In one family, a mother lives with four children in a ramshackle mud house. Two of the children are severely malnourished they don’t look their age.
Not far away in neighboring village, another mother has three children, all of whom are supposed to be attending primary school, but are not. The mother says she is unable to get basics like books for the children.
Welcome to Bunyogombe cell, Ruhango sector of Ruhango district, southern province. Bunyohombe cell has fallen apart, ravaged by the production and consumption of ‘Kanyanga’, a crude gin banned in Rwanda.
‘Kanyanga’ is known in east Africa as ‘Waragi’, and by a host of other names such as ‘Cyangaa’ in Kenya, ‘Ajono’ or ‘Kweete’ in some parts of Uganda. A 300ml bottle is enough to leave a person unable to stand on their own. While it has been accepted in other societies, government in Rwanda has taken a tough stance against ‘Kanyanga’.
Barely a month goes by without one of the rural districts inviting media for a session to destroy large consignment of banned drugs including jerrycans of Kanyanga. These will have been confiscated from producers, sellers and from local rural bars. Usually the consignments will be in the millions of Rwandan Francs. Culprits go to jail.
Last year, in Ruhango district, the authorities their confiscated 10,336 litres of Kanyanga. All of these jerrycans, according to the same district authorities, were destroyed, usually poured into a prepared pit and set ablaze.
8 people from one village are in jail
For Bunyogombe cell in southern Rwanda though, the impact left behind by Kanyanga is dare. It needs central government intervention as matter of urgency. A combination of bribery that leads to laxity of local officials, means Kanyanga sell and production, despite the hell it has brought to the community, continues unhindered.
In this cell alone, 19 families have a family member in prison, arrested for distilling and distributing Kanyanga. Most of those in jail are fathers, or the breadwinner of a particular family. For one of the villages in this cell, called Kasemahundo, it is worst affected; 8 people in this village alone are in jail over Kanyanga.
Local officials were adamant to share database where the names of the people in jail are written. We established that the 19 people were jailed between September-December 2019. This suggests that for the whole year, dozens of people in this area may be in jail due to Kanyanga.
To put it into context, having such a number of people in jail for the same crime in such a small geographical area, is more of a disaster. The situation in other areas is negligible.
According to the ‘Statistical Yearbook’ of 2015 compiled by the National Institute of Statistics from police records over a period of 2010-2015, the number of people in jail convicted for Kanyanga cases were 3,205.
Rwanda is divided up into 2,148 cells. It means that some cells recorded between one and two people on average jailed for Kanyanga. The fact that Bunyogombe cell alone in Ruhango district has 19 people in jail, is a crisis, to say the least.
For this desperately bad situation, residents and local officials blame the other side for allowing Kanyanga to flourish. Ordinary residents, some women with no husbands, or family members left with children to look after, say local officials benefit from the Kanyanga in form of bribes.
Unwilling to be quoted, Cecile whose husband is in prison serving 9 year sentence, tells us; “My husband may be in jail for Kanyanga, but I don’t understand how officials could allow Kanyanga to cause this level of havoc yet it is banned. If Kanyanga distribution continues in Bunyogombe cell yet there are village leaders and village security officials, what do you think is behind; of course they share the income.”
Another man , whom we can only identify as Samuel, is the one now responsible for his brother’s children in Kacoko village. He says: “Let’s be sincere here; the village head and village security head usually know everything happening in my home. Do you really think it is possible that Kanyanga can be made or sold in my home without them knowing? They have interest in keeping the information.”
Is long jail terms the remedy?
Behind this alleged indifference from officials who look away as Kanyanga destroys society, are broken homes, severe malnutrition, children not in school and women without husbands.
According to an internal Ruhango district report that we obtained, among the 6 cells that make up Ruhango sector, Bunyogombe cell rates worst in tackling malnutrition in the whole district and poor in many other development indicators. 15 children in this cell alone do not go to school, a noticeably big figure.
There not much you see in this region in terms of economic activities. Apart from tilling small gardens for food to eat especially cassava, the largely flat area is dry – with most of the region not fit for many food crops. Local residents say there are no off-farm job, and Kanyanga – produced from the cassava they grow, that is easy to work.
When you move around this cell, you will not see smoke bellowing from Kanyanga distillation. Nobody does it in the open. You would expect to find people hopelessly drunk in local bars or along roads as the struggle to reach home, NO! They hide it, and are facilitated by bribed officials.
UMUHIRE Marie Grace, executive secretary of Bunyogombe cell is keen to admit that her area has a Kanyanga problem. However, she blames it on leaders at village level. “Just recently, some of them had to resign after they lied to us that a suspect arrested for Kanyanga had escaped, but residents knew the suspect was freed.”
HABARUREMA Valens, mayor of Ruhango district also admitted he was aware of the grave situation found in the Kanyanga-ravaged cell of Bunyogombe. He went on to outline interventions he says will end the production, sell and consumption of Kanyanga in this area including that the district will undertake sensitisation of village leaders.
On the side of the law, the legal consequences are extremely tough on Kanyanga. The penal code amended in 2018, in Article 263, Section 2 prescribes life sentence for a person found producing or distributing banned substances including Kanyanga, cannabis, marijuana and others.
For consuming these substances, culprit faces between 7 and 25 years in jail, and fines of between Rwf 10m and Rwf 30m.
As seen from the Ruhango district region which is now in shambles as a result of that many people in jail over Kanyanga, one wonders, whether prison can be the solution, especially that the worrying impact on families is there for anyone to see.
By Jean Bosco MBONYUMUGENZI and Aimable UWIZEYIMANA
This story was produced as a joint report by The Chronicles and Radio HUGUKA, a community broadcaster based in Muhanga district and covers Southern Province