The traffic is thicker than usual. Cars slow down as hundreds of people cross the road and head to the main entrance of Amahoro National stadium. Some are engulfed in deep thought as they brave the scorching sun.
These are not sports fans going to watch a football match, but are people in search of a driving permit. They are set to do written exams which are conducted every three months as one of the requirements for those trying to acquire driving permit.
“This is my third attempt. I hope this time I will pass,” remarked John Habineza who had travelled from Kabeza for the exams.
Walking next to him is 30-year-old Diana Umutoni who is also back to do exams after several unsuccessful attempts in the past.
“I have sat for driving exams twice and both times, I have failed. However, I hope this time I will pass,” she says as she enters the stadium.
For Tyson Mugisha, his experience was not any different, though his perseverance finally paid off. He passed the exams and got his driving permit.
“The first time I went for the exam I failed, even the second time. I decided to go for the third but again missed the deadlines because of the new system of using Irembo, there were connection issues, and I ended up waiting and the deadline passed,” he recalls.
Tales of frustration and disappointment is what many who have tried to get driving permits relate with but for others it has been a smooth sail.
Police explains what is required
Chief Inspector Emmanuel Kabanda, the Spokesperson of the department of traffic and road safety at the Rwanda National Police explains that for one to get a driving permit they first have to look for a provisional one and then later apply for a substantive driving permit.
He says that all services are provided online through Irembo right from registering to when the results are out. Soon after registration, one gets a message on their phone with details of the date and place where they will be doing the exam from.
Centres for exams are all over the country, in Kigali every district has one and also each province has a centre so people from up country do not need to travel to Kigali.
Registration is done four times a year and everyone who passes exams is entitled to their permit since there is no cap on number of people to get permits per sitting.
In the latest sitting (January-March) 3,322 people registered for the theory exam and 22,479 for the practical exam.
Kabanda says that the changes in issuance of driving permits are for the benefit of the public.
“Before everything was done through driving schools, but most things are done online. This has helped people a lot in saving money that they used to spend on driving schools for registration and other services,” he says.
He also points out the issue of permits that are got from other countries explaining that as long as they are genuine they can be accepted to be used. However, if they are not, one is advised to apply for a Rwandan permit, that’s why before accepting them a thorough investigation has to be done.
Jean Claude Ntirenganya, a former student of Midland Driving School says registration for exams still has loopholes which should be fixed.
“Sometimes after registration we spend a long period waiting for the exams and they later say they were called off until further notice. We wait again for that day to be announced, and sometimes you miss it,” he says.
Ntirenganya also adds that there is also the issue of waiting for long in case you fail to register for exams.
“If you register and fail, you have to wait for another three months to be registered, one can never be sure. For me, I gave up; I will get it in the future if I get lucky,” he adds.
For Frodouald Ruhongeka, a medic at King Faisal Hospital, in the past it was easy to get a driving permit because everything was done from the driving school, which is different from the way things are done these days.
“I went to Midland Driving School and all I did was to pay for all the services they offer. Basically, I paid to learn and the rest, they followed up,” Ruhongeka says.
For 32-year-old Jean Damascene Turinimana, a motor cyclist, getting his permit was smooth.
“Well, it wasn’t hard for me, I first got a provisional one. I had studied the laws that govern using a motor bike so when I went for the exam, I only did it once and I passed,” he says.
But things are different nowadays, and the new system of having expiry dates for the permits is making things even worse, he says.
“This wouldn’t have been so much of an issue but sometimes, getting to renew the permit is hard, because there is this new system of payment through Irembo. They say that it takes a maximum of two days to get through but sometimes it takes more than that. This affects our work because you can’t work without a valid permit; that’s breaking the law,” he says.
Driving schools speak out
Julius Rukundo, the owner of Safety Road Driving School, says the process of attaining driving permits has issues.
He says even provisional permits are getting done before doing the practical driving test.
“The registration takes place every after three months and not everyone gets a chance. Even those who are registered, it’s not guaranteed that they will all pass the exam. Remember, those who don’t make it still have to wait for another three months, of which they are not sure if they are going to get registered. Some of them miss out on job opportunities because of that long process, which is not fair,” Rukundo says.
Rukundo also talks about the many driving schools running out of business.
“Driving schools no longer have students, people no longer value them that much since the only service given there is driving lessons and the remaining services are done online. Even if it was me, I cannot pay more than Rwf100, 000 at a driving school if I have a friend who can teach me how to drive,” he says.
Gaston Nsengiyumva, the owner of Gaston and Associates Driving School, echoes similar concerns noting that new changes are doing more harm than good to their business.
“Schools used to have a limited slot of people registered for the exam. This seemed fair because every school had the same number of people. Students would work with their instructors around the exam site which would help them get tips before going for the exam. Schools would follow up their students till they got their driving permits. But now it’s the students doing everything till the end,” he says.
Nsengiyumva, however, applauds the certificates policy being implemented, saying that it’s a good idea because it’s going to help them get customers. He, on the other hand, still thinks that it would be better if the schools were the ones to register the students through Irembo because they are the ones that know a student who is ready for exams.
What was your experience like?
Frank Intare, Cashier - Access Bank
I got my permit in 2011; back then, things were somehow different.
I was lucky I passed the first exam I did.
I think the whole process of getting the permit becomes complicated, especially when the person is kind of nervous because it’s almost like a job interview, it’s tough.
But I was determined and confident.
Alex Nkubito, Cashier -UAExchange
My experience with trying to get a driving permit wasn’t pleasant at all; I had to sit for the exams three times before I finally made it.
Back then, it was tricky seeing that we only did exams once a year so when one failed they had to wait for another year for another chance.
People used to be so many on the final day of the exam that sometimes the amount charged had to be doubled, it was really hard.
Laban Bizimungu, Cashier - UAExchange
For me, it wasn’t hard getting a provisional permit, as long as you get the basics, then you’re done with it because it mostly requires critical thinking.
I made sure I studied hard and when the time came for the exams, I passed.
I am now taking driving lessons to work on my permit too.
Martha Nyange, University student
It was really hard for me; I have done exams so far two times now but I failed both times.
I don’t know where the problem is but I am sure the next time I do this I will pass.