Is This Safe?


Kigali is renowned for an unusually low cime rate, not just by big-African-city standards, but by any standard at all. It’s hard to say if this is because of the incredible security measures people are taking, or entirely unrelated — in which case all the razor wire and the countless bored guards would seem like overkill. 

Rwanda may be a pseudo-dictatorship run by an ex-general in command of a well-funded army and, supposedly, a very sophisticated intelligence operation. There are heavily armed soldiers lingering at intersections and bus stops around town, and occasioanlly you’ll come across a foot patrol of three or four serious looking guys in fatigues walking around a neighborhood poking the bushes, but the country does not have that classic police-state feel at all.  

The ubiquitous traffic cops in their flourescent yellow jackets seem primarily concerned with people talking on their cell phones while driving (a major no-no here) and apparently care little about the kind of reckless traffic infractions that put everyone at peril, like overcrowded busses without headlights overtaking each other on solid yellow lines in the dark. And you definitely get the feeling that they would not be too concerned about petty theft or anything that fell even remotely outside their narrowly defined scope of traffic-related crime. 

I have seen exactly one police car on the roads so far (and, again, it was clearly marked “traffic police” so rape victims need not apply), and there are no foot patrol police to be found. So, in the world of the many expats and the new Rwandan middle and upper class, security is left for private enterprise to provide. Companies like KK Security, the most common provider of property protection, are doing a booming business: their heavily armed guards patrol supermarkets, office buildings, and private residences throughout Kigali. Less paranoid homes will simply have a guard on duty at all times, either uniformed but unarmed from an outfit like KK Security, or a civilian. No matter what kind of manpower is employed, houses in Kigali (again, I’m not talking about the mud brick huts beyond the reach of the thin veneer of new affluence) come with 10 foot fences, many with military-grade razor wire, broken glass, or old-fashioned spikes to really get across the “you’re not welcome here” message. Neighborhoods, then, are simply collections of fortresses, sealed off from the outside world. There may be well-maintained gardens in front of the walls, but few neighborhoods have any semblance of community, and for all intents and purposes, life unfolds inside a self-imposed prison of sorts. Nice prisons, to be sure, but still an oddly detached reality.