When the Local Defence Forces (LDF) were phased out mid this year, they left a mixed legacy with some members of the public claiming the former had failed to deliver on their mandate.
Some members of the community based force, best known as Local Defence, were characterised by indiscipline. And that appeared to have tarnished the image of the organ as a whole.
For years, some of its members were associated with criminal activities such as robbery and corruption, while many received low approval rating due to abuse of power, brutality and lack of professionalism in enforcing local government decisions.
A 2009 survey by the Senate indicated that Local Defence hardly enjoyed public trust with an approval rating of just 54 per cent.
But government officials insist only some members of the force had questionable disciplinary record, and that LDF as a whole had delivered on their responsibilities.
“We can’t say Local Defence Forces didn’t do a good job. What is true rather is that some elements erred but that can’t be blamed on the entire force,” argues Fred Mufuruke, the director-general for Territorial Administration and Governance in the Ministry of Local Government.
Nonetheless Government has since disbanded LDF and replaced it with a new body – District Administration Security Support Organ (Dasso).
And, Mufuruke concedes that government expects Dasso to serve more professionally than its predecessor force, and help consolidate security at the grassroots and local government levels.
The law establishing Dasso gives districts the responsibility to recruit the organ’s members.
Districts are also responsible for the force’s deployment, supervision, remuneration, evaluation and promotion. Districts also have powers to fire Dasso members.
New members join after passing tests and receiving special training in Dasso responsibilities.
The first batch of the Dasso members was passed out last month after completing a three-month training at the Police Training School in Gishari, Rwamagana.
And while, previously, everyone was welcome to join LDF regardless of whether they had gone to school or not, those wishing to join Dasso will need to have at least a Senior Six certificate.
However, a person with an O’Level certificate (Senior Three) with special security skills can be allowed.
And, district coordinators of the force are required to be university graduates.
In addition, while Local Defence members were volunteers who received no salary, Dasso members are contractual staff with a salary, as well as medical cover and pension benefits.
Each individual member will be required to sign a renewable contract of five years, according to the law.
“We are hoping that these incentives will make a difference,” Mufuruke says. “They will also receive enough training and we are confident they will do a good job.”
No duplication of roles
A presidential decree establishing special statutes for the organ instructs Dasso members to avoid ‘anything’ that could undermine public confidence in them.
Among the tasks that Dasso will be handling include working with local leaders to enforce local governments’ decisions, fighting crime and working toward a safer and more secure community.
“They will be literary supporting local governments to enforce law and order,’ Mufuruke says.“ They can, for instance, accompany a district officer who is collecting taxes in a market.”
Dasso will also be responsible for ensuring security of administrative facilities and infrastructure, including government offices, markets and other public places.
In the absence of a police officer, a Dasso member can arrest a suspected criminal but has no rights to detain them.
In such circumstances they will hand the suspect to the Police.
While the law in principle allows Dasso members to carry weapons, Mufuruke says the Rwanda National Police will decide which Dasso member needs a gun depending on circumstances at hand.
The official rejected suggestion that there could be duplication in the roles of Dasso, Police and community policing organs.
“We must understand that ensuring security is a responsibility of every citizen. So they might intervene to stop anything that might harm people’s security,” he added.
About first batch of 2000 Dasso members completed a three-month training late last month.
They trained in various policing disciplines such as weapon handling, basic crime investigation, public order management and civic education.
“We are ready to protect citizens and their property and we are committed to working closely with other security organs to carry out our duties diligently,” pledged Patrick Ndirima, who spoke on behalf of other Dasso members at their pass-out ceremony.
And despite the challenges that might be awaiting the new force, expectations are high, with members of the public expecting to see a well disciplined, professional force – virtues that have long characterised superior national security organs such as the Rwanda Defence Forces and the Rwanda National Police.
“We hope they will perform far better than the Local Defence Forces,” says Nyaruguru district mayor François Habitegeko.
“They have a chance to learn from the experience of their predecessors and win public confidence,” he says, adding that Dasso are in a better position to meet expectations because they get enough training.
The mayor admits that for Dasso to make a difference they will need ‘high level of discipline and high quality services’.