International Development Planning Review

Conforming with the urban ideal? ‘New urbanites’ in Rwanda’s emerging towns

International Development Planning Review (2021), 43, (3), 345–367.


The Rwandan government is taking a very directive approach to the process of urbanisation, based on an urban model that is strongly influenced by modernist discourses and guided by neoliberal policies. Its pursuit of an ideal of ‘modern urbanity’ in rapidly growing small towns implies an ideal type of modern urbanite; however, not everyone fits this ideal. The focus of this article is on those urban inhabitants who are considered to be on ‘the urban margins’. I argue that it is the practices of these people that constitute and define the flexible and mobile nature of the lived reality of small-town life that forms an essential part of African urbanisation and small-town development today. In the Rwandan case, rigidly sticking to the implementation of blueprint planning fails to recognise this bottom-up urbanisation, feeding the perception that urban areas are becoming an elite space.

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Author details

Cottyn, Ine