From the beginning of the 5th Century, policing became a function of the heads of fiefdoms and principalities. The conception of the police force as a protective and law enforcement organisation had earlier developed through the use of military bodies as guardians of the peace in ancient Rome. The Romans achieved a high level of law enforcement, which remained in effect until the decline of the empire.
As it is today, police was responsible for maintaining public order and preventing and detecting crime. The basic police mission of preserving order by enforcing rules of conduct or laws was the same in ancient societies as it is now.
During the Middle Ages the policing authority, especially in European countries, was the responsibility of local nobles on their individual estates. Each noble generally appointed an official, known as a constable, to carry out the law.
The constable’s duties included keeping the peace and arresting and guarding criminals. For many decades constables were unpaid citizens who took turns at the job, which became increasingly burdensome and unpopular.
Generally, they used old men as watchmen to guard the streets at night. For long this remained the only form of policing in these countries.
The watchmen and constables were not able to check lawlessness and hence there was a call for a more effective force to deal with criminals and protect the population.
The historical background of police generally indicates that as societies increased in diversity and complexity, policing systems based on self policing and individual responsibility declined.
Gendarmerie as the Rwandan police
The word gendarme comes from Old French ‘gens d’armes’, meaning men-at-arms. From the Late Medieval period of the aristocratic order to the Early Modern period, the term referred to a heavily armed cavalryman of noble birth, primarily serving in the French army.
The word gained policing connotations after the French Revolution when the ‘Maréchaussée’ of the Ancien Regime was renamed the Gendarmerie. Before this, a gendarmerie was known as a maréchaussée (loyal servant).
This police force has an ambiguous assignment, both as a military force and at the same time as a police force. In fact, gendarmerie was a military body charged with police duties among civilian populations.
King Louis XV of France referred to the Gendarmerie as thus: “it is a special organisation that does not exist anywhere else in Europe. It is half civilian, half military surveillance, spread all over the national territory... you cannot have a good army unless it has a good police force within it....”
This kind of assertion tells us that there was no separate police force. This was the confusion that kept the Rwandan police poor and inefficient since independence to the recent years.
The Gendarmerie was thus embedded within the army and worked on the orders of the army. This never allowed it to emerge as a specialised force in keeping law and order.
The police are supposed to be a free entity that only works with the army in a complementary manner. The army and the police do not do the same things but only meet at a certain point as complementaries.
If you go against this order, then you mess up everything. This is the background mess that we have been nursing for centuries.
The Rwandan Gendarmerie in addition had a uniform that was not really people friendly, a thing that kept it at away from the people it was supposed to protect.
This contradicts the general objectives of a police force that is supposed to be people centred and friendly. The ‘redtop uniformed men’ are meant for maintaining law and order in the army but not amongst civilians.
They scare them off, especially when the society’s background made them view the military as an enemy, until recently when they got a real people’s army.
The uniform of Gendarmerie generally put people off as the shirts and trousers were exactly the same as those of the army. They looked like military police!
Unfortunately due to inevitable reasons, when the government of national unity took control of the country, the same force (Gendarmerie), continued to police the country for some time.
The Gendarmerie could not therefore offer much, as it was not trained to keep law and order as a modern police force.
Rwanda starts a new police force
It was after the country had settled that a new police started mushrooming. It was mainly drawn from the army where the disciplined and the fairly well-educated soldiers were picked and given police training. A number of recruitments were later made from the general population.
The force, though small and not highly educated, drastically changed a lot to the benefit of the population and its country. They, however, continued to show some weaknesses here and there, which showed that more training was needed.
But the same training needed people of a certain level of education. The Rwandan government in reaction started recruiting university graduates.
Building an elite police
There is no debate on the fact that the recent pass-out of 199 junior police officers or so, signals a change in the face of Rwandan police force. The graduates of the police academy are men and women who have (almost all) graduated from different universities in different disciplines.
This is what we call an elite police force, a force with all capacities that allow it to meet both national and international challenges in maintaining law and order in different societies.
This is the kind of police force that will be able to move with the fast-moving world as a global village. It will not be inferior in all disciplines; be it in economic affairs, social affairs, politics, ICT, languages, etc. Such a police force will not be inferior in the East African Community that we have just joined.
East Africa has had a police force built up for ages, but with the determination and the zeal Rwandans have exhibited in other areas, we do not doubt that the Rwandan police will perform to the expected standards.
The developing of an elite police is thus timely and we look forward to having a bright Rwandan future under its protection. Train the police force to the highest limit possible for much is expected from them.
There is no doubt therefore, that the elite police Rwanda is developing today will streamline the work of maintaining peace and order in the society.
An elite police force is characterised by the following:
Taking fundamentally the role of peace rather than just law enforcement of crime control; serve and protect the public; offering service to the public for crime and disorder problems rather than focus primarily on crime; adhere to a police-community partnership and adopt the key strategy of community consultation; be able to apply a proactive approach to policing rather than passively waiting for calls or randomly patrolling for a presumed deterrent effect; the police that anticipates future calls by identifying local crime and disorder problems, has a broader response to underlying causes of problems and more particularly crime prevention activities.
Its personnel operates as information managers who engage in interactive policing by routinely exchanging information on a reciprocal basis with community members through formal contacts and informal networks, and such police develops tactics that reduce the fear of being victimized, especially among children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups in society.
It is responsible for ensuring that the kind of fear has constructive rather than debilitating effects, so that those who are vulnerable, or who view themselves as vulnerable, may take reasonable crime prevention measures, etc.
However, the Rwandan police and other East African police in general remain with a great challenge of coming up with a uniform that is more people friendly.
The thick dark blue Rwandan, Ugandan and Tanzania khaki, the Kenyan madoadoa (army green), etc are not really people-friendly uniforms. As they think of uniformity in many areas, a thought should be given on the best uniform that is people friendly.
The police are actually considered to be part of the civil service and should not find any problem in changing to a uniform that brings people closer.