highway going through the district.
The executive secretary says they are already implementing a beautification of the town with a monumental roundabout, street lighting on all roads around the town. A commercial bus and taxi park is also in the works, he said.
Ngoma also has quite an ancient history. District officials are also looking at developing these sites which including Gisaka, Rurenge, Christian site at Zaza and Rukira yAbazungu – all with powerful links to Rwanda’s ancient monarchs. The districts has lakes like Mugesera for beaches and boating.
The need to change face of Ngoma is particularly crucial due to its neighborliness with Bugesera district, where Qatar is building the $1.3billion Bugesera International Airport. A significant portion of the airport’s support facilities will very likely reach Ngoma. Already, a nearly 80km highway Ngoma-Bugesera-Nyanza has been under construction since March 2018.
To transform Ngoma, its plan targets 120km of tarmac roads, provide off-farm jobs and revamp the region’s agriculture. The focus of the plans to change has to be reflected across society. These changes will not come cheap, at least Rwf 114.8 billion between 2018 and 2024, when Kagame’s term ends.
Without forgetting, Ngoma district is the only region with its own community radio and television IZUBA Radio/TV. The radio has been around since 2004, and TV started last year. Though struggling with programming and content, the broadcaster gives hint of how far the region’s leaders can dream, just that they have limited themselves.
Commenting on Ngoma’s incomplete hotel, which may need more millions, Kagame said late last year at a press encounter that he is yet to understand why it has not opened.
By Nkuyemuruge Yves and Médiatrice Uwayezu
This story was produced as a partnership between The Chronicles and IZUBA Radio/TV, a broadcaster based in Ngoma district