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Should You Visit Kigali?
A Look at the Cleanest City in Africa​

Posted by Hasin from burdie.co

April 8, 2019

Spotless city streets of Kigali
Spotless streets of Kigali. the Cleanest City in Africa. Photo V. Fournier/Jeune Afrique-Rea/Redux
As a savvy traveler, you’ve probably heard about Singapore and Colombo, some of the cleanest cities in Asia and the world. But did you know that Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is also one of the cleanest cities in the world? Yep. In fact, it’s so clean it holds the official title of “The Cleanest City in Africa.” I have always been fascinated by Rwanda’s growth as a traveler and as someone that studied economic development in school. I also had the privilege to work remotely with the Kigali Genocide Memorial last summer as a designer, so I’ve been quite close to the country’s latest developments. And of course, I also hope to visit Kigali one day, as I know there are many things to see there. For now, however, I can only geek out over news and data from the city. That’s why I’m excited to tell you all about how Kigali earned its title as the Cleanest City in Africa and why it’s a big deal for Rwanda. Buckle in because I’ve got facts, figures, and charts to get you up to speed on the Cleanest City in Africa!

Country Snapshot

In the global landscape, Rwanda is perhaps most known for the deadly 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. However, since then the nation has gone through significant socio-economic change in efforts to transform itself.

Take a look at this snapshot for some quick facts about Rwanda.

East Africa

Rwanda is in East Africa and bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Kigali

Located in the center of the country, Kigali is the capital of Rwanda.

12.7 Million

The current population of Rwanda is quite young. The median age is 19.6 years old!

17%

Just over 2 million Rwandans live in urban areas. This number is quickly growing.

158th

Rwanda is 158th (out of 189) on the Human Development Index, which is a measure of life expectancy, education, income.

Doing Business

According to the World Bank, Rwanda is ranked 2nd in terms of doing business in Africa, after Mauritus.

* These facts are sourced from a variety of reputable resources, such as World Bank, Worldometers, Statista

Rwandan officials have expressed hopes to one day be the Singapore of Africa. That is a big dream! Singapore is well known for being extremely orderly and strict about its laws. In particular, Singapore has always taken cleanliness very seriously, punishing people harshly for littering or even leaving a public toilet without flushing. I still remember one of my childhood memories of Singapore from the early 2000s when my parents told me that chewing gum is illegal in Singapore. To be honest, it terrified me.

Community-first approach

Citizens work together to clean on the day of Umuganda
Citizens work together to clean on the day of Umuganda. Photo Kigali Today

In Rwanda, community service is mandatory for any able citizen between the ages of 18 and 65. In fact, Rwandans get fined if they don’t take part in community service. Even expats are encouraged to join in and why wouldn’t they? It’s one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the local culture.

Community service in Rwanda falls under the umbrella of Umuganda, which has deep ties with the nation’s history. The word Umuganda originates from Kinyarwanda, which is one of Rwanda’s official languages, along with English, French, and Swahili.

"Umuganda is a practice that is rooted in the Rwandan culture of self-help and cooperation. In traditional Rwandan culture, members of the community would call upon their family, friends, and neighbors to help them complete difficult tasks."

- Rwanda Governance Board

To maintain the city’s cleanliness, on the last Saturday of each month the citizens of Kigali come together to do a massive city clean up. If needed, they can do this more than once per month. Umuganda was officially institutionalized in 2007 with the passing of a Prime Ministerial Order.

Plastic bags are banned

One of the initiatives that have been credited with cleaning up Rwanda is its ban on single-use plastic bags. Plastic bags have been banned in Rwanda since 2008 and smuggling plastics bags into the country is considered a serious offense. Citizens that break this rule can even find themselves in jail. In Rwanda’s case, banning plastic bags have lead to not only to a cleaner city, but also better crop yields. In contrast, New York City, one of the most developed cities in the world, still hasn’t banned plastic bags. In that regard, Rwanda is already ahead of its time.

Newly-created jobs

To clean up Rwanda, the government is actively granting operating licenses to private companies. In 2018, licenses were granted to 200 cleaning service companies that also hire women cleaners, providing them with a new source of income. Not only is Rwanda keeping its country clean but it’s also creating new economic opportunities for its people.

Health and wellness education

Rwandans understand that a dirty environment can lead to poor health of its citizens. In the rural villages, community health clubs are changing the mindset of citizens when it comes to cleanliness by educating them about the health and environment benefits of maintaining a clean environment. Such initiatives are especially important as Kigali’s metropolitan population is rapidly growing.

So...Should you go to Kigali?

Yes! It is quite apparent that Rwanda is pushing to make a name for itself in the global arena and I support that. The country is putting itself through rapid transformation and taking its environment very seriously. At Burdie, we believe it’s important to give credit to the cities that actively promote a better life for its citizens and visitors. Those are the kind of places that we like to visit the most. Personally, I am also really curious to see how the goal of being “the Singapore of Africa” will play out, since I have been to Singapore and it also happens to be one of my favorite cities. Like the policies that made Singapore the world-class city it is today, Rwanda’s current policies have also faced controversy. Thus, I am really keen to spot the similarities and hopefully some differences between the two cities. I look forward to the day when we will see Kigali as one of the top cleanest global cities, alongside cities like Zurich, Stockholm, and Ottawa. Rwanda also ranked second when it comes ease of doing business on the African continent. Who knows, maybe one day I can become a contributor to this growing economy. Until then Rwanda has a lot of work to do—and the people of Kigali are clearly rising to the challenge. Have you already been to Kigali? Did it live up to its cleanest city title? Please let us know in the comments below. Haven’t been to Kigali yet? Start planning and check out the top things to experience in the city.
Hasin is the co-founder of Burdie.co, a seasoned traveler, and a data professional. Follow his adventures @iaminbrooklyn.