“I was surprised to get a call from one of the most notorious criminals in the Eastern Province called Ildephonse Munyambo. This criminal was recently convicted and given a life sentence in Nsinda prison having committed heinous crimes against humanity. If Rwanda had not scrapped the death sentence from her law books, I bet, the fellow would have been long gone. It is frightening to be called by such a person and to make matters worse, he called me on phone. I do not know how possible that is, so I guess prisoners could be having phones in their cells. I will have to inquire,” Alphonse Mugiraneza was heard telling colleagues recently.
A few weeks ago, Kenyan prison warders went on an intensive search for electronic gadgets owned by the prisoners. Though the exercise turned nasty, allegedly with police brutality leading to one death case. The inmates had to be ‘disarmed’.
The incident was ugly, not because it was not necessary, but rather due to the way it was conducted. You do not need to whack an inmate in order to remove an illegal electronic gadget.
This was just another example of prisoner abuse that is, unfortunately, still prevalent in our East African countries. One day, it was Kamiti Prison in Kenya making headlines, a while later, Kiburara Prison in Uganda did.
However, on viewing the ugly scenes, I knew that it wouldn’t continue for so long, since the countries (including Kenya) embraced Rwanda as a sister country.
Rwanda has the best record of maintaining prisoners’ rights. Therefore, they will take the lessons forthwith.
Someone may compare Rwandan prisoners to those in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha. If anyone still doubted what benefits Rwanda would contribute towards the East African community, this will surely be one of them.
Nonetheless, Rwanda faces a similar problem of its prisons, being porous, with electronic gadgets, particularly mobile phones entering. The two questions that come to mind are, ‘How do inmates get the phones and what do they need them for?
According to reliable sources, relatives play a big role in perpetrating this offence. They use the most sophisticated means including hiding them in the food they take to prisoners during visiting days.
What happens when they get the phones? Purposes of use vary depending on the crime in which a particular prisoner may have specialised in. Those who were thieves, robbers, serial killers, genociders will continue to use the mobile phones to coordinate their evils.
Some prisoners, from the ‘safety’ of their cells, have even managed to coordinate killings and robberies. It has happened in Kenya and it may be happening in Rwanda too.
Rwanda’s case is nevertheless more sensitive because inmates may use the phones to plan the murders of genocide survivors that testify against them.
There are a few survivors in the country who can give vital evidence to pin the genocide suspects. This has made them more vulnerable to cold blooded killers. This is unfortunate but true.
One of the ways to curb such killings is to disarm prisoners—they should not access technology. The prison authorities in Rwanda will have to prove beyond doubt that inmates all over the country are not carrying phones with them.
Much as technologies can reinforce development, it can also promote crime in society. What Bin Laden’s network is doing is facilitated by technology. Mobile phone technology will do the same. The prime objective of prisons is to isolate criminals and rehabilitate them.
The mobile technology use within the prisons therefore flouts the objective as the whole world is, in a sense, controlled and monitored from prison cells.
Prisons must make every effort to keep the inmates within its walls without accessing any form of external communication.
Proper management and discipline are prerequisites for this to be achieved. Although the challenges of ensuring these centres of incarceration are free from all devises that might deter their objectives, the benefits the society stands to gain make it worth the effort.