On March 10, the Rwanda National Police published a list of traffic offences with Agasuzuguro (disrespect) named as one of them and carried a fine of Rwf25,000 ($30).
Listing disrespect as a traffic offence got some Rwandans talking on social media with many denouncing the move and a few welcoming it.
Those who denounced the policy claim that it could lead to corruption with culprits preferring to pay less amounts to individual police officers instead of the Rwf25,000 fine, while those who hailed it say it is standard practice elsewhere in the world to punish noncompliance with lawful instructions.
Interestingly, even on the police’s published list of offences, Agasuzuguro is referred to as Kutubahiriza amabwiriza (failure to comply with lawful instructions).
But the two offences are different.
While disrespect is broader, subjective, and often personal, failure to comply with lawful instruction/s is specific and material to the given instruction/s.
In other words, it’s easy to pin-down the meaning of disobeying lawful instructions or orders but difficult to define “disrespect” especially because it could even include a misreading of one’s facial expression.
As a friend posited on a social media group, disrespect could include talking to a police officer while chewing gum; yet there was no intention to disrespect when the decision was taken to chew gum.
And, of course, agasuzuguro isn’t a new traffic offence in Rwanda; it used to be an offence but was dropped or relaxed at some point in the mid 2000s due to public outcry and complaints.
It is therefore highly probable that its reintroduction will lead to the same outcome.
Firstly, it is subjective and broad. Disrespect as an offence is open to abuse by police officers; especially because, in such cases, the officer in question is the complainant/accuser, prosecutor; the judge and executioner.
That makes the recourse for justice for anyone judged culpable is slim and time consuming in case one wanted to seek justice.
This is especially the case since in such situations, it’s the officer’s word against yours; rarely are eyewitnesses required.
Secondly, while it is true that bribing a police officer is a punishable offence and some might therefore argue that the policy can’t invite corruption because it’s also punishable, no one can say that it’s a disincentive if the culprit determines that the officer is making up an offence to get a bribe.
That means that while it’s true that corruption rates remain low within the police force and is vigorously fought, it would be good policy to continue to put in place incentives that further discourage the public from giving bribes and officers asking for or taking them.
Thirdly, while the police force is disciplined, it’s also true that officers are also human beings. And as life has taught us, where we have humans, there are some who attempt to “show” others how powerful they are when gifted with an opportunity.
That means that even we were to put financial incentives aside, a few undisciplined individuals could exploit this subjective offence just to demonstrate to other individuals how powerful they.
That’s why, because life experience has taught us the folly of human beings, we put in place institutions such as the police not only to discipline our wild nature; but to also put in place unmistakable rules that don’t invite the same nature.
That means that it is in the interest of everyone, including the institution of the police, its officers and the general public for the police to define traffic offences succinctly to avoid loopholes that might arouse the negative side of our nature.
Fourth, from my personal observations, Rwandans are broadly respectful to the police and it therefore doesn’t make sense to name “disrespect” as a traffic offence.
Clarified this way then, I would argue that the best policy to adopt would be to delete “disrespect” from traffic offences and instead maintain “noncompliance with lawful instructions.” This is principally because the latter is specific and objective while the former is broad and subjectively and open to abuse.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD. Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR; Lead consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd. E-mail: [email protected]; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website:www.mgcconsult.com