Hassan Jamool, proprietor of Lebanese Bar & Restaurant was released earlier on Friday after spending 14 days in jail, but his Kimihurura-based business premises remains under locked.
Tagged on the maroon gates of the premises was a notice written in Kinyarwanda literally translated to mean: ‘Closed to the public for allegedly hosting minors.’
On July 26 at 2:00AM, a crowd of high school looking fellows crowded the entrance of Lebanese bar, the gateman was battling them as they tried to force their way inside.
They hurled insults at him in flawless English with sleek American accents. Many a young man staggered on their feet as they dragged a female young companion along.
A few young men could be seen negotiating for sex with cheap prostitutes that ply the stony street in Kimihurura. They were clearly already high on something.
Inside Lebanese that night, the sight was stunning.
The place was packed with young people, most of them high school students in their late teens. From their trendy outfits and sleek accents, these were obviously uptown kids from top schools and they clearly had money to spend.
Both boys and girls looked euphoric as they sniffed on their Shisha tubes, every table had several Shisha pots and waitresses were busy fetching and serving more.
Shisha is a glass-bottomed water pipe in which fruit-flavoured tobacco is covered with foil and roasted with charcoal. The tobacco smoke passes through a water chamber and is inhaled deeply and slowly providing a sweet tasty smell, according to its fans.
On one table, four youngsters were singing a ‘remixed’ version of a popular Jamaican song, ‘Drinking Rum & Red Bull-’ they had replaced the lines with “we smoking Shisha & we’re high…”
Now, there’s an ongoing debate regarding the dangers of Shisha which would require a whole article to capture but the habit originated outside Rwandan borders, some say India while others say Turkey. Now it’s here with us.
Health experts say a single shisha session is equivalent to smoking 200 cigarettes which makes it even deadlier. Unfortunately, many youngsters smoke both Shisha and cigarettes a habit that could significantly reduce their life-span.
But on knocking at the gates of Lebanese Bar, a heavy voice shouts out demanding to know who it is; I slip my business card under the gate for the enquirer to identify me.
After two minutes, the gates open and a tall dark skinned security guard in a blue uniform ushers me inside.
A fetid smell hangs in the air, like something decomposing. On top of a grass thatched shed that houses the bar; two workmen are nailing iron sheets to protect the grass ahead of the incoming rainy season. A luxury blue Mercedes convertible is parked adjacent to a room full of dusty looking Shisha instruments.
“Hi, I’m Denis, how may I help you?” Denis, I gathered, is Lebanese restaurant’s resident chef and after explaining the purpose of my visit, he agrees to talk to me.
“Our boss was released this morning after fourteen days in jail. We have not opened since the police raid. The smell is from decomposing meat stock that we had just bought before the boss was taken away. He’s back but we are not sure if we can resume business yet.”
I call Hassan to get his story. On the phone, the young investor from Lebanon sounds shocked but determined to stay in business.
“I don’t have a problem with anyone, I haven’t broken any laws, there was no evidence against me to show I ever sold anything to anyone under-age and that’s why they have released me. All I want them to do is let me reopen my business.”
Police say they picked 23 children from the bar, a claim Hassan vehemently denies.
When Sunday Times contacted a senior Police officer familiar with the case, he was surprised that the businessman was having trouble getting permission to reopen.
“Let me consult some people, I will get back to you,” said the officer before hanging up. He never called back and when contacted for updates, he texted back, “just wait…”
Friday 6:30pm Aloha Bar, Kibagabaga
Last weekend, police acting on a tipoff raided Aloha Bar & Restaurant in a remote corner of the affluent Kibagabaga neighborhood where some minors were having fun. The police swoop took about a dozen young people along with the operator of the bar.
Unlike Lebanese Bar which has been kept shut, Aloha is still in business. But on Friday, the atmosphere was lukewarm at a place normally swarming with young people from the neigbouring middleclass families. A group of around 15 friends was meeting in the restaurant; a few revealers hung around the bar area while three people were cooling off in the swimming pool.
A female attendant said that the owner is away on a trip advising me to return on Monday. She revealed that her boss was released on Wednesday and he left the country. His phone was off so I called his business partner who accidentally reveals during the conversation that his partner is still in jail.
Saturday, August 9 at police headquarters
The newsroom hotline rung at around a quarter to 10am; a source at the Police headquarters was requesting for a journalist to rush there. At least several minors, captured the previous night from bars, were to be paraded and handed over to their parents.
At the police headquarters, about thirty youngsters stood in a long line receiving a lecture on morals from a senior police officer. He was pleading with them to be good kids and stop embarrassing their country with shameful behavior.
Standing on the other side, facing the youngsters was a group of ‘parents’ waiting nervously. The Sunday Times talked to three of the paraded kids and each of them revealed that they called their friends to pick them up as they couldn’t dare involve their parents.
One girl who said she was arrested from Remera claimed to be 19 but had no ID to prove it. A young man, no older than 20 stood among parents, the girl says he was a neighbour. Asked whether the parents know about her fate, she responded: “I will deal with the situation once I am out of here.”
There were many un-parent like figures that police wondered whether to release the minors to them or not. They finally did.
Who should take the bigger blame?
Believe it or not, your teenage son or daughter may not be as innocent as you think. Many of them chain smoke; they drink hard liquors and pass time enjoying the new habit on the block, shisha-smoking. All these habits are expensive but the kids somehow have the money.
Many people believe it’s the people who fund these habits to blame and for people still under parental care, that would be their parents.
“You want to blame us, fine but you don’t expect me to police my daughter everywhere she goes. If I don’t give her money, someone else probably will,” fended off a father whose daughter was among those paraded.
According to the Kigali City Mayor, Fidele Ndayisaba, bars are to blame and vows to unleash tough measures to punish the offenders.
“We know they’re after money, but if you are going to sell to anyone, including children, then we don’t need such a business,” he said.
But a businessman like Hassan disagrees with the mayor’s assessment.
“How can I, the owner of a place that hosts over 500 people a night possibly manage to screen every ones’ daughters and sons who show up at my premises to ensure they are not under age?”
The Sunday Times understands that most bars employ a gateman who checks Identity cards for young looking guests but they bribe their way inside given that the kids normally have a lot of money on them. Others go to bars in the company of older people and can easily front the argument that they are ‘accompanied minors’ with their ‘sister’ or ‘brother’ or uncles.