Kigali – Residents of one of Rwanda’s biggest slums accused the government of forcibly evicting them from their homes ahead of a Sunday deadline as police insisted that the relocation process was “smooth”.
As drones buzzed overhead with messages urging residents to pack their belongings, police stopped people from entering the Kangondo slum, disparagingly known as “Bannyahe” or “where can I defecate”.
The neighbourhood borders some of the most exclusive postcodes in the capital Kigali and has been at the centre of a long-running dispute between residents and the authorities, who have earmarked the area for development.
The government of President Paul Kagame, who has been criticised by rights groups for ruling with an iron fist, has been on a quest to modernise the East African country, with Kigali at the centre of a multi-billion-dollar infrastructure blitz.
On Thursday, the slum was suddenly surrounded by police who prevented residents from coming or going unless they were permanently moving out.
“They told us that we are not allowed to access the area. We slept outside from Thursday (onwards),” one resident told AFP on Saturday.
Bulldozers razed buildings while desperate tenants rushed to salvage whatever they could, grabbing tin sheets, bricks and furniture.
“Since Thursday I cannot go to work, I cannot buy food or find drinking water for my children,” one of the slum dwellers told AFP.
“I have been held prisoner here, yet I have lived here for more than 20 years,” she said, carrying her child while her husband cleared out their belongings.
By Saturday morning, many families had packed up their lives and were boarding buses and trucks intended to transport them to the Kigali suburb of Busanza, where home-owners have been offered new housing.
But landlords have accused the government of undervaluing their plots, while tenants have been offered a maximum compensation of 30,000 Rwandan francs ($30) to find temporary shelter.
“I want fair compensation money. If they want my land, they should pay for it,” a father-of-five told AFP.
“I do not want the houses they are giving us because they are small and ugly.”
The flats in Busanza were built by a former police chief turned real estate mogul, who is now looking to develop Kangondo into high-end housing complexes.
Police spokesman John Bosco Kabera denied the use of force.
“There is no forceful removal or eviction. The exercise of people relocating is smooth,” he told AFP.
Kangondo residents took the authorities to court in 2018, demanding better compensation, and a ruling is expected on September 29.
“Forcefully evicting the residents before the court arrives at a verdict is a clear violation of laws,” Innocent Ndihokubwayo, a lawyer representing the residents, told local media.
“If this continues, Rwanda will become like a lawless jungle,” he warned.