Fissures in localizing urban sustainability: the case of Rwanda


Heralded as a paragon of sustainability in Africa, Rwanda’s development programs and plans have been attuned to global narratives of sustainability, particularly the SDGs. However, the country’s effort and dedication to localizing sustainability is faced with several challenges, which may result to critical ruptures to program implementation and efficacy. Rwanda, being the most rapidly urbanizing country in Africa coupled by its political will to attain sustainable urbanization makes it a good case study for this research. Due to the accelerating urbanization, Kigali city, as the trendsetter for Rwanda’s economy and a driver for environmental sustainability, has also increasingly become an important agent of change. Focusing on the domestication of urban sustainability in Kigali, this paper identifies fissures in localizing sustainability particularly in the development of the 2013 Kigali city Masterplan. These fissures stem from the (1) “international” production of a city Masterplan, (2) spatial mismatch of designs, and (3) top-down approach in conceptualizing sustainability. Towards the end of the paper, we offer some ameliorative insights that advocate for a bottom-up approach that not only engages with communities but also co-produces community and city plans with marginalized groups. We argue that cultivating grounded practices and indigenous knowledge on sustainability will bridge the gap between city plans and community visions.

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Fig. 1

Source Adapted from the Sustainable Development Goals Platform (UN, n.d.b.)

Fig. 2

Source 2019 Rwanda Voluntary National Review Report (Government of Rwanda 2019a)

Fig. 3

Source Kigali Masterplan 2013 (City of Kigali 2013a, b)

Fig. 4

Source Kigali Masterplan 2013 (City of Kigali 2013a, b)

Fig. 5

Source Kigali Master Plan Update (City of Kigali 2019)

Fig. 6

Source Data from Mugisha (2011)


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Malonza, J.M., Ortega, A.A. Fissures in localizing urban sustainability: the case of Rwanda. GeoJournal (2020).

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  • Urban sustainability
  • SDGs
  • Rwanda
  • Kigali
  • Urban planning
  • Participatory