The shoreline of Lake Kivu in Rubavu District used to be a beehive and pathway of both legal and illegal activities.
Whereas fishing is legal in the lake, it was habitual for fishermen to use substandard and unauthorised fishing nets. They were a danger to the species.
Smuggling and trafficking of narcotic drugs through Lake Kivu was also the order of the day.
Today, however, it is a different story. It is a story of safe waters, holidaymakers basking in the sun enjoying the lakeside gentle winds and swimming.
During our visit, I find passengers alighting from the water vessel while a man stands at the mainland entry point checking their luggage and screening their identification.
I learn his name is Jean Pierre Habarurema. He is a member of UCOPERU, a union of six fishing cooperatives operating in Lake Kivu with 364 members, and is incharge of security.
His role, according to management of the union, is to ensure that illicit and smuggled products are not carried on their boats to the mainland.
“As fishermen, we know trans-boundary waters are used by criminals as means to carry out illegal acts, including drug trafficking and fraud,” says Jean Baptist Gakuru, the head of the fishing union.
Indeed, to ensure no illicit activity goes on in the lake, and to support the Rwanda National Police (RNP) marine unit, the cooperative has a standby motorboat used to curb any act of criminality and disaster response on the lake.
Impact on security
“We are partners in policing; in the same way, the Police has supported us in various ways, including financial contribution which helps us to acquire professional boats as well as boosting security on the lake and bring sanity to the fishing business,” Gakuru says.
“Today, when there is a disaster or when an accident occurs, we are part of the response team to support marine efforts. We intercept drug traffickers and smugglers, who are either handed over to the Police or whenever we have information we inform marine and police in the area to respond.”
Gakuru recalls the challenging times when the union used to hire engine boats to conduct monitoring exercises or call on police marines during accidents.
“We used to call marine police for even the smallest of suspicion of illegal activity or accidents but now we can rapidly attend to any call,” he said.
Limiting depletion of fish stocks
“We also fight illegal fishing or use of substandard fishing nets; we have seized a lot of fish caught using illegal fishing gears, because of this boat which we bought with a financial support by the Police,” Gakuru said
“When authorities impose a ban on fishing activities for a specific period to allow fish to restock, this boat helps us monitor and implement the policy to ensure fish matures.”
Senior Supt. Callixte Kalisa, the District Police Commander of Rubavu, speaks highly of the role played by these fishermen in crime detection, prevention and generally ensuring that the waters are safe.
“They have boosted vigilance and guaranteed sanity on the lake; they are instrumental and have created positive impact on activities in the lake,” said the DPC.