Sunday March 2 2013
Police Constable Jerome Bisetsa did not surprise many one time when, at Kigali International Airport, he picked up a lost money-bag and started to look for its owner. It was 2012 and by that time Rwanda had carved its name in history as one of the cleanest places on this planet. It wouldn’t have surprised anybody if the dollar bills had been lying there for weeks, unclaimed.
Before that, at the same airport, many police officers had recovered idle money for equally many passengers. In the case of Bisetsa, the money in the bag amounted to US$ 3,000. But that was trifling loose change, compared to the US$40,000 that Frank Bizimungu had recovered before that. Even before him, Willy Bizimana had recovered US$ 19,700 and Jeanette Mujawamariya, US$ 800.
So, when I heard of a brazen heist at Brussels Airport, I laughed. If it’d been at Kigali airport, such robbers would’ve got what in Kiswahili they call “cha mtema kuni”…….
I don’t exactly know what that “mtema kuni” got, but he must’ve thought he was getting firewood only to get a snake bite from a rattlesnake. I’ve seen none-too-few of such reptiles in my time and I wouldn’t envy whoever made a sudden acquaintance with their bite!…….
But imagine this: a jewel robbery at security-hypersensitive Brussels Airport. There, remember, robbers netted US$50 million in diamonds only a few days ago. Exactly 18 minutes before a Helvetic Airways plane took off, eight hooded figures in police uniform burst through the perimeter fence, in two vehicles with blue police lights. They calmly ordered ground staff workers and the pilot, who was still on the ground, to back off. Then they proceeded to unload gem-filled packets from the cargo hold and into their vehicles. Without firing a shot, they sped off into the night and, to this day, none has been seen.
In Rwanda, of course, this gem-load is unknown. But in those countries, these gems, some of which Rwanda is always falsely accused of stealing from DR Congo, are in daily transaction. In the Belgian ocean-side city of Antwerp, for instance, there is Antwerp World Diamond Centre. This industry body promotes diamond business in practically the whole world.
These gems are picked from Africa, even when there is an international law against trading in what they call “blood diamonds”. Yet, it’s roaring diamond business in Antwerp. When there are European and North American companies dealing in these African gems, which of the citizens of those countries would feel bound by their conscience to be honest?
But while even a miserly US$800 means a lot to you and me in Rwanda, and everyone would be tempted to pick it when it’s lying somewhere unclaimed, Europeans and North Americans who are thus inclined don’t go for small change. Like their countries that deal in billions, they go for the real haul. That’s why US$50 million for the 8 robbers in the Antwerp case is not something to drop your jaw about. Robbery history in these countries is replete with mega heaves.
Take the Amsterdam US$118 million diamond snatch for an example, near Brussels – US$118 million, by the way, was a very rough estimate as the stones were uncut, in which case they were very hard to value. The Antwerp haul involved elegant planning and flawless execution but the Amsterdam one was akin to a smash and grab.
Two weeks before their grab, four thieves stole a KLM cargo truck and KLM uniforms. After that, they were able to move around the secure areas of the airport unhindered, scouting for inside information. On 25th February 2005, they drove right up to a KLM truck carrying a large consignment of uncut diamonds bound for Antwerp. As passersby watched, the thieves ordered the drivers out at gun-point, got in the truck and drove off. KLM employees to KLM employees and, if any passerby raised an eyebrow, none was the wiser! Today, only a few robbers have been caught.
So, it’s as well that our people keep their honesty. We may no longer be respecting what has come to be known as “African time” here in Rwanda, but I doubt any of our thieves can equal that timing. Civilian or security officer, none would execute any snatch fast enough not to be caught. If eight agreed to make a diamond haul 18 minutes before a plane took off, four would come ten minutes before, two, five minutes before. And two thieves would come when the plane’s taken off!
Maybe all our fellow African countries should emulate Rwanda and avoid corruption and greed.