The ongoing crackdown on noise pollution is likely to affect doing business in Rwanda and harm tourism revenues as Kigali threatens to turn into the “sleepy city” it once was. Kigali’s nightlife was steadily picking up at promising speeds but the crackdown is likely to deal a heavy blow to the entertainment industry and keep away would-be investors.
Several bars, restaurants, nightclubs and churches this week again fell victim of the crackdown with a number of them temporarily closed and proprietors arrested and bundled into police vehicles before being slapped with fines for contravening the laws on noise pollution.
KGL Fast Foods, Carwash Bar and Restaurant and Planet Club, as well several churches including ADEPR Rwampara, CLA Nyabisindu, Methodiste Libre Kicukiro and CERPAR Kimihurura were the latest to fall afoul of the law.
Several proprietors and managers of the bars as well as lay leaders in the churches were arrested in the operation, with the Director of CID Theos Badege stating that charge files would be opened and fines slapped on the culprits.
However, bar and church owners now say the crackdown will not only affect business but also chase away prospective investors, including foreigners, interested in the entertainment industry.
Allegations have emerged of police acting overzealously and with excess force in implementing the law, with owners of the affected business and churches now threatening to petition higher authorities to intervene.
“Businesses will shut down as long as police and authorities do not revise their implementation methods,” Remy Nsanga, the proprietor of Planet Club, told Rwanda Today. “It is quite disappointing because the police officers who implement these guidelines do not want to discuss what noise pollution is.”
The nightclub, which is located at the Kigali Business Centre (KBC) in Kacyiru, is one of the oldest in Rwanda. It was temporarily shut down on Friday and equipment seized after someone allegedly in the city suburb of Kiyovu, which is quite a distance from the club, complained that the facility was noisy.
“We understand the law and respect it,” Mr Nsanga said. “We attempted to reason with police about the issue but they would not understand.
“The nightclub is soundproofed in a way that five metres away from the club you cannot hear anything.
Patrol cars parked outside
“We have reduced the music to the level of a radio in the bedroom but still police officers come in every day.
“There are residences just a few metres away from the club and these people have not complained. It is frustrating for a business to operate with three patrol cars full of with policemen parked in front of the business premises.”
He said that, as a result, client numbers have dwindled to alarming levels and that, if the situation continues, the business will most likely shut down. He said while security is key, clients get tense and cannot have fun in the presence of fully armed and menacing policemen.
“It is quite frustrating; you cannot do any business in the current conditions,” added Mr Nsanga, who has been running the night spot for more than 10 years.
Having returned from the diaspora to play a part in the development of the country, Mr Nsanga now feels let down.
“You cannot organise any event now. We also organise the ‘happy people’ event at the end of the year but police always makes sure that these events, which in past years were successful without any incident, are no longer viable.”
To share Mr Nsanga’s sentiments was Price Muhoza, the youthful proprietor of KGL Fast Foods, one of the fastest-rising hangouts in Rwanda located in Kinamba, near Utexrwa. The facility has been shut down at least thrice.
Ms Muhoza left the United Kingdom to set up the business but has since shelved plans to open a second branch because of the noise restrictions.
In a commercial centre
“We are located in a commercial centre and that is why we were licenced,” she said. “There are no residences in the area; only hardware shops which close as early as 6pm.
“Our music does not go beyond 10 metres. Even when we do not play music at all, police come in.
“I have always asked police, how do you measure noise? What is noise? What levels do you consider it noise? They have no answer; they just order us to shut down. To be honest, this is quite frustrating. I cannot encourage anyone to invest in this sector in these conditions.”
Yamina Karitanyi, the head of tourism at Rwanda Development Board (RDB), however defended government’s decision, saying no decision maker in Rwanda is against a vibrant nightlife.
“We all appreciate the gains which come with the economic activities attached to such,” said the foemer diplomat. “We however have to work with all stakeholders and find suitable solutions that will satisfy all segments of our population.”
The regulations, she argued, were in place to secure and protect that nightlife vibrancy and all who partake of it. “We are exploring all options to find mitigating ways to allow our nationals and tourists to continue enjoying Kigali by night,” Ms Karitanyi said.
“We call on bar owners to co-operate with law enforcement as we all work on ways to enhance our entertainment experience without encroaching on other people’s rights.”
Francis Wahome of Carwash said it was becoming extremely difficult for businesses such as his to operate in Rwanda. His business has been shut down several times over noise.
“Our argument has been about the implementation of the law,” Mr Wahome said. “Police insist that they measure from within the facility; if at all they have any equipment, the right procedure would be measuring from the nearest residence.
“If that were the case, certainly we would not be victims because we ensure the music doesn’t go far beyond the walls, but the moment you try to bring up this reasoning, the police swing into action. We think there should be an understanding between all parties.”
The bar owners maintain that the procedure to measure noise is flawed and the force which police use, including arresting managers of such places, is excessive and unrealistic.
“For example, we at Chapter One have soundproofed the interior but a policeman will still come, go inside and then claim that the music is loud. Should that be the method of measuring?” said Jean Damascene Bizimungu, the proprietor of the Kimihurura-based bar. “I personally think the noise levels can be measured from outside.”
City authorities are yet to buckle down despite the growing number of complaints. Some church owners have further claimed that the police actions amount to violation of rights to worship.
City of Kigali spokesperson Bruno Rangira says the guidelines are clear — soundproof or reduce the volume of music to levels which cannot inconvenience others.