I hear countless stories from my colleagues across the world on how their personal safety has been violated, and none of them can ever believe that I have never been mugged in Rwanda, not even once.
It is clear Rwandans experience an unusually high degree of personal safety and security compared to citizens of other countries. This is a remarkable blessing we should never take for granted. No single policy explains Rwanda’s safe environment. Western analysts get it wrong when they seek to attribute it to authoritarianism. Actually, the government has created an environment that resulted in this high level of personal safety.
Certainly, Rwanda’s tough attitude on law and order explain the relatively low levels of crime here. We have tough criminal laws. They protect society from hardened criminals. Our laws adopt a particularly hard-line approach to crimes that are especially disruptive to the fabric of our society.
Two other factors that are equally important are the highly professional and clean police force and the strong public support for what it does. About 40 per cent of all major crimes are solved with the public’s assistance. This high level of trust between the police force and the population is an asset we should retain.
It is one reason we have a lower police-to-population ratio than most major cities but a significantly lower crime rate. And, we have one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world for criminal offenders - about 25 per cent. In short, we have an enviable virtuous loop.
Most visitors to Rwanda are surprised by the ‘light touch’ adopted by the Rwanda Police Force. Few police officers are seen on the street. The police force is successful because it is able to attract talent – most of my friends joined the force over the years. Because of its ability to learn and adapt, a foreign friend regards Rwanda National Police as one of the few public organisations that have developed as a ‘learning organisation’. The police force also maintains high standards of discipline and physical fitness.
Yet, despite all these successes, we should not be complacent. The odds are actually stacked against Rwanda maintaining a low crime rate. All our entry points are busy with regional and international travellers. It is only natural that a number of potential criminals pass through Rwanda. If we were not careful, we could create an idyllic domestic environment. But we are not.
To maintain a low crime rate, we should be aware of all the elements of the ‘ecosystem’ that have made Kigali one of the safest cities in the world. Indeed, the best way to sustain an ‘ecosystem’ is to get the population to feel a sense of ownership of the system.
For example, there is a need to develop more community-based conflict resolution capacities to deal with problems like noise pollution and the tensions of living in a dense urban environment, rather than relying on the police.
Probably, the greatest danger Rwanda faces is that a large chunk of its population could choose to become ‘free riders’ on Rwanda’s ecosystem of personal safety. They would like to enjoy all of its benefits without taking any personal responsibility for it.
If the population can become free riders on keeping Rwanda clean, they can also become free riders on keeping Rwanda safe, taking our low crime rate for granted without making any contribution towards it.
But how can the population contribute? Simple! Each well-off Rwandan should make a personal contribution towards helping one less fortunate Rwandan, directly or indirectly.
In short, we should strive to create the most compassionate and inclusive society in human history. Believe it or not, this goal is actually achievable.