RWANDA: When the authorities fight with the population!

By Erasme Rugemintwaza

In early August 2021, a short video circulated on social media, sparking widespread outrage. In self-defence fight, the man named Safari struggled against a security agent from the state militia called “DASSO”. The little story is a tip of the iceberg.

The story has gone viral on the web, so that it has now become a sort of tongue-in-cheek slogan giving rise to inscriptions on t-shirts and even on shoes: “SAFARI NYUBAHA” (Safari, respect me) .

Who is this Safari that is going to challenge the local authority, and to ridicule it to arouse compassion for him? The video that circulated was showing interspersed scenes but here’s the story.

Safari is a farmer from Nyagatare District in the Eastern Province, whose cattle accounts for nearly a third of the country. This herding area commonly known as Umutara is a savannah with very extensive farms. This area, Umutara, of cow herders is mainly the part of Akagera National Park, which was occupied after the Rwandan civil war, by the return of Rwandan Tutsi refugees from Uganda, and who are herders by tradition. Thus, the Akagera National Park was destroyed by this occupation to more than half of its area. The Akagera National Park, at its foundation in 1934 until 1994 had an area of ​​2500km2 just over 10% of the area of ​​Rwanda, to remain with only 1122 km2 after its occupation, an ecological disaster well camouflaged by the government because, we noticed the total elimination of the population of lions and rhinos. Others will be introduced after 2015.

In Umutara, there is intensive cow farming where a farmer can have up to 200 cows. Because of this intensive breeding of cows in this draught zone, there is always big movements of cows from and to water dams. But apart from these legal movements in search of water, the herders of Umutara have this tradition: they do often like to bring cows to graze in the vicinity of major roads against any administrative restriction. Safari’s famous story took place in a context where the local authorities were in their routine control to punish and enforce instructions and orders about this bad habit of herders. But these herding peoples of Umutara have another bad habit of disobeying laws and orders of the administration.  Because the majority of them came from Uganda, they give them a big importance in the war to conquer Rwanda. In a word, the people of this land defy the authorities. And in this case they say that without the cow Rwanda would never have been re-conquered, to mean that the cow should not be touched!

To illustrate this spirit of distrust of the authority that this population of Umutara has, here are three situations that I witnessed. In 2005, a story like this happened. The security agents of the Local Defense Force (LDF), the state militia that became DASSO, spotted around ten cows within the city limits of Umutara. The cows were placed in the custody of these security agents, while waiting for the breeder to come and pay the fine, very heavy of 10,000 francs per cow. But an order from superior power instructed the Regional Police Commander (RPC) for the whole province and the executive secretary of Umutara province to bring back the cows to the old herder as quickly as possible. It was learned that the injunctions came from an army general, from the family of the old breeder. Another time, still in 2005, the mayor of Umutara town did almost the same for the goats that came to roam in Umutara Town. The Mayor has ordered to keep them in an ad hoc container. The next day we were all present there, we have been surprised to hear the old farmer, owner of the goats, ask the mayor if by any chance he was not crazy! The goats were released with no money as fine. The mayor once revealed to me that he had received some injunctions from a high ranked person. And one day, President Paul Kagame paid a visit to Nyagatare. In his speech, he wanted to mobilize the population of Umutara to change mentalities, and adopt a modern breeding of utility and not of prestige. By an example Paul Kagame criticized those herders who even have more than 50 cows who ask their children studying at the university for money to buy, for example, lick salt for the cows, while, on the contrary, these parents should be helping their children, and why not getting rich. Over here, Paul Kagame said these cows that don’t give to farmers money are like paints.. At that moment, almost the whole room swarmed, as if to boo the president.

This is Umutara where Safari George lives. Umutara of the Generals, Umutara of the Liberators of the Country, Umutara who boos the President, Umutara, country of cows and men, a country where the popular belief of these herders is that the cow is the eldest of man! Working in this part of the country without being a native is an option that has no other alternative. Many are people who would rather lose their jobs than be transferred to Umutara!.

The story of Safari can easily be understood in this background. But in the operation against those who break the instructions and let their cattle roam, or graze them near the road, because this causes of a lot of fatal accidents, the executive secretary of Musenyi cell, in the Sector of Karangazi and an agent of DASSO, did not consider all this background. They went to hunt those cows grazing near the road amongst them those of Safari. The DASSO agent, as usual, violently attacks a young shepherd and tears his clothes. Safari ran up and asked the young shepherd to obey and not to fight with the authorities and snapped up to obviously to lead his cattle outside the forbidden zone. But the executive secretary of the cell ordered the security guard and others in very clear words to attack Safari, which was probably escaping with the cows. DASSO’s agent rushed after him to stop him. But, unfortunately the fight turned badly for the young DASSO. Safari knocked him out, suffocated him to strangle him; DASSO cried for help. Hurried, the executive secretary of Musenyi cell, Mr. Twahirwa Gabriel, implored Safari to let the DASSO go, in these words which became famous: “SAFARI NYUBAHA”, literally, “SAFARI RESPECT ME”. So SAFARI released the DASSO and left. A curious had followed this whole scene, and took a video to finally share it on social networks. The video had then sparked an outcry on the web. The overriding question was: which of the two, SAFARI and DASSO, was reprehensible?

Many found the act of Safari as self-defence, because he had just seen how violent this security agent was and especially the order of the executive secretary had just been given was clear: “Go and stop Safari” to which the voices are added: “Come on, beat that old man”. But Safari, a 60-year-old man showed them what to do with him by neutralizing the young security guard. Others, but too few, condemned Safari, saying he has taken temerity too far.

Initially Safari alone was arrested. But the Minister of Local Administration, GATABAZI Jean Marie Vianney, directly condemned the authorities who use lots of force against the population. His intervention changed the course of the case. And here, we deeply thank very much Minister GATABAZI Jean Marie Vianney, for his wise position.

Thus, on August 25, 2021, the District of Nyagatare rejected the behavior of these agents, the executive secretary and the security guard. Nyagatare District tweeted: “Even though the District is carrying out operations against wandering cattle, the way the operation was carried out is not normal. The parties who have fought will be prosecuted.”

It was subsequently learned that the executive secretary as well as the DASSO agent had been dismissed from their posts.

In short, the culture of violence by authority against the population is well entrenched in the administration of Rwanda with the RPF regime. It is the legacy of the rebel administration where everything is done by violence to sow terror and thereby force membership and oppress velleities; justice being a long and second-rate procedure for rebels. People were even shot publicly in the meeting grounds, without any kind of trial, to show people how to punish an enemy. In the years of 1998 we attended the meetings for the public caning of people. We witnessed several occasions with the scenes where the authorities slap or beat people in public. It was common to see a general slapping a civilian district mayor for example, for simple contempt and arrogance towards him when that mayor is mostly a Hutu. It is always common to see a policeman shoot a person without any justice follow-up. Thus, it is very difficult to separate the RPF-Inkotanyi regime with violence because it is the reign of terror, to silence the people. The power of the FRP-Inkotanyi is acquired by terror; it can only be preserved by this same terror. Scenes like the one where Safari embodies self-defence are the daily lot in an every cell or an every village in Rwanda; they are only done far from the cameras! We can thank the filmmaker, because together, with any means available, we will be able to fight evil and change the society, because silence in the face of a crime is cowardice, it is complicity!