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By : Paola Somma

If ever Africa had disappeared, it has now reappeared on the maps of investors seeking for land and resources. The entire continent seems to have become attractive for international financial institutions, which intensify their recommendations to single national Governments in order for them to further remove obstacles and make Africa an “ever better place to do business”.

Rwanda represents an emblematic example of the rapidity and size of transformations Africa is faced with, which touch every sector, from the land ownership model to the modes of land use, from the distribution of population, to the construction of infrastructure.

It is a fertile country, with a good water supply and two crop seasons, and is almost entirely cultivated. The majority of the inhabitants work the land, and subside thanks to agriculture. Today, however, the Government's goal, synthetically expressed in the slogan that defines the future of Rwanda as Africa's Singapore (Vesperini, 2010), is the modernization of agriculture, and the reduction of its weight in favour of a service economy. The most visible effects of this approach are the expulsion from the countryside of a huge number of families which lose any type of sustainment, and the grouping of many small plots in large territorial extensions which are often given for long term use to multinational agribusiness corporations. The transformation of agriculture is accompanied by the redistribution of population, traditionally settled in scattered patterns across the whole country. The massive migration from the countryside is explicitly sought by Government, whose target is to reach, by 2020, a 35% urbanization rate up from today's 18%.

The three issues, total and unconditional opening to foreign investment, population resettlement and transformation of the agricultural activities, which are the pillars of the development programs initiated by Government and international advisors, are producing dramatic changes on the physical and built environment, and affect the living conditions of the weakest groups (White, Borras, Hall, Scoones, Walford, 2012).

The paper proposes a reflection on themes which have general relevance, but which also need to be locally grounded. Of particular importance are urbanization, the relationship between towns and countryside, and the relationship between social and economic structure and territorial planning. In 2012 the author took part as consultant to the drafting of the Urbanization sector strategic plan 2012-2017. The views expressed here are personal and do not in any way represent the Government or Institutions’ point of view.

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