Rwanda offers free lessons on life without plastic bags

As I sat to write this, East Africa was in a state of shock after news filtered in on Friday morning of the gruesome murder of Uganda’s Assistant Inspector General of Police Andrew Felix Kaweesi along with his driver and bodyguard by armed gunmen just as they were heading out to work. Afande Kaweesi had been in the limelight for a while serving as the spokesperson of Uganda Police.

As a region, such a tragedy hits hard given the strong relationship that different police forces have developed over time. Almost every month we see pictures of police officers from the different East African countries at joint engagements aimed at finding better ways to deal with security challenges in the region. This region knows too well what insecurity means and that is why cooperation has been inevitable in the recent years where terrorism has become a global challenge.

We do hope that everything will be done to ensure that those who take the lives of others in such horrific ways are brought to book and security of lives and property in Uganda and beyond is restored. President Museveni has already directed that CCTV cameras be installed on major roads but it will take more than just cameras to deter these gunmen from continuing to take lives in a similar manner.

Still on security, it is now pretty obvious that matters of the environment are increasingly viewed as security matters as well. This is because we are living at a time when our population is growing fast yet natural resources keep getting scarce by the day. This combination creates tensions among people resulting in insecurity as communities try to control the little that is left.

It is for this same reason that I think our brothers and sisters in Kenya as well as other countries ought to embrace a life of less plastics. Rwanda has done this for some years and the results have been commendable. It is now common knowledge that when coming to Rwanda, any plastic bags in your luggage remain at the border entry points and then a life without them begins in a clean environment. 

Other countries have admired Rwanda’s determination on this matter and some have suggested doing the same. Announcing the banning of plastic bags in other countries has become a common song but with implementation of the same always appearing to be a challenge. Kenya has just announced a fresh ban that will take effect sometime this year.

As one who has lived in Rwanda for a while, I fully support these bans and I wish people could really learn how to shop differently for example for a start. Kenyans and Ugandans may spend time arguing about how it cannot work but at the end of the day the environment is suffering from all the plastic bags that end up in our soil and in the drainages.

It is indeed funny that most of the paper bags used in Rwanda are manufactured in Uganda and yet Ugandans have remained addicted to the plastic bags. Kenyans may also need to remember that one of their retail supermarkets, Nakumatt has been doing business in Rwanda for a while now and have managed to work with paper bags. It is always a bit confusing when I walk into a Nakumatt in Kampala or Nairobi and my shopping is placed in plastic bags.

Kenyans now have a six months period to stop using the plastic bags but like an exam in future, they can use this time to try and learn how Rwanda has been doing it. Some can even visit and see for themselves how it is done starting from handling the manufacturers to ensure they only produce the kind that are permitted. The strict border crossing controls on those trying to smuggle in any form of the banned plastic bags.

The whole process does not have to be instant or even to produce instant results. What matters is that a genuine effort is being made in that direction. Changing our shopping culture where we expect plastic bags to be handed out even for the smallest item purchased is something that needs to stop.  

At the end of the day if Rwanda protects its environment while others allow theirs to go to waste then as a region we shall have failed. We no longer have the luxury of assuming the environment will take care of itself. With population pressure and climate change, the time for procrastination is no more.