It’s a Saturday evening but a stroll through the once vibrant Kisementi entertainment zone, where you find popular recreation places such as Roasty Bar and Restaurant, Joy Time, Lemon Tree and Master Grill, is met by near silent, seemingly distant music.
On a normal Saturday evening, the street, which has many bars and hangouts, would be littered with cars and people as deafening music blaring from each of the joints created a hysteric lyrical discord in the air. It would be a beehive of nocturnal activity, one in which bar owners cashed in on the night revellers’ quest for socialisation.
But not anymore. The decision by city authorities and the police to intensify a crackdown on noise pollution, forcing bar and restaurants to reduce the music to minimal levels, has seen the bars fail to attract customers.
“We no longer get people coming here,” said Willy Iyamuremye, a manager of one of the bars. “Usually, people come here to dance, but if we are not playing music, it is difficult to attract customers.”
The proprietor of one of the bars who spoke to Rwanda Today on condition of anonymity said that the recent restrictions by the city, police and the Ministry of Internal Security were unfair to their businesses.
“All of us think these decisions are overzealous because Kisementi is a commercial centre,” the bar owner said. “There are only two commercial guesthouses; the rest are commercial buildings with banks and offices which most probably are vacant at night.
“We are also mindful of the sound. Our DJs play music at a reasonable and accommodative volume but still police and city authorities say it is too loud.
“Is it right for a policeman to say that the music is too loud even without measuring the levels of sound?”
The bar owners now fear that their businesses will be greatly affected since they depend on music.
“Some of these facilities are new. They have bank loans. Who do they expect to service the loans for them if they don’t get customers?” another concerned owner asked.
In Kimihurura, another entertainment hub which doubles as a residential area, most bar operators have been forced to reduce the volume of music to the bare minimum.
The once popular hangouts such as Sundowner, Ogopogo, Chapter One and Papyrus have been forced to play music almost at a whisper. The usual Friday and Saturday evening crowds have tremendously declined.
However, City of Kigali spokesperson Bruno Rangira says the guidelines are clear — soundproof or reduce the volume of music to levels which cannot inconvenience others.
Highest levels of pollution
Mr Rangira said that most of the bars at Kisementi, even though it is a commercial centre, are not fully enclosed and are the ones that actually emit the highest levels of sound pollution, sometimes affecting people living even two or three kilometres away.
“There is no reason why somebody who is out at night drinking and dancing should inconvenience the one at home sleeping,” Mr Rangira said. “If they cannot soundproof the facilities, the only alternative is to reduce the volume.”
Admitting that there was no technology yet to measure levels of sound, Mr Rangira said the officers relied on complaints made by residents to the police and local authorities, which they act upon. He however accused owners of such facilities of duplicating services, saying some premises are restaurants by day but nightclubs by night.
“As a developing city, we also want these businesses,” he added. “No one would wish to see them shut down.”
On Thursday last week, the Minister for Internal Security Sheikh Musa Fazil Harelimana cautioned churches against noise pollution during worship, especially at night.
Several churches were identified and shut down for inconveniencing their neighbours.
Rwanda Environment Management Authority (Rema) guidelines consider any sound as noise pollution when it exceeds 80 decibels.
Following the ministerial order, the next day, pastors of four churches – Restoration Church Remera, Shining Light Church, Anglican Church Kibagabaga and ADEPR Kacyiru – were apprehended by the police over noise pollution.
Kigali City police spokesperson Supt Modeste Mbabazi revealed that the clergymen would be charged with noise pollution and inconveniencing the public.
Article 600 of the Penal Code states that any individual found guilty of noise pollution and disturbing the peace of citizens sleeping at night is culpable of one-week imprisonment and an up to Rwf1 million fine.
Mr Innocent Ruzindana of Shining Light Church, one of those arrested, said churches were finding it difficult to define what amounts to noise pollution.
“As far as I am concerned, before I was arrested I was not making noise,” Pastor Ruzindana said. “I cannot even say that what our public address system emitted amounted to noise.
“Ours is organised communication. There should be a differentiation between noise and genuine communication.”
However, Supt Mbabazi said that, while to those Pastor Ruzindana was preaching to it was communication, those outside the church considered it as noise.
Separately, Mr Harelimana told church heads that even Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, was not known to use loudspeakers while preaching.