Like the saying goes, “If gold rusts what shall the iron do” so is Rwanda’s security that has been the main pillar in shaping what the country’s development and people’s welfare are today.
Rwandans believe they couldn’t be where they are today hadn’t it been for the security they enjoy. In fact, security in Rwanda has taken on a broader perspective beyond guns, armed men, and policemen. The policy of inclusiveness and participation in security matters has been viewed as one of the major driving forces behind Rwanda’s achievements.
Among many security success stories is Irondo, a community night patrol-a home-grown solution whereable-bodied men organise themselves in groups and patrol their neighbourhoods, especially at night.
Precisely, for anyone who has walked or driven around any suburb in Rwanda at night, there are higher chances that you may encounter a group of uniformed men sometimes walking in a line or standing at different spots.
Gasabo is one of the districts considered as exemplary in community policing.
Vincent Bimenyimana, a resident of Gasharu Village, Musezera Cell of Gisozi Sector in Gasabo, says: “I personally consider Irondo as an assurance for me to run my businesses effectively…. I can close my shop and go home without fear that someone will break-in.”
Bimenyimana, a father of four, runs a shop on which his family survives.
He attributes his business growth to security.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today if we had left matters of security to the military and police only. We have been empowered and entrusted with our own security; that leaves us challenged because our security is everything, and community policing gives us that power to shape our future,” says Bimenyimana.
John Habimana is one of the men who brave the coldness, rain and sleepless nights patrolling their village in Gasabo.
Habimana says he derives his courage from the trust people have in him and the fact that he wants to see his descendants live in a safe country.
Habimana, who is also the coordinator of Irondo in Gisozi Sector, says that every night, he puts on his uniform and joins his colleagues to plan for the night.
“We identify key hotspots and deploy ourselves accordingly. We communicate using different means but mostly we use telephones. What we do isn’t an easy job but it pays off,” he said.
Habimana gives a recent scenario of a man, identified as Joseph Rumanzi, who got drunk and started up a fight at around 4:30am. Residents alerted the Irondo team that had worked overnight.
“Upon arriving at the scene, we realised Rumanzi was extremely violent, he was using everything harmful to attack anyone who got near him. We immediately called the police and collectively managed to restrain him….in our work we ensure we collaborate closely with police because there are situations that are sometimes beyond our ability and require higher skills,” Habimana says.
Irondo is structured in a way that residents in every village nominate members - men of integrity and discipline - to conduct Irondo, and a village commander.
‘All village commanders’ in each cell meet and pick one of them as a cell commander. At the sector level, cell commanders report to the sector commander. Every sector commander must have an office and assisted by two other people.
All the mentioned members of irondo, however, report to their sector executive secretary.
According to Theophile Niragire, the executive secretary of Gisozi Sector, Irondo has made residents in his sector feel protected.
“Gisozi was previously known for house break-ins and as a den of drug abusers, but ever since we streamlined irondo, the trend has reversed. Because of the importance of irondo services, residents are keenly providing contributions to ensure it’s done in the most efficient manner,” said Niragire.
He went on to add that with 115 members of irondo covering 8.2 sq km that make up Gisozi, there is security and safety.
“Gisozi is becoming a difficult area for criminals because there is irondo in every corner. Besides, residents feel the responsibility to be part of policing their neighbourhood.”
“When we talk about matters of security, we don’t discuss matters of today and tomorrow… we plan big and plan for the long-term. We do that with all our stakeholders on board… there is no doubt the future of Gisozi is bright.”
Rwanda National Police (RNP) says that irondo serves as an effective approach towards solving localised security problems.
According to Gasabo District Police Commander, Superintendent of Police Valence Muhabwa, Irondo has served as force multiplier and narrowed the Police-Public ratio.
“With community policing, we have recorded a tremendous decrease in the number of crimes reported. The rate at which crimes are reported is also increasing…policing is made easier when people understand their role and contribute towards achieving safety. In practice, irondo has helped in stopping crimes before they are committed, intercepted criminals and ensured quick intervention where necessary.”
The community policing framework drawn and implemented by Gasabo residents sets a model to other parts of the country as the best example on how community-based crime prevention strategy can lead to sustainable security.
To the Mayor of Gasabo District, Steven Rwamurangwa, community policing ushered in a new sense of belonging and irondo has contributed tremendously to that.
“Each household in Gasabo contributes between Rwf500 to Rw5000 depending on their financial ability. It is from these contributions that the district installed CCTV cameras in congested and other areas that are prone to crime and established control rooms, bought patrol vehicles to facilitate civilian patrols for quick intervention in case of need, and built community policing posts also called ‘Irondo posts’ in almost every corner of the district,” said the mayor
All the 15 sectors of Gasabo have Irondo patrol vehicles.
Irondo posts and the control rooms operate 24 hours and have helped residents to report crimes for civilian patrols to intervene in time, says the mayor.
“These CCTV cameras have aided security organs and irondo to identify criminals while posts also serve as centres for the community to report their grievances or collect their recovered equipment,” Rwamurangwa explained.
The vehicle also acts as a pick up for people like drunkards, to their homes.
Gasabo District has 2219 well trained and facilitated members of Irondo and, according to the mayor, Gasabo’s ambition is to increase the number to ensure that crime rates fall tremendously.
“There is a general sense of responsibility and spirit among communities towards sustainable security. This has enabled Irondo to effectively execute their tasks.
“Periodic trainings offered to patrol groups have also instilled discipline, a sense of hard work and accountability in them and has contributed to the success of community policing,” he said.
Rwamurangwa went on to say that there is much efforts directed towards making Gasabo a crime free society.
“That’s why we have a toll free line (1520) for anyone who has any security related concern in Gasabo District.’’