December 28, 2021

Strange But True: Here Are Communities That Built Own Police Stations


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It was all party when this Police Station built by local residents, was unveiled in Rutsiro district

Two communities, one in western and another in Kigali, collected money to construct Police stations.

Their explanation was that they needed cops close by so that when an incident happened, the law enforcers arrived in minutes. The other was that suspects from the community were being taken to far away stations, which detached the suspects from families.

Strange as they sound, the two cases cited did indeed happen in Rutsiro and Gasabo districts.

In other countries, Cops are detested as abusers. They are despised. The police is always in running battles with the very people they are expected to work with.

In the United States, one of President Joe Biden’s key election promises was reforming the police. It has for decades been accused of racial profiling of black Americans – with many victims killed in terrible circumstances.

For Rwanda, months after taking power through a coup in 1973, former President Juvenal Habyarimana disbanded the Police. He categorised it as dominated by ‘Southerners’ who lay allegiance to his predecessor Gregoire Kayibanda.

Habyarimana formed the Gendermarie, a paramilitary arm of the Army.

Campaign group SURVIE in its February 2019 report marking the 26th commemoration of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi wrote that Habyarimana’s gendarmes were exclusively ‘Northerners’ from his home region.

It was a deliberate police to make sure all the security services worked to cement the authority of Habyarimana and his ruling elites. Gendarmes operated side-by-side with civilian militias, the interahamwe, hunting and killing Tutsis in 1994. Gendarmes helped raze churches where Tutsis had sought refuge.

Twenty-one years ago, the Rwanda National Police (RNP) was reestablished. Though Habyarimana’s gendarmes had a different name, they were promoted as doing police work; maintaining public order.

With such a terrible history, the new Police has spent the last two decades battling to nurture a new image.

Figures just published this week show RNP has spent Rwf 997m this year alone on implementing community outreach projects across the country. It means monthly, the Force has invested on average Rwf83m in projects that connect it closer to the villages its supposed to safeguard.

The Cops have built houses for the poorest and elderly. They have distributed solar power kits to thousands of homes. The officers also paid health insurance for vulnerable communities.

This Tuesday marks end of 2021 Police Month with the theme “21 years of partnership in policing towards sustainable safety and better livelihood for communities”.

Going by that figure of communal projects completed this year, it has probably pumped billions of Francs to get closer to ordinary people.

What the Cops do is heavily scrutinized in the country, especially on social media. President Paul Kagame had to come in to calm the situation when outrage became apparent over alleged use of excessive force last year while enforcing COVID-19 regulations.

At a press conference in September last year, Kagame said the unfortunate incidents were the actions of a few individual officers – not operational guidelines of the whole Force.

“We are going to see change, there is no need for that excessive force. Even when the one you are dealing with maybe a hardcore criminal the police are trained and knows how to deal with such a situation without applying excesses,” he said.

He added: “You don’t spend nights in stadiums because someone wants to hurt you, it’s to remind you that by disregarding COVID-19 preventive measures, you’re putting your own lives and the lives of others in your communities at risk. This pandemic kills.”

Since then, there has not been any such cases. The Chronicles has also documented other actions taken to remove the bad apples from the Force. Hundreds have been dismissed.

As society evolves, notably with proliferation of technology, criminals are also becoming more sophisticated. Crime is becoming more of a regional and international phenomenon. Communities are radicalized via the internet, creating violent extremism and terrorism.

To deal with these emerging troubles, Rwandan Police went searching for the Arma dei Carabinieri, Italy’s domestic policing body.

The carabinieri are actually older than Italy itself, making 207 years in existence this year. It is said to have been founded by Victor Emanuel I, Duke of Savoy and King of Sardinia almost half a century before modern Italy came into existence.

Lieutenant General Teo Luzi, heaf of the Carabinieri, was in Rwanda this past October. Rwanda’s Inspector General of Police Dan Munyuza has also been to Italy in effort to set in motion a long-term working partnership.

In past four years, over 900 Rwandan police officers have been trained by the Carabinieri both in Rwanda and in Italy.

Their skills are on display in Mozambique where a joint Police-Army deployment is fighting Islamist insurgents. There is very little difference between an officer from the two security forces, except for the color of their uniforms.

During The Chronicles trip there in September, we travelled with heavily armed Police units patrolling villages the vast expanse of Cabo Delgado Province. They are also deployed in several other different hotspots like South Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR) and Haiti where drug gangs control the streets.

While black Americans disparage their Cops, last July another community from Butare sector, western region of Rwanda, sent the local area police commander to his superiors asking that a station be constructed in their area.

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