One night in 2011, a Rwandan Policeman manning a post near Kagitumba boarder noticed something fishy- he saw a long line of people crossing into Rwanda. He alerted his seniors and members of the Rwanda Defence force.
Immediately the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) deployed officers of its Brigade 211 to respond.
In the middle of night, an intensive search was conducted to determine the unknown infiltrators.
The Search continued the following day combing through the entire area along the border. They found boxes and bags full of sachets of Chief Waragi – liquor produced in Uganda but illegal in Rwanda.
The people who had been seen in the previous night and suspected as attackers were actually smugglers responsible for dumping at the banks of a swamp this large consignment of Chief Waragi – liquor.
Rwanda has for long engaged in an intensive battle against smuggling of Chief Waragi – liquor into the country.
Chief Waragi – liquor sachet costs between Rwf200 and Rwf350 per depending on location but is purchased from Uganda at almost Rwf50 per sachet thus smuggling this product into Rwanda makes it a big business worth risking.
Rwandans and Ugandans living near borders of the two countries risk daily to smuggle from Uganda into Rwanda. It is a multi-million business which has resulted into a national campaign against consumption of Chief Waragi – liquor and eventual legislation against.
According to Jean Damascene Ndahimana, Commanding Officer of Revenue Protection Unit (RPU) in Gicumbi District, Kaniga Sector, bordering Uganda Ugandan manufacturers keep changing brand names, packaging and flavours of this liquor making it very appealing to the Rwandan market.
This Rwanda-banned liquor today comes in appealing brand names including; “Kitoko, Sky, Suzi, Zebra and Chief Waragi,” said Jean Remy Kazungu, a resident of Burera District.
“Two or three sachets of Chief Waragi can make the consumer extremely drunk,” Jean Baptiste Ndahayo, the Executive Secretary of Nyabushingitwa Cell, Bwisige Sector of Gicumbi District told Taarifa.
In Rubavu district, one sachet of Chief Waragi costs Rwf300 while it is sold at between Rwf120 and Rwf 150 in Burera, Musanze and Gicumbi Districts, bordering Uganda.
In Nyagatare, in Eastern province, a sachet is sold at RWF 250 with three bought together sold at Rwf500.
Chief Waragi reaches Rubavu District through Goma Town of the DRC after crossing through Bunagana border between Uganda and DRC.
Smugglers also pass through Burera or Musanze Districts, from Uganda to Rubavu and Rutsiro Districts… in West, according to Claude Nizeyimana a former smuggler.
“Everyone who sells the illicit alcohol and other liquors from DRC has backing of an ‘official’. Nobody engages in this commerce without a helping hand from the authorities,” says Nizeyimana.
Most Ugandan factories producing this liquor are well located close to Rwandan border making it easy for smugglers to crossover at the blink of an eye.
Jean Turinimana , a resident of Byumba Sector in Gicumbi, says Chief Waragi is secretly sold in boutiques, bars, and where the popular sorghum in Gicumbi ”Ikigage” is sold as they mix them.
Jean Baptiste Ndahayo revealed that there are secret codes sellers and consumers use to mean Chief Waragi. “You would hear him on the phone saying ‘please send the airtime to call the mayor.”
How Smugglers bribe Local Leaders
In every part of Rwanda, it is common knowledge that at least every member of the village belongs to a collective savings grouping usually cooperative, Sacco and other associations where local leaders are also members.
Members of these Savings associations regularly meet and each deposits money during this general meeting mostly on an agreed day. The treasurer collects the money.
In a situation where a resident wants to bribe these leaders, they just have to tell the gathering that they are paying for executive secretary claiming.
In other situations, the briber may go to all bars and hotel in the area and pays in advance for any beers and meals the local leader may want to enjoy so that they later receive favours and protection.
“You will find the Executive Secretary being paid the contribution money to the savings cooperatives known as ‘ibibina’ by the Chief Waragi sellers. To drink in bars, they find their drink having already been paid by smugglers, it is impossible to abolish Chief Waragi,” says Turinimana.
Women and children are mostly used to smuggle Chief Waragi from Uganda. Women pretend to carry children on their backs but carrying sachets of chief waragi.
According to Rwandan law; “Any person who, unlawfully, makes, transforms, imports, or sells narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances within the country, shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of three (3) years to five (5) years and a fine of five hundred thousand (500,000) to five million (5,000,000) Rwandan francs.”