Taming Sophia and Rwandans’ welfare

Taming Sophia and Rwandans’ welfare
Taming Sophia and Rwandans’ welfare

Africa-Press – Rwanda. Fines for traffic offences are probably among the most unpopular and frequently charged in Rwanda. Motorists grumble about them and silently wish the devil take the author of their misery, but usually no more than that. Rarely do they cause a public outcry.

Recently, however, that happened. They complained loud and long that they were paying a lot of fines for exceeding the designated speed limit on sections of the road. The villain for the increased fines is the speed camera introduced on our roads a few months ago.

The speed camera has been around for a while, but it is still a stranger. It first appeared in a few places and was then seen as a curious novelty. Then it slowly spread to other places and is now everywhere. As it did so it began to pay too much attention to motorists going about their business.

One type even developed a very unfriendly habit of hiding in bushes, trees and flowers along the road and lying in wait for unwary drivers and sending them notes with hefty sums to pay. Soon, curiosity gave way to apprehension and anger. The grumbling grew so loud some action had to be taken.

Rwandans are a friendly people and want to be on good terms with neighbours. And so they took the first step in establishing friendly relations with this novel thing on their roads. They gave the camera a lovely female name, Sophia.

Everyone calls her by her first name. But she spurned their attempts at friendliness and familiarity and remained aloof, perhaps from thinking that getting too familiar with humans known for their devious ways is opening herself to undue influence.

She has another annoying habit. She loves sending notes to acquaintances any time of the day. Not invitations to dinner or expressions of affection, I can assure you. These are demand notes for payment and with a short deadline.

Of late, some people have been receiving a lot more of these notes and with increased frequency. Grumbling quietly was no longer possible. They started making loud howls of protest at the unwanted attention and unreasonable demands. The howls became so loud and insistent that they were heard in State House and President Paul Kagame came to the rescue of anguished motorists.

It is understood that, because of this, Sophia will be asked to be less hostile to motorists who approach her with more haste than she likes. And so for her and her minders, it is back to the drawing board. They have to reset the way they relate with the motoring public while keeping in mind the interests of the non-motorised road users.

Hopefully, we will now see happier faces behind the wheel, fewer frowns and curses. But I am not sure about that. Sophia cannot be blamed for drivers’ out of sorts moods and their other bad habits on the road.

And while still on this point, it might be a good idea for those in charge of Sophia’s wardrobe to discard the ugly and austere black and grey dress, and give her a friendlier and sexier one.

It is not the first time that President Kagame has intervened when the public feels aggrieved by some of his government’s policies and requests their review or change of direction. Not too long ago, tax on land and houses, especially in urban areas, was raised.

Pensioners and other less well-off property owners were at risk of losing what, in many cases, were their lifetime savings and only possessions. There was a public outcry. The president heard it. Soon after, the increase was halted and even reduced.

This decision and the one on Sophia’s fines result in reduction in government revenue collections which are used to finance expenditure on public services. Obviously, there are other elements that contribute to people’s welfare and they must be taken into account.

Many must remember a time when Kigali city authorities and the police banned bicycles from the city’s streets. The President wondered about what would happen to the people who do not own cars. Would they be banned from the city? That would amount to a form of segregation. The decision was reversed.

I imagine these interventions on behalf of the public are not random reactions. They show a leader who is concerned about citizens’ welfare, is close to them and listens to their concerns, and addresses them in a quick and practical way. There are not many like that. And yet we hear comments about autocracy, lack of space for criticism, questions about governance and human rights, and so on.

When you live in Rwanda or visit the country, you are likely to be baffled by such comments. Perhaps the people who make them inhabit a different universe. If not, they are wilfully blind and deaf to the reality before them. Or they have a different definition of such words as governance and human rights.

I am surprised they were not the first to raise the alarm about Sophia abusing our right to speed and presumably self-destruction. It is not beyond them.

About Sophia, she is here to stay and we have to learn to live with her and her unusual messages. She is actually not all that unfriendly. She has helped save many lives. In the end, that is what matters – the lives and well-being of Rwandans, and their progress.

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