Abarembetsi: The notorious drug smugglers terrorising Burera villages

FOR YEARS, illicit drugs have been smuggled to Rwanda from Uganda through various porous borders. The business is among others conducted by a notorious racket nicknamed “Abarembetsi”. The term has no meaning in the Kinyarwanda dialect.
Illicit brew destroyed in Kigali in the past. Timothy Kisambira. Courtesy.
Illicit brew destroyed in Kigali in the past. Timothy Kisambira. Courtesy.

FOR YEARS, illicit drugs have been smuggled to Rwanda from Uganda through various porous borders.

The business is among others conducted by a notorious racket nicknamed “Abarembetsi”. The term has no meaning in the Kinyarwanda dialect.

Residents say the racket is armed with sharp sticks, machetes, and spears among others.

“It is a big racket that is well organised and cordinated,” said Anastase Niryayo, a local leader at Gatare Cell, Kivuye Sector in Burera District.

“Local authorities cannot dare arrest them since they are armed,” he adds.

Another resident, only identified as Emmanuel, said: ‘Abarembetsi’ are notorious drug smugglers who cannot easily be stopped.

“Local leaders and residents have almost given up on them since they are merciless and are ready to kill whoever divulges information about them,” he says.

How they work

“They go to Uganda together, buy drugs, local brew mostly Kanyanga and return. They  carry their traditional weapons to protect themselves,” says another resident, adding that it is the reason they have remained in the illegal business for long.

Information from police indicates that banned liquor with different brand names is smuggled from Uganda, including Kanyanga, Chief Waragi, Blue sky, Simba Waragi, Coffee sprit, Host waragi, African Gin, and drugs like Marijuana, Kurt among others.

According to Superintendent Emmanuel Hitayezu, police and other security organs have impounded drugs and arrested some dealers. He said tonnes of drugs are destroyed annually.

Figures of the last four months indicate that over 8,970 litters of kanyanga, 940 dozens of Chief Waragi, 1860 dozens of blue sky, 136 dozens of simba waragi, 1,890 of coffee sprit, over 6,300 packets of marijuana and 670 Mairungi were destroyed.

“Large quantities of drugs are sold and consumed in Rwanda and it is hard to avoid this as dealers know their customers and easily evade arrest,” said a money changer at Cyanika border only identified as Mfitumukiza.

Districts of the Northern and Eastern provinces that border Uganda such as Burera, Gicumbi and Nyagatare are most prone to this illicit trade.

Involving children

A source at Cyanika border in Burera said most children in the area have dropped out of school and are being used by business people to illegally transport drugs from Uganda to Rwanda.

Statistics indicate that over 400 children dropped out of school during the 2013 academic year due to various reasons. The smugglers have operated under the same name, Abarembetsi in all the provinces.

Police have cited drug abuse and alcoholism as the major causes of insecurity across the country. People involved in assault, rape and defilement among others are in most cases drug addicts, according to police.

Efforts to stop the vice

During his visit to the Northern Province last week, the Minister for Local Government, James Musoni, called upon local authorities to work closely with opinion leaders in the campaign against the use of drugs.

“If you see people dealing with Abarembetsi, tell them to come and we help them transform their lives  through cooperatives,” Musoni said.

IGP Emmanuel K Gasana said referecences such as Abarembetsi should be stopped and urged local leaders to work closely with police and other security organs to end the racket .

He said he was optimistic the illegal acts would be checked with concerted efforts.

Jean Baptiste Kabaragasa, the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Burera District said preaching and religious campaigns can help solve the problem.

“Drug smugglers are either our neighbours or relatives. We should work together to stop the vice,” Kabaragasa said.

 

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