Skip to main content
Life Reflections

‘Sophia’: symbol of Rwanda’s 24/7 alert and active law-enforcement

By June 17, 2022June 6th, 2023No Comments

June 17, 2022

You’ll find her by the roadside or in the median of a double carriageway and, motorist or other road user, she’ll be wide-eyed, watching you. Over-speed and she’ll send you a penalty note. If somehow she doesn’t, check on Irembo platform or punch in at *127# on your mobile. Miscreant road users, she is your dread.

Meet ‘Sophia’, the speed camera that many in advanced countries have for long taken for granted but that was alien to Rwanda until a few years ago. She is here to check your speed, your respect for traffic signs, zebra-crossing lines, keeping to the right lanes and correctly entering intersections. Pedestrian, follow road rules or get a roasting also.

She supplements the work of police which has other technology-enabled tools that multi-task like closed-circuit television that may include video cameras, display screens, recording equipment, others. There are also speed guns (out of fashion now?) and mobile speed cameras.

Our police, for long an exemplar in its disciplined efficiency in the region, is the better for it.

Why Sophia, a visitor will ask, and not simply speed camera? Well, search me, but I’d attribute it partly to Rwandans’ strange sense of humour (apologies!) and partly to their tendency to associate things that are similar or happen together. Or maybe for purposes of easily committing to memory a new occurrence.

I’d elaborate on this by giving one example that preceded some of us. Why is this place at the foot of Mt. Shyorongi called Giticyinyoni (Birds’ Hangout Tree)? Today there may be no tree attracting birds but it’s said at one time there was one that was their favourite. Indeed, there are many places named after such associations.

As for Sophia, it so happens that at about the same time these speed cameras were installed, this country got a ‘visitor’ who instantly became a sensation. A humanoid robot, ‘she’ was a Saudi citizen and was all the rave as guest speaker, along with Heads of State and Government, no less, at the 5th Transform Africa Summit here in Kigali, in May 2019.

I guess the excitement arose out of the fact that, unlike many of the more than 4000 delegates and participants, she fluently spoke Kinyarwanda, Kiswahili, English and French. That, without considering the weight of her message. Between us, we know of course that it was all about programming. She could be programmed to speak yet more languages and deliver weightier messages, as demanded.

Anyway, Rwandans baptised her “Sophia” and thus her “offspring”, by association,

But we digress. We were talking about speed-checking Sophias. From 2019 when they were introduced to this country is not a long time, 2020 and 2021 having literally been dead years in the sense that the Covid-19 pandemic had consigned all road users to their homes. Still, a police report of a 30% drop in fatal and serious accidents on roads is impressive.

And it shows. Wherever you passed on this country’s roads, you were certain to witness a number of accidents. Today, even if you see a single one, it’ll be of drivers getting their vehicles scratched. Serious head-on collisions or rolling down hills is becoming a thing of the past.

All of which symbolise something in Rwanda that’s not so common in many countries of the world. That the country will apply all kinds of enablers, technological or otherwise, to ensure security and stability in all spheres of her life.

She is such a stickler for security that unwarranted cutting of a mere tree is penalised.  

On the sovereignty of the country, a senselessly bellicose neighbour can drop a bomb or two. But even if no harm is inflicted, the incident is taken seriously and immediately reported to the relevant authorities. If it’s repeated and the authorities have done nothing, woe to the offending neighbour. This country is not among the most peaceful in the world for nothing.

We can talk about innovations to enhance social security in education, health (with robot Sophias and drones), poverty alleviation, the welfare of individuals and families and their freedoms, freedoms for religious and personal orientations, on and on, but let’s stick to what reassures our visitors.

Our CHOGM visitors, feel completely at home!

As an aside to compatriots, in CHOGM, where do you get that “AH” between “G” and “M” from? May it be some vernacular-influenced pronunciation picked from neighbours where some of us have lived?

But that’s neither here nor there. Visitors high and low, your security and that of your property is assured 24/7. That, however, is not a licence to be careless with personal belongs. Petty pilferers can be among visitors, you never know. As to those in charge of hosting you, trust them 100%.

And those driving you around cannot dare offend Sophia. Because the price of offending her will not end with her. But then again, why imagine it?

To Rwandans, a visitor has always been king and that has been etched on their minds for all the time Rwanda has been in existence. Sophia or no Sophia, all is well.

CHOGM visitors, Rwandans and their Sophias welcome you!

Leave a Reply