Policing in Rwanda Community Policing after the Genocide

Policing in Rwanda; Community Policing after the Genocide

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for

Masters of Security Management and Police Studies


Policing was deeply disrupted and transformedin Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. During the genocide the ability of the states to maintain the rule of law was extremelychallenged. The police were decimated and virtually dissolved throughout from 1993-1994, as the government was stripped of the resources necessary to offer the citizens for theirprotection from crime and other insecurities.

Immediately after the Genocide the new ‘United Government’ and its local communities had to decide what sort of policing they had tofollow and how to move forward to not fall into the deadly massacres again. The new community-based policing they adopted is the subject of this paper.

Policing, as understood in general, is any organized activity that seeks to ensure the maintenance of communal order, security and peace through elements of prevention, deterrence, investigation of breaches, resolution and punishment.

The paper will demonstrate that community-based policing has survived the genocide aftermath; the paper will look at the factors shaping community-based policing like; public attitudes towards state policing, the outcome of genocide, the ideology of the new regime. However Community Policing is such a broad cluster of functions that this paper will only be looking those that are specific to Rwanda.

Elements shaping community-based policing in Rwanda

Public attitudes to state policing

During and after the genocide, the police was disbanded, while many customary courts remained closed. This left the state and the army (Rwandese Patriotic Army), as the main security service deliverer. But the state’s role in the genocide had left it with low credibility as a defender of the people and consequently communities were not over-enthusiastic about working with the state in rebuilding policing.

All security operations were sponsored by the army and this made it the architect of the law. After the genocide, senior government positions, including the security agencies, were distributed among the RPA officials and RPF faction leaders irrespective of merit.However later this control of law and position did not stop the public to work with state policing, there was an astonishing degree of public willingness to work with the state in security(Baker, B. 2007) It was not just a civil war that Rwanda suffered, but a genocide; and for all the irregularities, there was a much clearer picture of who was on the side of justice and who was not,. Those who had either risked their lives in the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) to eradicate injustice or suffered as victims until the RPA intervened to stop it positively sought to assist the new regime in restoring proper policing.

The outcome of the Genocide

An enormous factor that has shaped the big number of community responses to policing in Rwanda relates to the outcome of the Genocide. In most cases in Africa, civil wars are ended with peace agreements or the intervention of the international community and the UN whereas in Rwanda it was the rebels who succeeded. This success of the rebels shaped the new government approach to policing. During the genocide the RPA was relying on external advice and military support from the international community and the UN, this didn’t go in their way, as the UN and international community turned their back. The RPA had to find new source of help, they turned to the public communityas the dependency on outside professional expertise had failedand this dependency was transferred to local people. The RPA began as a very small group which was poorly equipped and had no logistical support. They mostly relied on the support of family members, who provided food, shelter and information about the movements of the enemy. They knew the population’s support was crucial. One can see that they were practicing community policing during the genocide and this made it easier to adopt after the genocide(Baker, B. 2007).

Regime ideology

After the genocide, the conclusions drawn during the genocide had to be directed to specific policy choices: should it be a rebuilding of the old or the construction of something new.

The new Rwandan regime, however, took a different approach to policing reconstruction compared to what was in place before. The new government lead by the RPA took a popular justice model (Baker, 2005, 2007).Even before the Genocide, RPA leader Paul Kagame wasinspiredabout popular justice in Tanzania and Mozambique (Museveni, 1986; 1997). In his eyes popular justice was popular in form because its language is open and accessible; popular in functioning because its proceedings involve active community participation; and popular in substance because judges are drawn from the people and give judgment in the interests of the people. Besides, it was evident to the regime that it would take time to build a police force from scratch and that even when the process was complete, resources would not allow for it to be adequate in itself to provide all the policing needs of the nation. From the beginning, therefore, Rwanda chose a policy of incorporating the participation of local people into the role of protecting and serving society alongside of and in co-operation with the police. It was also seen as an instrument for healing both the aversion to the state police caused by the previous regime’s oppressive and racist policing; and positively for stimulating reconciliation and social cohesion through mutual co-operation.

A look at the functions ofcommunity policing in Rwanda

Community-based policing aims at preventing crime, and this is done through the cooperation between the police and the local communities. The local people help the police through neighborhood patrols, particularly at night. The local people also keep an eye to suspicious people and unacceptable behaviors.

In Rwanda the lowest levels of local government have responsibility, amongst other things, for the mobilisation and sensitization of the local community in law and order matters. This not only means crime prevention in the form of patrols, but law enforcement; resolution and reconciliation mechanisms (individually or in a local – gacaca – court); punishment for misbehavior; making by-laws that reflect local needs; and the supervision of the local militia, the Local Defence Force (LDF). The structure has a significant ordering effect on social life and acts as the first line of protection against crime (Baker, B. 2007). Prior to reorganization in February 2006, there were two levels below the lowest elected official, the résponsable, namely: the nyumbakumi, in charge of 10-15 households and the chef de zone, in charge of 200 households. Under the new arrangement the two have been merged to become umukuruand as a committee of 4 are responsible for 50-200 which work with the state police but not necessarily controlled by them. In normal circumstances if the local community happens to capture a criminal, they are usually taken to the secteur, the next level up in local government, and locked up for a week or so as the Umukuru level doesn’t carryout punishment. Sometimes though criminals are paraded in front of the local people and are told to ask for forgiveness of the local people. The local community are not allowed in any situation to beat or torture criminals, only the local defense force can use force or shoot when criminals try to escape.


Baker, B. (2005) “Popular Justice and Policing from Bush War to Democracy: Uganda 1981-2004.” International Journal of the Sociology of Law. 32: 333-348.

Baker, B. (2007) “Reconstructing a Policing System out of the Ashes: Rwanda’s Solution.” Policing and Society. Forthcoming .

Museveni, Y. (1986) Selected Articles on the Uganda Resistance War. Kampala: NRM Publications.

Rebecca J.
Rebecca J.
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