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Rwanda has put in place heavy measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic which has seen the country manage to control the virus spread despite having had to go through at least three lock downs in Kigali and countrywide.
Though these measures have seen many wear facemasks, stay at home and sanitize on a daily basis resulted to a drop in COVID-19 cases in Kigali, there are some Rwandans who we can term as unprecedented rebels under the pandemic.
Every day, Emmanuel Ndamukunda, in his mid 40’s is brown skinned and about six foot tall male who is seen walking from a remote settlement in Zindiro zone, Kimironko sector in Kigali city, along the Amahoro stadium route every morning heading towards Remera sector at Gisementi- one of the business centers in the city.
By the fact that he is tall, it is also easy to notice him from a distance along but being among many pedestrians wearing face masks; most of them consciously pulling up their masks to stay safe or not get arrested for not putting on one, it is also easy to notice that he has none and doesn’t seem to be bothered.
For a week, we tracked this gentleman from Zindiro to Gisementi on foot. Ndamukunda literally passes hundreds of citizens with face masks who look at him in disbelief and they too are not bothered to ask why he doesn’t have a face mask.
“Why don’t you have a face mask while everyone is almost putting on one?” The Chronicles reporter asks inquisitively: – “I don’t have money to afford one” he replies while walking steadfastly like someone heading to a destination which requires him to be on time.
In this rush, we manage to interact with him and he says: “I am very hungry and even though I need to wear a mask, I cannot afford one,”
At this point we realise that Ndamukunda has not only passed uniformed national police officers at the control technique (where police often stop and caution citizens who aren’t properly putting face masks) but he is walking along the same route which police enforcement busses use every day to track down and arrest persons putting on face masks below chin while in public.
“I have not been arrested, not at all” he says while responding to a question if he is aware that by not wearing a facemask he can like many others be arrested, sent to the Amahoro stadium for hours under detention or pay a fine of Rwf10,000 for this.
At the stadium main entrance gate in Migina zone one can see, local defence and security guards at work and citizens minding their business and equally not bothered to find out why Ndamukunda is without a mask, against the risks of being arrested.
However, one of the citizens, a brave dark skinned stout mobile money vender lady instead tells us that: “Don’t bother with him, he has a mental case problem and that is how he has been for since the pandemic. He depends on begging and most for a cigarette”
In a flash, Ndamukunda is gone, he is walking to fast but luckily we give him Rwf200 to buy a mask with hopes that he will buy one in spite of his other needs but in vain.
The case of Ndamukunda is not different from 6 street kids (boys) seen along Kimironko market begging for bread. They are putting torn short pants, no shoes and no face masks, but some of them are carrying plastic bottles filled with inhaled drugs (commonly known as Cole- which is made by mixing shoe glue and alcohol).
“Can’t you see that it is survival? We only worry more about food nothing more makes sense than that,” says one of the street kids only identified by his colleagues as ‘Sniper’.
For many citizens around the above groups of persons- the street kids and the beggars, they are seen as the neglected one in society and somehow though not conclusively as rebellious or mentally handicapped.
An adult moto taxi rider says that no police officer can bother to arrest such persons.
“The police target persons who can pay the fines for breaking COVID-19 measures. What can you get from such a kid if it was you?” he asks, after all we have not seen any COVID19 case among street kids”
Dr Chaste Uwihoreye, a clinical psychologist and Country Director of Uyisenga ni Imanzi – a special needs focused NGO in Rwanda says that the human mind gets overwhelmed by severe traumatic, life threatening situation prompting different responses mentally.
For example, among mental health cases he said it is important to know the reasons behind such cases – which could be related to cases of depression, a life threatening which may not be necessarily due to COVID-19 but from one’s previous experiences.
“This means one can have relapses (return to such traumatic moments) and this cannot be treated like malaria, because they can come anytime even after five years after healing. The point should be to have a human approach coming from community, medication,” Uwihoreye
Rwanda’s ministry of health has raised a red alert on effects of COVID-19, on mental health in which new statistics show that even though numbers of persons seeking medical attention dropped by 20%, mental health cases increased.
Most shockingly is that suicide attempts among men increased from 54.8% in 2019 to 60.07% in 2020 and new cases as a result of the pandemic socio-economic pressure on the general population depression (highest) cases increased in March 2020 to 3,036 from 1,431 in March 2019.
Though none of the isolated mental health cases have been reported arrested for breaking COVID-19 standing rules, Dr. Yvonne Kayiteshonga, the Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC) Mental Health Division Manager says that COVID-19 impact has been overwhelming on many citizens and mental health cases in community cannot be avoided; however there is need for a proactive community.
“We have put structures in place to handle such mental health cases during the pandemic, and it is the duty of the community to alert local officials about such cases of mental health so that they can be given medical attention,” Kayiteshonga told a press briefing on April 5, 2021.
Besides mental health case, The Chronicles encountered youths below 30 on streets of Kigali, not putting on face masks and either carrying a bottle of crude alcohol or beer.
One of them (un indentified) as he was aggressive to approach, was seen this April 2, at Amahoro stadium at early under the sun running and occasionally walking staggeringly with a bottle of Primus beer in his hands.
His case doesn’t come as a surprise as RBC February 2021 statistics also show that COVID-19 direct and indirect effects social distancing, quarantined, infected, hospitalized, deaths of relatives, uncertainty, and Inadequate coping (alcohol use, conflict & domestic violence with the later seeing a slight increase in numbers of drug abusers- from addictions 154 to 166 in the periods of December 2019-2020 respectively.
Since March 14, 2020 police has mounted operations to arrest thousands of COVID19 restriction defiant citizens who include: persons putting on masks poorly, breaking the curfew rules, and not upholding social distancing guidelines among others.
Statistics provided in August 2020 lockdown alone indicate more 27,000 were not putting on masks, over 23,000 caught up by curfew hours, more than 6,000 found in bars drinking and 1,700 bar joints closed and 2000 vehicles impounded under the same conditions of breaking COVID-19 guidelines.
In January 2021 lockdown Police showed that 1,221 vehicles, 2,489 pedestrians stopped for having poor reasons for moving, 141 found in bars drinking without respecting COVID-19 measures
These kinds of persons are either slapped with Rwf10, 000-20,000 ($15-20) or spend a night in the nearby stadium area getting improvised training on the need to avoid increasing more COVID-19 infections, while bar owners get Rwf150, 000 ($149) fines.
The most recent case recorded on April 4th 2021 at Cenetra Hotel in Kabuga Rusororo sector, in Gasabo district where a newly wedded couple, their families and a couple nuns who manage the facility among the 130 citizens who were arrested on that day and held at Amahoro and Kicukiro Stadiums.
As controversial as it was, Rwanda National Police Spokesman CP John Bosco Kabera said on police website that the force has spent time explaining the need to respect the COVID-19 measures with no exceptions.
This has not stopped some of the citizens and religious leaders falling into the ‘rebellious’ bracket.
During the February district-to- district lockdown, the Bishop of Cyangugu Msgr. Hakizimana Celestin was seen footing after local officials stopped his vehicle under concerns that he was breaking the standing guidelines.
The bishop was coming from Nyamagabe district heading to Huye district when police officers at a barricade stopped his driver from proceeding. The religious decide to walk out and proceed as the vehicle driver returned backwards.
Half way along the foot journey the Bishop was picked up by a white Suzuki Samurai from one of the catholic parishes in Karambi.
Not only religious leader but local government leaders have fallen into the COVID-19 trap, which explains the psychological pressure that COVID-19 has mounted on human nature for two years now.
For example, at least 20 local leaders have been arrested among defiant citizens, and according to former Minister of Local Government Prof. Anastase Shyaka, they were given immediate punishments which include suspensions from jobs.
One of them is Nizeyimana Theobald, the former executive secretary of Musheri sector, Nyagatare district who was fired after being found in a bar drinking, while COVID19 guidelines have banned bar activities since March 2020.
“We were in the same meeting planning how to manage COVID-19 and he instead was the same person to break the rules instead of being an example,” said David Claudian Mushabe, the district mayor.
With over 348,000 citizens vaccinated (AstraZeneca and Pfizer) against the COVID-19 virus, and active cases dropped to 1,843 social psychology experts say that the human tendency to relax could kick in thus requiring officials to double restrictions in a potential second COVID-19 wave in Rwanda.