Mary Gahonzire: Maintaining law and order

“I have enjoyed my work serving mankind, but more specifically to have been given a chance to serve my motherland,” this sums up the satisfaction Rwanda’s first female Deputy Commissioner General of Police (DCGP), Mary Gahonzire, derives from her work.
Deputy Commissioner General Mary Gahonzire.
Deputy Commissioner General Mary Gahonzire.

“I have enjoyed my work serving mankind, but more specifically to have been given a chance to serve my motherland,” this sums up the satisfaction Rwanda’s first female Deputy Commissioner General of Police (DCGP), Mary Gahonzire, derives from her work.

So often when issues of peace and security are discussed, women and children tend to be the ones under protection, with men being those ensuring the peace. The maintenance of law and order has been a sole male preserve over the years.

Gahonzire challenges this stereotype, as she stands out world-wide, being one of the few females at the helm of the Rwanda National Police (RNP), as the acting Commissioner General of the Rwanda National Police. 

But then the much deserving Gahonzire, has worked in this male dominated field all her life, breaking the glass ceiling at various leadership levels, within the nerve centre of the Police Force, over the years.

She has previously served in the; Criminal Investigations Department (CID), police training department, inspectorate and services department, served as Director of Criminal Investigations and then served as Deputy Commissioner General in charge of Operations in 2003 to date.

A question I pose to her, why the Police? For a woman especially a graduate in economics with the potential to utilise what society considers more ‘feminine’ career opportunities, in any other field, Gahonzire, says after graduating from University, the Police Force was her first calling.

“Just like any other young graduate I had to go looking for a job, it had never occurred to me well before, but I went through the list of what, public service was offering and I picked the Police,,,I was very young.”

A decision arrived at with consensus between her and three other male colleagues, she had just graduated with.

“The three boys, my friends, later joined the army,” she reflects back, saying they first had to overcome the social stigma attached to Police uniform before taking a decison.

“It never occurred to me that police was exclusively for men, but my friends, my course mates, actually kind of signaled me to that, and said ‘eh,, by the way’ and I said I don’t believe that we have been at university together I can’t allow that.”

Gahonzire an avid reader of investigative novels, who enjoys swimming, has never looked back.

In past she has cut a fine figure, in police uniform, captured by the media in various public campaigns, to do with; Gender Based Violence (GBV), Anti-Corruption and Road Safety promotion.

She has stood shoulder to shoulder with her male counterparts in a profession, traditionally dominated by men; often reflected in soon outdated phrases, such as ‘policeman’ as compared to ‘policeperson’.

There are challenges to be confronted, for instance in investigating domestic violence cases, “In fighting GBV cases where you find women can be suspects killing husbands.”

She also cites challenges to do with witnesses which include, neighbors who do not come out to acknowledge they witnessed a violent crime, or those who will come out in support of the accused.

“In a situation where you do not have sophisticated laboratory, witnesses are useful.”

Progress in dealing with GBV cases head-on, is however being registered. From next month one stop centres at police hospitals, which offer clients a comprehensive package that includes; investigations, counseling and medication, will be established.

On corruption, Gahonzire, says there is zero tolerance even among the officers themselves.

“We are a law enforcement agency, there is a law on corruption, our government is at the forefront of fighting corruption, therefore it is imperative that Police be at the forefront of the anti-corruption campaign.”

She says the Police will have one or two bad apples too, “there are individuals within the Police found to be corrupt or with corrupt tendencies, such delay of services, or traffic police given and accepting bribes.”

She explains there are mechanisms to detect them, which include a disciplinary code of conduct, and then the Inspectorate of Services, which ensures accountability within the force and also checks professional adherence.

Now Gahonzire has served the Force though its transition from the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Then she explains there was a thin line between the Force and common criminals as the police  (known as Gendarmerie) were also part and parcel of the corrupt regime that then authored and carried out the Genocide.

This had its impact in the sense that those who were supposed to uphold the law broke it, putting citizens in a security dilemma. Meaning more work to professionalise the Rwanda National Police (RNP), which in essence did not exist before. She however, has a vision of a professional Police Force, that focuses less on numbers but quality.

“We are targeting certain professions, to meet our priority needs,” she says.

Among these are 15 doctors being trained at Butare University, another officer being seconded to do a degree in forensic studies at a Belgian university, including several in service courses in collaboration with other police services which include, South African, Swedish, British and American Police Services. And then those being trained at the National Police Academy.

“This ensures welfare of the personnel, capacity building, helping that individual in as far as career development is concerned,” explains Gahonzire.

Her vision is of a Police Force that will soon fully embrace Information Communication Technology (ICT), seeing a situation whereby she will be able to hold teleconferences from the RNP head-quarters, with the regional offices each morning before they set out to work.

“ICT development in the Police Force and more specifically within the RNP, encouraging and trying to work hard, to deliver services online,” she says, as she explains her dream of going high-tech.

Gahonzire also believes online Police services will go a long way, in saving time and other resources.


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