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The government of Rwanda has been visionary to focus on urbanisation in the secondary cities. Economic development, job creation, and poverty reduction in these urban areas will constitute an important part of the country’s future development.
With the urbanisation rate of 18.4% NISR (2018), Rwanda targets to have 35% of its population living in urban areas by 2024. The secondary cities, without any doubt will play a substantial role in transforming Rwanda into an urban dwelling.
The selection of Rubavu, Huye, Rusizi, Muhanga, Musanze and Nyagatare as secondary cities due to their strategic locations for conducive business environments and settlements will thrive and drive the needed urbanisation growth in the respective cities.

The Government’s strategic decision to develop a Master plan for each secondary city is another shot in the right direction in the development of these cities. These Master Plans define how each city can make the most of its own opportunities to create more and decent jobs, both in the city itself and in the surrounding areas for regional growth.

Already, by June 2020, the master plans of Muhanga, Nyagatare and Rubavu were on public display to give an opportunity to all stakeholders to provide final inputs.
Despite being guiding frameworks for continuous development of these cities, the masterplans are not a means to the end of challenges facing these secondary cities.
Research conducted by the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research(IPAR-Rwanda) in March and April 2019 identified socio-economic challenges that should be addressed to unlock the potential of the six secondary cities in Rwanda. Challenges related to the limited allocation of optimal resources to unlock each city’s potential has been referred to in IPAR-Rwanda’s study as the “Governance Challenge”.

For example, the proposed City Management Offices(CMOs) are not yet operational in the secondary cities, while the policy agenda for the secondary cities is fragmented across different government ministries. Although secondary cities have been prioritised in policy documents, this status is yet to be enshrined in legislation thus making secondary city districts operating in the same way as any other district and as a result District leaders tend to focus on more pressing rural issues and lack enough resources to drive urban growth in the secondary cities.

To address the “Governance Challenge”, IPAR-Rwanda’s study highlights the need to prioritize and efficiently coordinate the entire local government machinery as well as other stakeholders to address the social economic challenges in these cities.

In the mid to long-term, however, the study recommends that three critical areas should be of focus in driving the secondary cities’ inclusive socio-economic growth and development. They include Relevant skills development, improving access to market and improving business environment.

Prioritising Skills Development
Secondary cities lack skilled labour force to attract heavy investments in services and manufacturing. With most of the workforce lacking secondary education, there is need for government to scale up the number of TVETs in secondary cities as well as vocational programmes offered through increased funding focused on growth sectors in industry and services, which could include private investment. This will increase skilled labour force and attract private sector investments in the secondary cities.

Improving Market Access
Secondary cities struggle with low purchasing power as a result of high poverty levels estimated at an average of 38%( EICV5). These cities also have high reliance on agriculture and informal labour. To improve market access to build bottom-up growth in the secondary cities, government needs to promote agglomeration effects ensuring that urbanisation in these cities is dense rather than sprawling. Prioritising rural-urban linkages and linkages with neighbouring cities and towns will create regional economic hubs in addition to the larger market in Kigali.

Improving Business Environment
Limited access to capital is a key a challenge to business growth within the secondary cities. IPAR-Rwanda business survey 2019 identified access to finance as the greatest obstacle to growth. It is a challenge for 35.5% of the businesses surveyed. In addition, firms identified land acquisition to be the second greatest challenge, because land acquisition, either through government expropriation or through direct transactions between landowners and investors is lengthy and expensive. Thirdly, the high cost of utilities (water and electricity) negatively affects investors such as hotel owners in secondary cities. These bottlenecks make it difficult for businesses to operate or discourage investors that could have set up business in these cities. By ensuring a conducive business environment in the secondary cities, the government will help unlock their potential.

In conclusion, the government of Rwanda has been far sighted in its emphasis on secondary cities. The challenge is tough but the potential is enormous and now is the period of delivery.
With the master plans in place, tackling the “Governance Challenge” of secondary cities should be of emphasis to unlock the potential of secondary cities’ development.

To understand the whole picture, read our Central Policy Brief on Strengthening the Urbanisation and Development of Secondary Cities in Rwanda