Police, for the love of God, please ‘arrest’ the parades

Hasifa Ddungu being paraded on Monday

Hasifa Ddungu being paraded on Monday

On Monday morning while at work at The New Times newspaper, I received a text message from the Police’s media department, gleefully informing me that they had arrested a woman at Kigali International Airport attempting to smuggle cocaine worth Rwf 45million. The SMS then invited me to a press conference at the police headquarter to be addressed by the head of the Criminal Investigation Department.

A news reporter was assigned to write the story and off he went along with a photojournalist. Well, when the journalists got there they waited a few minutes before the ‘criminal’ was presented to the eager pack of news hounds. Like a mannequin forced to sashay down the catwalk, Hasifa Ddungu, a 47-year old British national of Ugandan origin was presented to the microphones and cameras. She refused to talk to the massed press, only saying that she “wanted to speak to a lawyer”.

While she kept silent, the head of CID Theos Badege was more than happy to fill in the blanks. He told

The cocaine that police claim Hasifa attempted to traffic

The cocaine that police claim Hasifa attempted to traffic

the gathering that she was arrested on Saturday, while on transit from Bujumbura, Burundi and heading to Entebbe, Uganda. He said that when she was searched by police they found two packets of a strange powder weighing a total of a one kiliogramme strapped her underwear. “Investigations continue but she will be handed over to prosecution tomorrow (yesterday) to face the law,” said Badege.

Article 594 of the penal code states that any person who, unlawfully, makes, transforms, imports, or sells narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances within the country, shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of three to five years and/or a fine of Rwf500,000 to Rwf5 million or both. And if she is found guilty, I hope they throw the book at her because I have no sympathy for drug smugglers. But her potential incarceration isn’t the point of this piece. Rather I want to talk about her parading.

Singer Kizito Mihigo

Singer Kizito Mihigo

0ne of the first things we learn in law class is the legal principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. It is my belief that the police parade that occurred yesterday (and in the past as well, for example singer Kizito Mihigo was presented to the press to ‘confess’ his crimes) is tantamount to the police skewing public opinion against the suspect (which we must never forget they are) and therefore making them seem guilty in the court of public opinion.

It might seem perfectly harmless (and in the public interest) but imagine this scenario. You are arrested for some crime mistakenly (which isn’t impossible) and then you are paraded in front of all the nation’s media. Your face is plastered in this newspaper, on television and you are spoken about on the radio. The case goes to trial and guess what, you are pronounced “not guilty”. Guess what though, although you have been found innocent, from then on when people see you or hear your name, the initial headlines are all they remember. That is the sad truth of the matter.

And I’m not even talking about cases where the police accuses someone of a crime, calls the media

Former police spokesman Supt. Eric Kayiranga parading suspected marijuana dealers a few years back

Former police spokesman Supt. Eric Kayiranga parading suspected marijuana dealers a few years back

and then, rather sheepishly, release them from custody because of lack of evidence to prosecute. Either way, the poor person’s reputation and good standing in the community has been destroyed.

In other countries, releasing the name of a suspect (who then is found innocent) can be grounds for a civil suit against the police for libel. While I know that this hasn’t happened yet here in Rwanda, police must understand that such a lawsuit is a distinct possibility.

Men paraded at Remera Police Station with  electric EWSA hardware items that police claim they stole some years back

Men paraded at Remera Police Station with electric EWSA hardware items that police claim they stole some years back

After all, who would it hurt if the police quietly did its job, and then handed over the suspects to the prosecution services without fuss or media excitement? Then if the media wanted to follow the trial they could?

 I have never felt comfortable with the parading and truth be told, its not necessary. At all.

This blog was published in The New Times Publications earlier

 

The story of Akagera National Park is the very story of Rwanda

Having a whale of a time

Having a whale of a time

Back in about 1998, I saw my first lions. Or rather, I saw my first DEAD lions, mouths agape, teeth bared, eyes open and fly-covered. I had travelled to Akagera Park with the old man, who was engaged in some official business in the area. I came upon the heartbreaking scene as we walked up one scenic hill and all I can say is that it permanently scarred me.

A whole pride of lions, males, females and cubs had been IMG_20140816_163635poisoned with rat poison by herdsmen tending their cattle in the park. Even then, after going through the trauma that was the civil war, Genocide and refugee return, the beauty of the park shone right through. The scenic Lake Ihema, the swamps, the rocky hills and the acacia-filled plains were scenes straight from a movie. The only problem was, the scene was all set but the actors were simply not there. There were no animals. I looked near and far but there was not a zebra or antelope to be seen.

Fast forward to today. I travelled to the park this weekend and it was amazing. The park was surrounded by an electric fence, the formerly whiplash-inducing roads had been graded, not only was there accommodation in the name of the famous Akagera Game Lodge but there was also a new spot Ruzizi Tented Lodge.

The icing on the cake was the wildlife. I saw herds of Buffalo, Waterbucks, Impalas and Giraffes. In the IMG_20140817_094213waterways I saw Hippos and Crocodiles. In the air I saw African Golden Oriole and running on the ground I saw Warthogs. In fact, the only big animals I didn’t see were the elephants (although a part of me was happy I didn’t have a close encounter with the gigantic mammal) and the nocturnal leopards and hyenas (although I certainly heard them laughing maniacally all night).

When you live in a tiny, overpopulated country like ours you take it for granted that you will see people wherever you look or barring that, some sign of human activity. So imagine just how odd it was for me at first when I couldn’t a person for as far as the eye could see. The night I spent in a tent was probably the most peaceful I had ever had, the silence was only punctuated by the hoots of owls while the celestial bodies above provided the light. It was magical. That is simply the word.

Ibyizi by'Akagera (The beauty of Akagera)

Ibyizi by’Akagera (The beauty of Akagera)

When I asked the Akagera Park management why there wasn’t a stampede of eager tourists driving up and down the park (I saw not more than fifteen cars; mind you) they told me a story that I’m sure we’ve heard before. “People think that the park is still the same”, Eugene Mutangana, head of law enforcement and Deputy CEO told me. “They worry that their cars will get scratched by the thorn trees, that they have nowhere to spend the night and that there are no animals but that is the furthest thing from the truth”. And he was right. Honestly the roads in the park would put some Kigali neighborhood streets to shame in my opinion.

So, what I learnt in my two-day sojourn to the park was that like Rwanda, the park was suffering from IMG_20140817_130355outdated public opinion and misinformation. The great things happening are often overlooked or even ignored. But slowly by slowly the truth is trickling out. The truth is, like Lazarus of the Bible, both Rwanda and the Akagera Game Park had died in the eyes of many. But miraculously, both have resurrected to the amazement of those who counted them out for the count. What you need to do is to go and see just how much things have changed for the better; you simply must.

And my lions? Well, they were killed off by the early 2000’s. Guess what though, they will be reintroduced back in the park in about two months. So perhaps I will finally replace the image of dead lions I’ve carried with me with images of proud, beautiful, LIVING animals.

 

The New Times Publications earlier published this blog post

 

Want to make me happy? Rethink the crazy new traffic fines

Yesterday I woke up to the news that actor and comedian Robin Williams, a man for all intents and purposes with the world at his feet, had passed away.

RIP Robin Williams, Mr. Carpe Diem

RIP Robin Williams, Mr. Carpe Diem

According to police reports, he had committed suicide. Tributes coming in remember him as an Academy Award winning actor who made people smile whenever he performed. I am pretty sure that a lot of people cannot understand why, with all the fame and fortune he had, it wasn’t enough?

I feel that we are trained from birth to assume that success equals to happiness. Have enough food on your table? Be happy. Have a lovely and supportive spouse? Be happy. Send your kids to Green Hills? Be happy. Have a shiny car and swanky house? Praise the Lord and be happy! But what happens if all this doesn’t make you happy?

 Religion attempts to fill this void and looking around this dear country of mine, I’d say that we have proved to be fertile ground for those attempting to bring us closer to some supreme heavenly being. And while I’m sure that religion has a role to play in ensuring people’s happiness, perhaps we need to take a more professional approach to this issue. Instead of asking people to suck it up or go pray, maybe we should suggest therapy. Depression is real and we cannot continue imagining that it is a ‘white man’s curse’ because it isn’t. It can strike down anyone, rich or poor. It is not a respecter of social class.

 And on the topic of happiness, I must admit that I am happy that the government is ‘tightening the noose on traffic offenders’ as The New Times headline read yesterday. It goes without saying that something needed to be done about the carnage that was being visited on our streets. But looking at social media reaction to the proposed measures, legitimate concerns need to be addressed before these measures become law.

The dreaded traffic police stop

The dreaded traffic police stop

For example, driving without ‘controle technique’ will earn you a fine of Rwf 225,000 up from Rwf 25,000 while speeding and driving without a license will set up back a whopping Rwf 450,000 respectively. While some people worried that the exorbitant fines would lead to more hit and runs, the vast majority of commentators believe that corruption will simply increase without necessarily increasing road security. For instance, whereas one would pay a Frw10, 000 bribe to mollify police for driving without ‘controle technique’, the worry is that people will ‘pay’ five times as much. Ensuring that the only thing that actually improves is a corrupt officer’s illegal take home package.

 Do not get me wrong, I’m all for punishing those that break traffic rules. However simply increasing fines (and potential bribes) is a poor substitute for better road skills. Traffic fines will not improve a driver’s poor decision-making skills and improve their defensive driving. A hefty fine will not stop a crazy, zigzagging ‘moto’ rider from suddenly careering to the side without indicating. And neither will it teach pedestrians to cross the road only after looking both ways. I’m pretty sure that they few times I’ve almost been involved in an accident, the errant driver probably had all their documents.

 So, what is my suggestion? An easier, decentralized controle technique process that encourages drivers to actually want to go and get the process out of the way. I try to figure out why there was only one such center in Kigali City in vain because it simply doesn’t make any sense. Why can’t each district have its own? It can’t be a money issue because I’m pretty sure that such a facility would be a moneymaking operation.

 Secondly, if you want less people driving without a permit, perhaps it should be easier to get one. I1354221935DSC know that the police has tried to streamline the process, but how efficient is it when people still have to sit in a stadium all day to get a provisional license, while cramming aspects of the traffic code that they will NEVER EVER use in real life?

 And lastly, if one does get fined, what is the recourse if you feel that you were unfairly maligned? It is not as if traffic police have enough speed guns or video cameras proving that an infraction was committed. I mean, if you are going to attempt to make me pay Rwf 90,000 for using my phone while driving, you better be able to prove that I did.

 I understand that the issue is complicated, but fining all and sundry is hardly a solution.

The New Times newspaper earlier published this blog

 

It’s probably your fault that your teenager is running wild

I won’t lie and say I was a good teenager. I slept too much, didn’t do particularly well in school and spent a bit too much time hanging out with friends (or as dad called them, “cronies”) doing nothing really. Once or twice a holiday I would even jump the fence to go to an all- night party I was expressly forbidden to attend. And the punishment I’d suffer through the next day like clockwork would not dissuade me from doing it again.

So, a teenager behaving badly isn’t anything new to me. Not should it be for anyone else because, let’s be honest, that’s just what they do. However, the old trope of ‘its just teenage rebellion’, needs to be reexamined; especially in light of this weekend’s events.

Hassan Jamool (R) parraded before the press at bar premises. (Courtesy)

Hassan Jamool (R) parraded before the press at bar premises. (Courtesy)

Police closed Lebanese Bar and Restaurant, a Kimihurura-based nightspot, on Saturday and arrested the owner because, according to SP Modeste Mbabazi, the Police spokesperson for the City of Kigali, they found scantily dressed underage patrons, drinking booze and smoking shisha.

To quote the police officer, “these were very young girls and boys. We found them smoking Shisha, and drinking alcohol, in the nightclub, which is against the law. Some of them were half-naked…. We could not arrest them, like we have arrested the bar operator. These are innocent young children. But we have asked their parents to advise them accordingly”.

I think that the officer hit the nail on the head when he said that the children were ‘innocent’. Not because they were mindless beings without rational thought (which would be the furthest thing from the truth; trust me, they knew exactly what they were doing) but because the real perpetrators of the ‘crime’ are their parents. Before you lynch me, first hear me out.

I don’t know about teenagers these days but when I was younger I was constantly broke. My only source of income was the pocket money I would get my family members and, to be honest, it was a pittance. I could barely buy a sachet of the infamous ‘Black Diamond’ alcohol, never mind a bottle of Primus beer. If I wanted to jump the fence for a night’s partying, I had to do the sort of financial gymnastics that would put a corrupt accountant to shame. Having to choose between a Rwf400 moto ride to dusty Kicukiro (and not having money for a second drink) or trekking for two hours and having the said drink, was a ‘life and death’ decision. I was living below the poverty line and my rebellious streak reflected that poverty.

So, I’m finding it quite bemusing to discover that there are teenagers hanging out in swanky bars and puffing away on exotic Middle-Eastern water pipes. Cigarettes? Yes. Beer? Perhaps. Whiskey and shisha? How is that even possible?

These teenagers aren’t enjoying these ‘delicacies’ for free so the question is, who is paying for all of this? Do these innocents have summer jobs? Do they have trust funds? Are they stealing from their parent’s wallets? Or are they, I believe, simply being given this money from their parents?

No parent wants their children to lack anything, but I don’t think that spoiling them ridiculously is good parenting. I mean, I’ve been out and seen teenagers driving their parent’s cars, drunk out of their minds and behaving recklessly. A parent cannot be handing over money, hand over fist, to a teen and then complaining that they are doing what teens do, which is to act irresponsibly.

Yes, a nightspot proprietor should demand to see a patron’s ID before serving them alcohol and tobacco products. But let us be honest here, if a teen has money burning a hole in their pocket, they will find a way to spend it.

If you cut off their resources, you’d have cut them off at the knees. With no pocket money, there is simply no way that they can engage in a lifestyle that could put a salaried civil servant to shame. So, instead of blaming those who sell booze and tobacco to teenagers perhaps its time we shifted the responsibility to where it actually falls, to their parents. It shouldn’t be a bar’s owners responsibility to manage teenagers, its simply not their job.

The New Times previously published this blog