Of aging vehicles


If there is anything which marks the development of Kigali city it is the number of cars which increasingly clog the roads. Not so long ago, driving across the city was not difficult. The biggest hazzard was taxi-buses and motorbike taxis viying for road space.

In recent years the volume of traffic has multiplied. Once quiet roads are now filled with the queues of vehicles familiar in any city. Many of these are latest edition four by four family vehicles offered to government employees. The registration plates give away the non-local vehicles - Burundi, Uganda, Congo and the foreigh embassy cars.

Not all the cars in Kagali have a show-room shine. Most are clapped out and basic. The favourites are the Toyota Corolla, usually white, and for the more discerning, the Mercedes C-Class, 1990's vintage.

These ancient wrecks are kept on the road by an army of mechanics working with whatever tools are available. We visited one workshop where engines were being stripped and piston heads cleaned with kitchen knives. In the other corner of the yard, a diesel pump was being used to spray paint replaced panels. The roof of a Toyota pickup was having its paint removed with a hammer and screwdriver. Besides the spray painting gun, there wasn't a mechanical tool in site.

With the price of vehicles well beyond the reach of most pockets, cars are kept on the road for as long as possible. New parts are unusual and expensive. More often something refurbished is used. It isn't difficult to see a point in the future, in keeping with many African cities, the entire city network grinds to a halt. As long as new cars are available to the wealthy, but the old ones aren't retired as they become obsolete, Kigali's traffic problems can only get worse.