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June 30, 2006

The Aesthetics of Security

Fascinating point from my friend Grant, currently working with the Rwandan Health Ministry:

About ten minutes away from my house a car pulled up in front of me and out stepped two gigantic police men who approached me and asked for my papers. Luckily I had my passport on me from registering at the embassy earlier the day and handed it over. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the police and to be honest I was kind of excited at the possibility of honing my bribery skills. However, after seconds, it was clear these police weren’t looking for money. After asking me a few questions and making a few jokes with me they hopped back in their car and took off.

With one of the biggest and well-trained police forces in Rwanda, it became clear quickly that this encounter was a theatrical showing of security and force. Most likely a state-sanctioned policy to impress westerners, stopping westerners rather than locals is an easier way of displaying security to those who might bring economic prosperity to the country. If police stopped locals, fear would fill watching foreigners at the possibility. However, if police stop foreigners, they create a sense of comfort.

June 30, 2006 | Permalink


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Well, Rwanda is not Switzerland in regard to police. I'd have peed my pants, surely, which is not generally recognized as comfort.

You have a brave and humanitarian friend:

Rwanda is not denying its violent past. In fact, its tourist officials are recommending that visitors see the genocide memorials that dot Rwanda's landscape. They can be somber places; some are virtually unchanged from the time when militias used machetes, clubs and guns to kill as many Tutsi and moderate Hutu as they could. There are piles of bones, preserved bodies and survivors who provide first-hand accounts of the bloodshed. [OMG: genocide parks!]
"Initially, some people would get shocked when they heard Rwanda," Ms. Rugamba said. "They'd say, 'Oh, my God, it's Rwanda.' But now business is picking up."

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jun 30, 2006 5:10:23 PM

Interesting. Recently we drove around Lebanon with a friend, past vast numbers of checkpoints, mostly Lebanese military, a few police. Most barely slowed our Lebanese-registered elderly car.

My friend, who lived through the civil war (1975-1990) inside the country unlike many comfortable-class Lebanese, said: "I'm glad to see them because they are the national army, not militias." Security theater that works, at least for some.

Posted by: janinsanfran | Jul 2, 2006 12:17:28 PM

Uh yeah I think I second the motion of peeing my pants if getting stopped by the police in Rwanda

Posted by: chris | Apr 18, 2007 7:44:35 PM


Posted by: tmyyirh | Jul 5, 2007 11:39:34 AM

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