A Piece of Social Justice

February 4, 2013

Everyone harps about the amazing security of Rwanda, particularly in the hoppin’ capital, Kigali. The police force is strict and well-obeyed. I feel much safer walking here with a friend than in most US cities. Traffic runs with a fair amount of order, even with the daredevil motos that frequently weave through sluggish cars. I have never heard of anyone having their house broken into or being mugged. Of course, life is not perfect here and there are the occasional incidents but they are definitely few and far between.

rwanda police

One such incident happened about a week ago in which my camera was briefly stolen. I was out dancing and had just walked my friend to her car. On my walk back up a winding staircase to join up with the larger group, a curious man walked up to me. He repeatedly touched my shoulder and slurred some English and Kinyarwanda jargon. His proximity to me was the first red flag: as stated before, Rwandans are incredibly reserved and often do not confront a muzungu, physically or otherwise. I sped up my walking pace while another man grabbed my accoster’s hand. A few minutes later, I saw him creeping near my friend’s purse and coat. I finally checked my own purse and discovered that my camera had been taken.

Immediately, I reported the theft to the bouncer. We searched around the club but to no avail. The man had disappeared, of course, and after about fifteen minutes had passed, I knew that I would never see my camera again. I went back to dancing, mostly miffed that all the pictures that I had taken were now gone. After a little while, I looked up and saw the funny man from the stairwell approaching me. I immediately motioned to my friends and the bouncer appeared behind the man. He took him outside for some “deliberation” (that in itself made me afraid for the man, given the size of the bouncer and my lack of understanding with how such things are dealt). Much to my surprise, the bouncer came up to me with my camera in less than an hour.  After changing hands with six different people, the bouncer and later the police were able to track the camera down by checking the last dialed number in the thief’s phone. And somehow, they were able to lure each one of them back to the club. I would have never conceived that the return of my camera would have been remotely possible and yet, there it was. A similar, albeit more violent incident, happened several months ago with nothing but a small soap taken and even more quickly (with the help of a market full of vendors), returned.

Social justice and a sense of citizenship appears to be prevalent throughout this culture. Patrons and customers are well-protected by the everyday citizen, not just the police. Whether this ‘coming together’ is purely cultural or encouraged by the government (such as the community service day, umuganda, in which the country stops running for the last Saturday morning of every month to perform civil works) is probably impossible to know, but it certainly contributes to the general security here. In fact after my camera was stolen, I felt more at ease with the security in the country. Rather than being completely lulled into a false sense of security though, I am more conscious of the possibility of theft or other crimes. But if strangers were so willing to help me with such a problem, how could I not feel safe?


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