Gatsata garages, a threat to the environment
Garages in Gatsata are operating in close proximity of Nyabugogo river, which is forbidden by law on the protection of the environment. They are continuously polluting the surrounding wetlands. Yet none of the concerned authorities seems inclined to take the action that is urgently needed.
Just after the Nyabugogo bridge, on the Gatsata-Karuruma-Gatuna road is a stretch of land of about 300 meters occupied by garages. The strip is located between the main road and the Nyabugogo river, which is the main drain of the entire Nyabugogo wetland.
The space of operations for each of these garages starts from the main road and practically ends in the Nyabugogo stream. Indeed, some of the garages have iron sheet fences at the back to separate them from the stream but others don’t, and you can actually see scrap cars and other car parts perched on the stream bank.
It is not hard to imagine how the activities of these garages affect not only the stream but the entire ecosystem of the Nyabugogo wetland area. When it rains, run-off water ensures that the chemicals associated with garage activities flow into the wetland, not to mention the solid waste generated by the garages.
In short, the garages are an environmental hazard to the wetland. Not only is it not allowed to pollute the environment the way they do, but it is also against the law to put any building within 20 meters from the bank of a wetland. The garages have not even 2 meters left.
The question is who should take care of this issue? The organic law No.04/2005 of 08/04/2005, determining the modalities of protection, conservation and promotion of the environment in Rwanda, provides an answer to that. Article 60 of this law stipulates that in general, local administrative entities are charged with implementing the laws, policies, strategies and programs of protection, conservation and promotion of the environment in Rwanda.
Article 61, paragraph 4 further specifies that local administrative entities are particularly charged with the proper management of wetlands. By local administrative entities is meant provinces, districts, sectors and cells.
In recent times, however, when an issue of environmental concern comes up, people often turn their attention to the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA). Yet the above mentioned environment law is clear as to who has the primary responsibility of implementing environment policies and laws.
From a practical point of view, REMA is a small institution with only a handful of technical employees. It is therefore impossible for the agency to implement environment policies all over the country. Theirs is a technical and supervisory role. They give technical advice as to what should be done, and it should be the duty of the local administration to see that such recommendations are implemented.
Two years to relocate
The law and environment policy in Rwanda forbid the kind of wetland abuse being done by the Gatsata garage owners. Sources from REMA say the institution has officially condemned the general abuse of wetlands in Kigali.
The sources say that last year a study to establish the environment impact of activities in the wetland stretching from the industrial area to Nyabugogo was completed. An estimation of the value of the activities was also done in anticipation of expropriation (asking them to relocate after compensating them).
The government is still looking for money to compensate these people. The activities valued included the garages along the “poids lourd” road between Car Wash and Nyabugogo, and it is said they were given two years to relocate. It was not clear however whether that study or expropriation plan also included the garages discussed here.
The Sector (Gatsata), District (Gasabo) and City (MVK) authorities are also aware of the requirements of the law on environment, but are yet to take action on the garages.
According to William Bizimana, Gatsata Sector’s Agricultural Officer who doubles as the environment Officer, Gasabo district is examining where to relocate the garages. He further disclosed that a meeting is scheduled that will bring together Gasabo District and MVK officials that will decide on what to do about the garages.
According to Kigali City’s Vice Mayor, Dieudonné Rumaragishyika, in addition to finding them another place to relocate, those whose garages had proper authorization (and they are the majority), will have to be compensated first. Gasabo District’s Vice Mayor in charge of economic affairs, Paul Jabo, said that they were waiting for the city’s master plan to determine where to relocate them.
No assurance of urgent action
A government official who didn’t wish to be named said that you cannot just tell people who have proper documents for their plots, to vacate them without compensating them. What complicates things more is that most of these people were there before the law prohibiting them was enacted.
What strikes one as a point of concern however is the fact that such promises of action don’t amount to much in terms of saving the environment. Statements like “we are still looking for land” or “money for compensation” are not an assurance of urgent action that is needed to address the issue.
It is important to realize that garages like those in Gatsata would not demand much in compensation because there is really not much to compensate; just a couple of metal containers and small mud brick store houses. So compensation really should not be an issue. The relocation space shouldn’t be much of a problem either.
What is required is a strong commitment on the part of the local authorities to overcome the people’s general reluctance towards change, and to fulfill their obligations under the law.