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A view of a lit-road at Biryogo in Kigali. In Rwanda,  people believe that all roads are supposed to be night-lit.

A view of a lit-road at Biryogo in Kigali. In Rwanda, people believe that all roads are supposed to be night-lit.

Friday, July 21, 2023

“Where the dickens could this be?”, wondered I as I watched a U-Tube in one of my WhatsApp messages that shows a car driving at night along a narrow but well-lit road. After a while a voice came alive in an accented English common in some communities of a neighbouring country that made me burst out laughing, in embarrassment: the road is in Rwanda.

The voice said: “Just ‘imaginih’,” it exclaims, “I am ‘almostaht’ the end of the Katuna-Kanyaru road and all the way is as brightly ‘litahas’ this. Watch me switch off my lights; hardly any difference. Look at the glare of oncoming ‘viacohs’. It ‘dahzen’t’ ‘bahther’ me ‘atollu’. Rwandan roads; amazing!”

For the accent, don’t get ideas. I know our Rwandan-accented English may sometimes be worse. But who says we should all pronounce English like its country’s natives? The English themselves don’t pronounce it the same way, after all. Looks like this has played out in its favour, though. It’s become the Lingua Franca and currency for the verbal exchange of diverse world communities.

For instance, while deciphering my utterances may be an uphill task, reading this piece does not in the least bother you.

But that’s a by-the-way. We were talking about Rwandan roads.

Which, now that we think about it, no Rwandan seems to give a thought about, these days. We’ve taken it for granted that all roads are supposed to be night-lit. Interesting because it’s only the other day (the mid-1990s, very short in the life of a country) that Kigali City by night was pitch-darkness. You could not see beyond your nose – not even beyond a stump, like that one of yours bemusedly! Anyway, as for the countryside, nights were a big, black void.

Now a mere two decades later, roads leading out of Kigali are like snakes of light all the way to Rwanda’s borders. Arteries of light spread out to Akanyaru and Nemba (Burundi border points), Rusumo (Tanzania), Kagitumba, Kizinga, Gatuna, Cyanika (Uganda), Rubavu and Rusizi (DRC).

Stand atop Mt. Kigali, for example, and behold an expanse of a forest of white lights through which amber lights snake their way to different brightly lit housing estates of the city. Meanwhile, neon lights will be playing around some buildings and billboards like restless children. Give the city your back and you will see the light forests thinning into a light snake that disappears into the dark towards Akanyaru or Rusizi borders, with only lit towns providing interruptions here and there. The dots of light you’ll see outside the towns will represent houses that are still awake.

Over at Rebero Hill, if you give the city your back you’ll trace the snake-light practically up to the Nemba Border post with Burundi. Again, there will be interruptions of lights in towns in between.

All this is interesting because these lit roads seem to have come stealthily onto us. At first, when people talked about the Kigali–Rubavu road being lit all the way, some of us were incredulous. Until we checked it out and found that, indeed, it was true. Still, we laughed it out and dismissed it as a shooting star: the government was giving it lights alone and no other.

Despite it all, an inner voice pestered some of us, pointing to how Kigali came from that pitch-darkness one area of the city at a time. First lights for houses in all estates and then, before we knew it, at night all the streets of Kigali City were as bright as daylight, too.

And that’s exactly how the cleanliness of the country had crept in on us stealthily, whatever little offer of Umuganda work we put in. We also remembered how after that there was talk of an industrial zone that was going to be set up in a place where inhabitants were compensated and moved to better areas. The area lay there and you could hear sceptic passers-by loudly sneer about whether industries were synonymous with land lying fallow!

However, before the sceptics could enjoy their joke, the area had become a beehive of activity. Today, the Kigali Special Economic Zone is a day-and-night humming machine of ceaselessly active factories, warehouses, wholesale shops, trucks and their accompanying cranes with their busy hoist ropes, wire ropes, chains and sheaves. Again, the beginning of similar zones.

We can talk about activities of this government that crept in on us stealthily and then exploded into a first and amazement for the region till cows come home. This latest one, however, beats me!

We have seen walkways along these streets that cater for all categories of pedestrians, joggers and all those in some form of walking exercise. And, true to form, they also took us by surprise. But what I have seen around our Kigali Golf Club is something else! Carpeted walkways?

Whether they are walkways, running tracks or whatever, are they also going to surprise us and explode all over the country?

As for double carriageways replacing those narrow roads, it looks like it’s a done deal.

Rwanda is truly a work in unending progress.

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