President Paul Kagame has assented to a new law declaring ‘null and void’ all the laws introduced between 1885 to July 1, 1962 – the day before Rwanda’s independence from Belgian colonial administration.
In June, the State Minister for Constitutional Affairs in the Ministry of Justice Evode Uwizeyimana, appeared in parliament to submit draft law scrapping all the colonial laws.
Government, with unanimous backing from the judiciary, told parliament that the only viable way was to strike them out in one bulk, instead of repealing them one by one.
The new law with list of all the 1,000 laws and decrees was published in the national gazette on September 23, 2019 – meaning all those laws are no longer applicable on Rwandan territory.
Many of the laws were clearly designed to completely assimilate Rwandans into Belgian society norms and lifestyles. Some were set to segregate black Rwandans and other black Africans from whites who mainly came from Belgium, German and France.
State Minister Uwizeyimana said at the time that the decision to do away with all these laws isn’t only constitutional, but also a political decision taken by government.
“Rwanda is a republic, yet we have laws obligating us to a colonial monarch,” said Uwizeyimana in June to a Parliamentary committee.
Here is a sample of them;
Some policy instruments were however introduced after independence as part of government’s commitment to remain loyal to the Belgians and French. For example, President Kayibanda issued presidential directive that Rwanda would be subject to all international conventions which Belgium and France had signed.
Many of the laws were for Rwanda-Urundi, which by virtual of not being expunged from the law book despite independence, were legally still applicable.
Some decrees designated some places where black African Rwandans were not allowed to access. For example, there were specific hotels for Europeans.
There is a specific incident in 1950 when the Rwandan King at time angrily stormed into Faucon Hotel in Huye district and beat up staff after he found a signpost at entrance barring dogs and black Rwandans from entering it.
In 1937, Belgium’s King signed decree making all laws signed to cover its colonies in central African region known as “Congo-Belge”, applicable in current Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo.
There was also a decree stipulating that students from high school to higher institutions of learning including universities would get certificates equivalence to Belgian certificates. It is perhaps the reason high education remained exclusive for a small elite in the country.
There was a decree that outlawed the growing of banana species that is eaten, and also used for making a local brew “Urwagwa”. The drink has been consumed in Rwanda for ages. It is still consumed today and also regulated, but under a different regime aimed at controlling illicit brews.
One law from 1932 made it illegal to give alcohol on credit or give it out for free. In other words, anyone who has been going to their local joint for some beers, promising to pay at end of the month, was committing a crime.
It also means government and companies that have been organizing events where there has usually been plenty to drink for free, was actually illegal.
A decree issued on January 24, 1943 by the Belgian King gave him powers to allocate land to the Catholic Church. Today, large swathes of land across the country is owned by the Vatican as a result of this law.
Another decree in 1937 limits who can build in designated European neighborhoods and constituencies, and what can be constructed there. In other words, black Rwandans could not choose to live in areas for the whites – reason why in all Rwanda’s towns, there are neighborhoods that reflect this reality.
When the whites left, these neighborhoods were simply expanded and became home for the elites and those who were to the sitting-government’s side.
According to Chief Justice Prof Sam Rugege, some smart lawyers who were able dig up these laws used them to their advantage in court cases.
However, the MPs advised government during debates to sieve out all laws which contravene the 2003 constitution as amended up to 2015.
Green Party leader MP Frank Habineza gave example of a law introduced in 1987 by the government of former president Juvenal Habyarimana which stipulates that anyone planning to organise a meeting had to obtain written permission from the Bourgumestre, who headed a commune at the time. Today, the country has different administrative structures.