City on the move: Nyanza, Rwanda

The King’s Palace in Nyanza – a reconstruction of the traditional royal residence. Tourism is one of Nyanza’s biggest industries.

In 1899, Nyanza was made the first permanent royal capital of Rwanda, a status it kept until the country became a republic in 1962. Today, it is the eighth largest urban centre in Rwanda and, according to Joselyne Umutoniwase – head designer and founder of Rwanda Clothing in Kigali – holds opportunities for entrepreneurs interested in commercialising local craftsmanship and techniques.

Currently, the main industries in the town centre on tourism and craft. Umutoniwase sources from existing co-operatives in the area for her home décor collection. In 2018, the number of handicraft co-operatives in existence in Rwanda stood at 979, with close to 30,000 individuals belonging to these groups.

“Besides Kigali, there are one or two towns where there is a lot to offer in terms of savoir-faire around craft and local techniques. Nyanza has a wealth of traditional knowledge which someone could explore. Currently, there are no stores or structures in place for business but in the near future, why not? It could become second to Kigali if this traditional and inherent knowledge is harnessed and investments flow into this town,” she explains.

Umutoniwase added a home décor collection to her portfolio in 2017 and is looking at the possibility of expanding this. She says the local crafters in Nyanza have the knowledge and skills in techniques such as weaving, wood carving, beading and making bark cloth. “When we need it here in Kigali, that is where we go. Why is it not possible to develop a beautiful showroom with an on-site production facility there?”

Government initiatives such as the Made in Rwanda policy support local production at this scale and would be beneficial in the initial steps of setting up such a business. In terms of access and infrastructure, Nyanza is just 90km from Kigali.

“I would start with the woven techniques and see what components I could manufacture for brands that are doing home décor and even garments,” says Umutoniwase. “Slowly, people will start to realise that going back to tradition and traditional techniques has a lot more value than imitating what is already out there.”