Why do some governments prefer to pit their security forces against the citizenry?

I don’t know about you but, personally, I found the cartoon that was running in this paper some time ago interesting.

A family stands in the doorway of their house late in the night, kid crouching between father’s hairy legs and pulling at mother’s hems, all startled (I imagine) by responding to a knock on their door, only to open and be confronted by the sight of two policemen carrying a heavy object.

Their faces only break into wide grins on hearing: “Don’t worry; we have come to arrest darkness!” Before reading the caption, the sight of the cartoon alone had conjured up disturbing images of an encounter with a pair of policemen at any hour, in my days of exile!

In my long and ‘fleeing’ life, being tossed hither and thither in different countries of switched refuge, if there was any nightmare I dreaded the most, it was an encounter with anybody charged with keeping the peace and protection of their citizens and us, their ‘guests’.

Pardon me, therefore, if I seem never to get used to some situations in this country.

Seeing security personnel not only doing their duty as they were mandated to, but actually going the extra mile – many miles! – to give a helping hand in ensuring the comfort of citizens or even in improving their lives still catches me unawares.

The wide grins in the case of the cartoon were a kind of illustration of a story that, in part, read: “Rwanda National police….to provide solar home systems to 3,000 households in remote areas and one health-centre in each of the 30 districts of the country, in the coming month”.

Come end this May, then, this story having been out in April, and to these households and health centres, darkness will have turned into a thing of the past, courtesy of police.

That still amazes me because my idea of security officers, wherever else I lived, had crystallised into something like what follows.

For instance, you are lazily window-shopping after a day’s hard work as a law-abiding teacher, when you feel a none-too-soft object poke your ribs. On turning, a pair of police officers, their ndembos (truncheons) on the ready, demand to see your identification papers.

Produce your national ID as citizen or “PI” ID as refugee, the latter cynically describing you as a “Prohibited Immigrant” but still legal, and you’ll be dragged off to a detention facility, no questions asked. Your only rescue will lie in having some “tea” on you, which otherwise spells as h-a-r-d c-a-s-h!

If not, – misery of miseries! – this being Friday, you’ll be produced in court on Monday, charged with being found “idle and disorderly and behaving in a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace.” If you are wise, you plead “Guilty, my Lord!” to the bleary-eyed judge.

But if you are the stubborn, miserly type unwilling to part with the “guilty fee”, then be prepared to cool your backside in remand with hardcore criminals until cows come home. Which cows, unfortunately for you, won’t, without you finally dipping your mean hand in your pocket!

However, that’s child’s play when you think of other scenarios. Apart from police soliciting the seemingly mandatory bribe for next to nothing, you’ve seen them mercilessly bludgeoning innocents to near-death; painting them rainbow-colours for God-knows-what; yanking them up by their belts like sacks of trash; blinding them with tear gas; shooting them with live bullets in their crowds; et al.

All these, if for any plausible reason, not one that cannot be resolved amicably.
Our police force, therefore, should not be taken for granted. Their discipline and humaneness should be recognised. Granted, they owe it to the system that put their institution in place but that should not deny them their due respect.

And yes, there may be scattered reports of soliciting bribes here and there, but it’s more likely that they’ll be stamped out than that they’ll be allowed to proliferate.

Otherwise, you’ve seen how traffic police help children or wheel-chair-bound persons crossing roads; the odd tourist unable to read their map; a local unable to get their bearings; and more. Sometimes it may be to the chagrin of impatient motorists but going by reactions in the social media, most are appreciative.

Our police have been seen recovering bundles of money lost by passengers at the airport. In peacekeeping missions, they’ve done Rwandans proud by doing their job admirably and going beyond that to immerse themselves in the populace, as they do here, to introduce home-made solutions like the communal umuganda.

As for developmental activities, apart from police in said peacekeeping missions building schools, etc, here the activities had become the preserve of our boys and girls in military uniform. So, have police plunged into them for purposes of reciprocity?

Remember the story early this year of Rusebeya sector residents handing over a 30-million-Rwf-worth police station? The Gatsibo District ones later handing over keys to 10 police stations? And those in Gisozi and Gikomero sectors, after that, constructing a police station each for their sector?

Whichever way you may choose to see it, our security forces and citizens are working in symbiotic concert and Rwanda is the better off for it.

Why do some governments prefer it that their forces and the citizenry always be at loggerheads?

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