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Defeating the coronavirus pandemic is mostly about the strength of the public health response. However, it will need Rwandans to respond to the short and longer-term impacts on the economy. In the short term the government is to be commended for supporting the most vulnerable through social protection initiatives including food distribution and other commendable initiatives such as public awareness and mobilisation. In the longer-term it means redoubling efforts to grow our economy, not just in Kigali but across the country.

In this respect the government has been far sighted in its focus on secondary cities. Informed by the research done by the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR-Rwanda), a Master Plan for each of the six secondary cities— Rubavu, Huye, Rusizi, Muhanga, Musanze and Nyagatare — has been developed and is currently being validated by the authorities. These Master Plans detail how each city can make the most of its advantages and create more good quality jobs. With these master plans in place the challenge is now delivery as per the IPAR-Rwanda research findings. The core argument in this article therefore, is that the stakeholders will do more than business as usual – only continued investment and consistent coordination will drive implementation in the coming years. This article comes ahead of a research paper on the secondary cities in Rwanda to be published by IPAR-Rwanda.

The broad context on urbanization is worth reiterating. Rwanda has a relatively low level of urbanization at 18.4% according to the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda(NISR). Urbanisation can be a driving force for Rwanda’s transformative economic agenda and can contribute to the national development goals of creating 1.5 million productive jobs by 2024. Cities are hubs for economic activity, creating opportunities, increasing wages and other economic activities.

The government strategic decision to spread urban growth across the country comes at the right time – it is right to put emphasis on the six secondary cities. Success in each of these urban areas will create jobs in these cities and also improve livelihoods in the surrounding districts. If Kigali continues to grow at the same rate as it recently has, secondary cities will need to grow even faster if the government’s target of 35% of Rwandans being urbanized by 2024 is to be achieved.

Each secondary city is set to have a Master Plan in place. These have been worked on by the Rwanda Housing Authority(RHA), informed by research done by IPAR-Rwanda in partnership with Surbana Jurong(SJ) and they are a result of a detailed research that was conducted in relation to the local context of each city. As blueprints for economic development, the new Master Plans are an important achievement.

The critical question for stakeholders, however, remains on effective and efficient delivery of these Master Plans. Now is the time for every Rwandan to roll sleeves and move delivery mode.

The Master Plans have the buy-in and support of Policy makers and other key stakeholders – they are the result of research, evidence, and dialogue with both local and central government leaders, business owners, civil society and citizens. They should be thought of as flexible, innovative blueprints for economic development and they inform future government decisions, both at the local and national level.

Indeed, one critical next step is to ensure that there is as much focus and intent dedicated to delivery of the Master Plans as has gone into drawing them up in the first place.

Conclusively, the farsightedness of the government means Rwanda has a strong platform from which to grow secondary cities. Continued urbanisation will be central to continued job creation, something which may become even more important as we recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The Master Plans for each secondary city are the basis of ambitious transformations.

However, a new approach is needed to prioritise investment in these cities, coordinate cross-government efforts and support devolution of revenue raising and spending powers to the local level.

A detailed Policy Brief is available here :