On the face of it, most of Rwanda Traffic Police may appear mean, in the sense that they often put on unsmiling faces. But this does not necessarily turn them into an inefficient and/or unprofessional lot. Where they have conducted themselves unethically, it has nothing to do with their body language.
Traffic police are like referees. Their job is to ensure adherence to the rules of the game. For our purposes here, those governing movement of motor vehicles, motor cycles, bicycles and pedestrians.
Dealing with law offenders or suspects thereof many times requires that the traffic officers act tough. A stern face here can be one of the effective weapons in sending a quick message that the reason say a taxi driver is being stopped has to do with answering traffic-related questions.
Just so that he does not think matters are very light, the officer gracefully walks toward the driver with anything but a grin on his face. By the time he is close enough to ask the first question with a not-so-warm greeting, the driver already knows it is not going to be Bonne Anne or Happy New Year business.
The only aspect debatable here is the very slow pace at which the officer walks. Could it be an early indication that whether the valuable time, genuine forgetfulness to move with permit, renewal of the road licence, or insurance, or in a hurry to drop a kid at school in time, any or all of these will be inconsequential in light of the offence?
This no-nonsense approach quickly works on the mindset of the driver and helps the officers to get fast answers to the questions they pose. It also reduces the level of expectation in them that the officer is likely to be lenient. In case the driver considered the option of attempting to bribe their way through if found in the wrong, they resolve to drop it fast.
Nevertheless there are those who come from, or lived in or frequently visit/ed countries in this region where bribery is a norm. They will press and try their luck. And in not so few times, they have succeeded. To this topic we return later.
Luckily a great majority of road users here are of better culture. For this reason pleading with the questioning officer is reduced to a bear minimum. This makes the officer’s work a lot easier and takes much less time. That releases them fast to take to the road again and continue monitoring other users.
Kigali has not had Kampala’s or Nairobi’s traffic jams yet. More money in economies translates into more motor vehicles. But more money should also mean widening, construction of new and covering of other roads with tarmac. It should result into creation of flyovers.
The argument here is that more money should not always be reason for traffic misery. With proper planning and prioritization, traffic jams can remain foreign.
Having said that, there are parts of a few Kigali roads where traffic moves slowly at peak hours. For instance on Airport Road, toward Kisementi in Remera from the city centre between 18h00 and 19h00, traffic can be really slow. During the same time or thereabouts, descending from the main city roundabout, down toward Sopetrad to the Kacyiru junction traffic lights, vehicles sometimes move at a snail’s pace.
The same can be said of moving from Kisementi toward Gishushu traffic lights, at the Nyarutarama junction, particularly in the morning minutes (06h45 – 07h15) of rushing children to school.
Even in these circumstances though, the patience with which drivers slowly move, without unnecessary hoots, never overtaking where it is not possible, is highly admirable. In this country the culture of obeying the law is still rich. When this is coupled with the traffic police force’s eagerness to ensure the status-quo remains, the result is the good order we all know defines behaviour on Rwandan roads.
Mentioned above a while ago are people who have floored our otherwise gallant traffic police officers with bribes. A former colleague who hails from the country neighbouring Rwanda to the north recently told me that police on the roads have accepted his bribes on more than three occasions.
For the record, no officer has ever asked for a bribe from me. To this my friend said it is because they tell so quickly I am a native. But beyond that they cannot tell who ‘I exactly am’.
In these matters, he narrated to me how his broken Kinyarwanda can be of advantage. More effective, said he, is his Kilanguage spoken by the largest tribe located in the heart of his country. In it he usually proceeds to lecture them on what he terms as ‘politics of survival and how not to be miserable no matter how small your salary may be’.
But what does he tell the officer exactly? That going back home with Frw5000 or its equivalent in meat, bread and blue band is tangible. That it is a lot better than retiring with his professional integrity untainted.
There is no doubt which of the two choices is noble. The challenge is how to make the unworthy choice unattractive to the traffic police officer.
To ensure they appear and act clean all through. This should make the list in case Rwanda Police Force is still identifying more areas to focus on during 2008.
Happy New Year dear readers.
The author is Managing Editor The New Times Publications