Since 2011, Rwanda has taken sustainability and citizen empowerment to a whole new level with its Green Model Village scheme which has provided quality homes for thousands of Rwandans. The scheme was established by the Rwandese government – in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Rwanda and the Red Cross – in order to mitigate growing land resource issues and provide basic amenities for the nation’s most vulnerable communities.
How Model Villages Have Empowered Rwandans.
Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. As land availability continually dwindles, it becomes increasingly difficult to deliver basic infrastructures to those who live in scattered farming settlements, especially since the country’s terrain is largely mountainous.
One of the largest villages, Rweru Model Village, houses 288 families who were moved from the Mazane and Sharita Islands The families were isolated on the islands with no electricity or clean water and wild animals which would often attack.
In the model villages, former residents of such communities are provided – free of charge – with modern brick houses which are equipped with standard furniture, flat screen TVs, radios and biogas for cooking. After 5 years, residents of the homes are then granted ownership by the government.
The villages have electricity, clean water, modern markets, schools with comprehensive ICT facilities and laboratories. Many residents have reported better health due to better diets and access to clean water. Villages are also equipped with recreational facilities like sports fields and courts.
Households are split into groups that share cowsheds for the livestock which are given to them by the government. Each family gets a cow when they are first resettled. The cows primarily provide food, but they are also a source of income for families as they reproduce and their offspring can be sold. Additionally, each family gets a number of eggs per month from poultry farms.
The Green Villages expose youths to more job opportunities and technologies, with many even discovering the internet for the first time there. To some extent, this has helped them keep up to date with the rest of the world.
Local government heads are tasked with determining who will live in each village. They put together a list of their district’s vulnerable people, with respect to each family’s poverty level, quality of living structure, gender, disability, vulnerability to landslides, and the extent to which they were affected by the 1994 genocide.
The Model Village “Agasozi Ndatwa” Scheme is just one part of a multi-fold plan to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country by 2030. The government’s goal is to have at least 70% of the population living in a urban area or model village by 2024. To this effect, it plans to build at least one model village in each of the country’s 416 districts. As of 2019, over 130 villages had been built.
Rwanda’s government spends millions of dollars yearly in building the villages. Some of the land used by the government was already public property. In other cases, the government buys private property.
The Sustainability of the Green Model Villages
Another goal of the Green Village initiative was to show how tackling environmental issues – largely caused by poverty – could help achieve Rwanda’s Sustainable Development Goals. In line with these goals, Rwanda hopes to become a climate resilient, inclusive and carbon neutral economy by 2050.
The model villages are carefully planned to be “green” and environmentally sustainable. The electricity provided is solely Solar-powered. The residue from the biogas used for cooking is used as fertilizer. Some villages have greenhouses where vegetables are grown for sale and consumption.
Practices like tree planting and terracing enhance climate proofing and agricultural productivity. Rainwater harvesting systems are used to provide clean water for residents.
The Green Villages show practical ways in which sustainability improves the quality of life of people. For example, the clean water and energy provided have meant resident women and children no longer have to spend hours going to distant wells to get clean water or going to the forest to get firewood.
Rwanda’s model villages have been the subject of some research studies. For example, architecture students from University of Rwanda and – virtually – University College London are collaborating to investigate the sustainability and circularity of the model village scheme. They also hope to establish a co-design workshop in which the village residents will also participate.
Mixed Views About Rwanda’s Model Villages
Some critics opine that the Green Village Scheme is also doing some harm. This is because some Rwandan families have been displaced to make way for the construction of the model villages without proper compensation.
Furthermore, even though the villages are much more developed, residents of the rural areas are not given a choice about moving. People who refuse to move are made to face consequences such as government ostracization and denial of social support until they comply. Some residents begrudge the fact that they now have to travel long distances to farm their land in their former areas.
Nonetheless, perhaps the bad outweighs the good as several families now enjoy benefits they could only have dreamed of, free of charge.