Background 

According to the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), this Gashaki Green Village is part of the Rwandan government’s efforts to build a climate resilient nation. Rwanda, of course, has a blueprint for achieving excellence in green issues, as per the Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy. The country is not alone in this regard as Zanele Mlambo discovered.

Green villages are gaining recognition globally. According to the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), an ecovillage is an “intentional community using local participatory processes to integrate ecological, economic, social, and cultural dimensions of sustainability holistically in order to regenerate social and natural environments.” There is no hesitation that local participation is important in developing a green village. There are several success stories of green villages in the world, but most strikingly, on the African continent.

Rwanda, with its capital (Kigali) rated in 2015 by the UN as the most beautiful city in Africa, is home to several green villages. These include Gashaki, Muyebe and others. Muyebe, for instance, adopted simple technologies that transformed the village into what the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) calls an inspirational model ‘of how to integrate economic development with environmental sustainability.’ Some of the technologies that were used include rainwater harvesting, biogas systems and tree planting. Residents in these green villages in Rwanda, for instance, have seen a vast improvement in their quality of life. Living in these eco-friendly villages is likened to settling into urban areas, for they do access all the basic amenities that urban dwellers do, e.g. clean water and safer forms of energy. In agreement with a report by the UNEP, Rwanda’s experience is a model worth emulating – especially for developing African countries with similar backgrounds.

Green villages are being developed in urban areas as well, even if the circumstances and drivers may be slightly (or even vastly) different. For one, in most of these urban communities we came across – be it in Europe or other parts of the world – the motivation is improvement in quality of life, environmental sustainability and preservation of natural resources. Additionally, we found that health factors are considered by those who move into the green villages. These urban areas have no challenges, with access to basic necessities such as clean water and electricity to start with. It is by choice. In Rwanda’s case for instance, the green villages mentioned are transformed from rural poor communities to green and prosperous.

What is the state of play with green villages in the more affluent areas in Africa? Considering South Africa, urban green villages are somewhat taking shape, though it is still hard to trace these in the context of a “community” as opposed to a mere building. Largely, the country has seen a number of green buildings but these do not create what we are discussing; a green village or community. Established organisations that seek to promote and understand the concept have defined green villages as those communities developed on the principle of “minimising and then eliminating environmental damage due to human activity.” These green communities do more than just provide clean spaces, but encourage the emergence of new industries for their local economies as well as inspiring their citizens. Quite a number of developers and architects are so concerned about ratings and getting the five-star rating for their designs. While this is commendable, what inspires confidence is the risk-takers who dare to imagine not a simple building or a home with some green elements, but a whole urban community or a village built or developed on the concept of green living.

In describing what to expect from a green village in an urban landscape, one report stated that ‘green villages promote lighter infrastructure and energy efficient buildings that are easier on the environment and use alternative energy sources.’