Fire outbreaks leave us with more questions than answers

Yesterday, I received a frantic text message declaring a ‘fire in Nyabugogo Taxi Park’. For a minute I thought I was suffering from a serious case of déjà vu because less than twenty-four hours previously, I had received a similar one informing me about a fire in Gikondo. 
Sunny Ntayombya
Sunny Ntayombya

Yesterday, I received a frantic text message declaring a ‘fire in Nyabugogo Taxi Park’. For a minute I thought I was suffering from a serious case of déjà vu because less than twenty-four hours previously, I had received a similar one informing me about a fire in Gikondo. 

Last week, I received yet another one telling me that shops in the Quartier Mateus were alight. I have been back home for exactly two weeks and it is been three major blazes. I would laugh and say that I brought back some strange Chinese bad luck, but this is no laughing matter. Plus, Muhanga and Rubavu prisons suffered the same fate weeks before I got back. 

The New Times has published timely articles detailing the issues that have arisen because of these infernos such as the need for fire insurance, improved electrical installations, a building code and the need for improved fire safety and prevention education. 

For the longest time, whenever there was a fire, we’d simply blame it on faulty installations and power surges. We did so because it made sense. However, what is happening now isn’t making any sense at all. 

Yes, many of our buildings probably have shoddy installation and they are a fire risk. However, buildings in Rwanda have ALWAYS had poor electrical installation; that is nothing new. Some people are blaming the dry season. 

Well, I’ve seen countless dry seasons but I’ve never seen so many building fires in such a short space of time. 

It is my opinion that only arson can explain these recent fires. And there are two theories that might explain why arson is being used. 

First of all, arsonists might be committing these crimes because they want insurance payouts. It happens elsewhere in the world and it wouldn’t be particularly shocking if the police found out that it was some sort insurance fraud.

I personally believe that it is something more nefarious than insurance fraud.

Last Thursday, while following the FDLR-RNC trial taking place at the Military High Court, I came to learn that, according to the prosecution, FDLR rebels were recruiting and training young Rwandan men and women in urban terrorism. 

The prosecution submitted to court testimony alleging that Pelagie Nizeyimana, one of the 16 defendants, travelled to FDLR-controlled parts of East DRC, met up with an FDLR intelligence chief called ‘Alleluya’ who facilitated her training in the use of sub-machine guns, small arms, grenades and recruitment methods.  

What caught my attention was that the FDLR allegedly trained her in arson, more particularly in how to successfully torch petrol stations in the country. 

Burning down petrol stations is barely a ‘hop and skip’ away from doing the same to commercial buildings. 

Especially those that have plenty of incendiary materials like kerosene, alcohol, mattresses and what not.

I don’t want to say that the prosecution’s evidence was accepted by the defendant (she maintains she was in DRC to do her wedding shopping and pleads innocent of all charges) or the court (we will know when it makes a definitive ruling); however, the testimony evidence gives me some things to think about.

It wouldn’t be a huge leap for the people who were throwing grenades into crowds to start burning down buildings willy-nilly. 

Throw in the fact that there is testimony that FDLR is training people in urban terrorism and my suspicions that there are other forces at play here (other than shoddy electrical installations and dry season) don’t sound like the musings of a conspiracy theorist. 

Truth be told I am simply speculating here. I can only simply try to do the mathematics. Something fishy is going on here and I can only hope that the police can find out what is happening and let us know.

Sunny Ntayombya is an editor at The New Times

Twitter: @sannykigali

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