Rwandan authorities have put necessary attention on the continued problem of Foot and Mouth disease in Rwanda. Health scares concerning livestock and other animals not only worry farmers, but can take an extraordinary toll on national economy, health, and tourism. A perfect example is 2003 Toronto during the SARS crisis or England during the Mad Cow Disease outbreak.
Foot and Mouth disease, which has been terrorising Rwanda, specifically the Eastern Province, is not something that should be taken lightly, and health officials throughout the country certainly have not.
The question that is hitting the people is whether it is not too harsh.
In the last week, close to 50 cattle have been caught crossing district and sector borders with owners lacking required permits. Permits are put in place so that crossing cattle can be registered and monitored, so as to curb the spread of Foot and Mouth disease. If caught roaming without permits, the owner is charged a fine of Frw20,000 per animal. Failure to do so results in public auctioning.
Thirty-six of those cattle were from one man, Andrew Ngarambe. Once seized, as current law stipulates, all 36 were immediately seized and publicly auctioned. His entire livelihood was lost. More importantly, any woman, man or child dependent on Ngarambe lost their livelihood as well.
In this case, it has been reported that Ngarambe had some but not all of the papers required to transfer animals. Even if he had none, though, and simply did not know the law, the punishment would still beg the question as to whether it was fair punishment.
Ngarambe and others like him have broken the law and put entire communities in danger because of their actions. The crime is unregulated transfer of animals over district borders, but the heart of the crime, and the reason it is against the law, is the health danger posed. Does seizing cattle and reselling them publicly to the highest bidder do justice? Is it conquering the Foot and Mouth danger originally posed by the law breaker? The cattle still remain, as is their potential threat.
Unless the farmer purposely transferred cattle with intent to harm the public, or has repeatedly and knowingly broken the law, the loss of one’s economy through public auction does little for the idea of justice, and virtually nothing to fix the original danger posed.
When building a country and legal system, enormous sensitivity has to be given to the learning curve of the community. Repeat offenders should be offered little leniency, but using hard-working citizens as “examples”, as vice-mayor Rurangwa said, while confiscating their way of life is not what this country has been about.