Keeping businesses open during the commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi has divided opinion ahead of the 24th anniversary.
Some senators in the Standing Committee on Political Affairs and Good Governance want last year’s government reprieve to keep businesses open reversed, saying it “affected participation in commemoration activities some areas.”
The debate emerged after a 2017 report by the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), which showed low turnout for commemoration activities in some areas of the country. However, the senate did not name the areas.
“As a committee we agreed that CNLG should list all minimum services that should be kept open during commemoration activities,” said Sindikubwabo Jean Nepomuscene, the committee chairperson.
The senators want the exemption limited to only those providing “essential services” such as hospitals and pharmacies.
The decision to keep businesses open during the commemoration period was made at an April 5, 2017 Cabinet meeting, implemented by the local government and hailed by the business community.
In the years that followed the genocide, firms would remain closed during the whole commemoration week, but the directive was relaxed allowing businesses to operate in the morning and close in the afternoon, when public talks are held around the country.
Last year’s reprieve followed lobbying by the business community, who said they were incurring huge losses.
“About 70 per cent of a supermarket’s income is made in the afternoon and the losses are huge when we are asked to keep shops closed for seven consecutive afternoons,” said a supermarket operator, who asked for anonymity.
The chief executive officer of the Rwanda Private Sector Federation (PSF), Stephen Ruzibiza, said the decision to keep businesses open was reached after consultations and so the federation could not understand the rationale behind the senators’ proposals for full closure of businesses.
Some lawmakers also questioned the proposal. “Have the reasons that led to keeping businesses operational during commemoration activities changed?” asked Senator Uyisenga Charles.
Representatives of genocide survivors blamed the low turnout in commemoration activities to local leaders who were unable to mobilise more people to attend.
“For the past 23 years, we have seen people staying indoors instead of joining others in genocide commemoration activities,” said Naphtar Ahishakiye, the executive secretary of Ibuka, the umbrella association for genocide survivor organisations in the country.
It is unlikely that the senators’ request will be implemented given that the decision was taken by the Cabinet. Recently CNLG released guidelines that will govern this years’ commemoration and did not mention anything about closure of businesses.
However, the guidelines banned long religious sermons including mass celebrations during commemoration events, saying they were time consuming and created an imbalance between religious groups.