When Rwanda National Police (RNP) was created in June 2000, the concept of community-oriented policing became one of the driving forces in response to crime ensure safety, security and promotion of human rights.
Community policing was adapted to encourage citizens to participate in crime-solving. It came as a strategic and thoughtful plan focused on the proactive prevention of crime and disorder, by partnering with the public to increase police visibility in all communities to solve, prevent and reduce crime.
Fast-forward, the impact of this police-public partnership in the last 17 years, define, among others, the level of safety and security that local, regional and international reports have based partly relied on to label Rwanda one of the safest countries globally; where people are safe to move at night, and where citizens trust and rely on their police services.
However, the story of ‘Imitavu’ – loosely translated as calves – a group of about 100 children between the ages of six and fifteen, of Gahara Sector in Kirehe District, has brought a new sense in this ideal, and a new force in changing the mindset of the people in response to crime.
Founded eight years ago in the remote Gahara, the group won a competition in 2014 of composing poems and songs aligned with community policing activities, to which RNP awarded them financial and other varied prizes.
Today, local authorities, residents and the police in Kirehe speaks highly of how these children have turned Gahara, a once sector with majority crimes in Kirehe, into the safest and a model of security it is today.
The sector is home to about 80,000 people most farmers, and one of the twelve sectors that compose Kirehe district; the sector borders Burundi and Tanzania, as such porous parts of the area are used to sneak narcotic drugs into the country.
Fiston Dufitumukiza, 26, the brain behind the establishment of Imitavu drama group, says for the last eight years of their community policing and patriotism activities, they meet every Saturday to engage in community sensitization and to challenge their elders on their role, especially against illicit drugs and other high impact crimes like child abuse and gender based violence.
“They make their voices heard through drama, songs and community visitations to raise awareness against drug abuse and crime prevention. This behavioral change approach is also extended to their parents and peers at home and school,” says Dufitumukiza
The children, through their discussions, provide names of people in their villages, who deal or traffic drugs, and according to the police, this has played a significant role in arresting dealers and breaking chains of supply that were using Gahara as one of the main transit routes in Kirehe.
“We even have a child who reported her parents, who were trafficking drugs, and they were arrested, prosecuted and convicted” said the District Police Commander, Supt. James Rutaremara.
In some occasions, the arrested drug dealers are paraded before the residents and the children, and shamed, to set a precedent.
The children are now sprawling their activities to the neighboring sectors of Gatore, Kigarama and Nyamugari.
“We intended to spread to the entire district and probably replicated in others parts of the country” the hopeful Dufitumukiza says.
To residents, the youngsters have set an example that has changed the mindset of many in Gahara.
“There is a general sense that any wrong that happens at home will now come to light because when these children meet, they discuss about what happens in their families and neighbourhoods. Some of us remain challenged when you see children at such young age knocking at our doors to educate us as parents and elders, our responsibilities in safety, protection and promoting their rights, and even on how to live in harmony as a family,” says Rodrigue Karemera, a resident.
He adds: “For example, when s husband assaults a wife or children, or goes home drunk, there are higher chances that whatever that happens at home, will come to light. We, as parents and elders, feel these children should be empowered to carry on with this good work.”
The DPC asserts this community policing of phenomenon ushered in by the children “limits people from indulging in crime.”
“It is a fact that Gahara was experiencing high crime rates “but ever since the group amplified its efforts, crime reduced.” he said.
According to statistics, 42kgs of cannabis were seized in Gahara last month, with no drug-related crime reported so far in this month in the same sector.
At least 34kgs of cannabis have been seized in Kirehe district since the beginning of this month.
This is a tremendous achievement to keep it this law basing on the fact that previously, thousands of kilogrammes would be intercepted every month, especially in sectors that border with Tanzania including Gahara.
As part of the Rwanda National Police efforts to supplement community policing activities in Kirehe, it also donated a vehicle and a motorcycle to Kirehe, which have facilitated community patrols and reduction of crime.
Eric Zikama, the district executive secretary of Kirehe, said that the existing partnership between the police and the people, and the new approach by Imitavu rings bell fruitful outcomes in security and implementation of community development programmes.
“We have seen the impact Imitavu has created in Gahara, and we believe if the approach is duplicated in other sectors, we foresee massive change of mindset towards crime,” said the executive secretary.
There is also a general sense among the residents that the strengthened partnership between RNP and Tanzania police will deal with drug trafficking on both sides.
The two police institutions committed, among others, to conduct joint operations to destroy cannabis farms on the Tanzanian side.