After the noise pollution controversy, what is the way forward?

Rwandan Youth Culture Now

Rwandan Youth Culture Now

In the rare occasion that the mythical ‘power of the pen’ proves to be more than deluded writer’s pipedream, victory must be savoured. Last week, following an unsettling encounter with the Kigali noise pollution policy and its enforcers, I responded the only way I knew how: by pouring out my feelings in my blog and posting it on the social media platforms I’m a member of.

I didn’t think too much of it; I thought that I’d garner a few views as usual and life would continue with little interruption. Boy was I wrong.

In a few hours it was trending like hotcakes and my email alert was pinging like mad. I seem to have struck a chord because the vast majority of the commentators on my blog agreed with me that the noise pollution policy was quickly becoming unpopular with both the business community and the larger Kigali community. Realising that this discontent was nearly universal, I decided to go a step further and started an online petition ‘Create a Better Noise Policy’ which I then addressed to Kigali City Council and the National Police.

With the petition and the blog trending, I guess it was only a matter of time that the city and police administration would address it. I did not even for one second think that they actually would face the issue head-on; I’d come to expect a deaf ear from the higher ups, especially when complaints were coming from young people. So, imagine my surprise when I received a call from Rwanda Television, inviting me to discuss noise pollution and its enforcement with the police spokesperson and the mayor of this city.

To be honest, I was both excited and nervous. I mean, it’s not every day that you go on television and sit face to face with the bane of your existence. I did not know how the interview would go, but the last thing I thought I would feel following the experience was pity for the mayor.

Detailing the issues he had with business people, he revealed that instead of the nightspots being the victims of a cruel and unnecessary noise policy, they were the villains instead. The bars and pubs that Kigalians patronised in their thousands every day, I learnt, were more often than not, unlicensed establishments without the required permits from city hall. According to the mayor, most of the establishments that had fallen foul of the noise policy operated on restaurant licenses, which did NOT allow them to play loud music, and not bar licenses that would have allowed them to do so. Imagine my surprise when he told me that only one nightspot in Kimihurura actually had a bar license. ONE.

So, I will be the first to admit that the targets of my outrage should have

Sundowner is the only fully licensed bar in Kimihurura.

Sundowner is the only fully licensed bar in Kimihurura.

been shared with both the authorities and the business community. Maybe I was unfair not to take the business community to task over their refusal to adhere with the law.

If the businesses had followed procedure the debate I had with the ‘higher ups’ would have gone differently. It would have been less about whether they were even supposed to be operating in the first place, and more about how they could operate within the confines of the law.

The mayor does not go off scot-free however. So far, he has still been unable to explain how legal nightspots can ensure that they don’t face any trouble. He speaks about lawful noise levels (of about 70 decibels in commercial areas, and 50 decibels in residential areas) but then forgets that unless law enforcement have instruments that are able to measure the sound levels, the issue of subjectivity will come up. Remember, what is someone’s legal music can be someone else’s unlawful noise.

So, what should be the way forward? First of all, the City of Kigali has to start enforcing its own laws better. Don’t wait for years to pass before you shut down a place that doesn’t have the correct documentation. It’s not as if those funny businesses hide their activities. Such lack of monitoring oversight encourages other potential businesses to do the same and discourages those who would follow the correct procedures.

Secondly, have a proper WRITTEN code that governs nightspots, thus ensuring not only noise compliance, but also making sure that safety and sanitation standards are adhered to. Right now, these regulations are either non-existent or they are haphazard and thus difficult to follow.

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