Keen to keep image of clean capital, Rwanda holds Kigali’s poor in unlawful detention - rights group

Kigali relishes it image for cleanliness and tidiness, which has led to references to the country as the "Singapore of Africa".

RWANDA authorities have illegally detained street vendors, sex workers and beggars to drive people they deem as “undesirable” from the capital, whose clean streets the government views as a measure of economic success, Human Rights Watch said.

Police have harassed and rounded up scores of Kigali’s most vulnerable people, the New York-based rights group said Thursday in a report, citing interviews with 57 former detainees. 

Thousands have been held at the Gikondo Transit Centre for a few days to several months and faced mistreatment and beatings, the group said.

In April, Rwanda was ranked the third greenest places globally for 2015, by World Travel Guide, an international travel guide for adventurous travellers. 

READ: Rwanda named 3rd greenest destination in the world, Tanzania’s Chumbe island also makes top 20 cut

In July the World Economic Forum (WEF) also ranked Rwanda the most efficiently governed country in Africa and seventh globally.

Rwanda, which is to host the WEF Africa forum next year, has artfully combined these attributes to cultivate an image as the  “Singapore of Africa”.

“Kigali is often praised for its cleanliness and tidiness, but its poorest residents have been paying the price for this positive image,” Daniel Bekele, Human Rights Watch’s Africa director, said in a statement. The group urged Rwanda’s government to close Gikondo and end the arrests.

Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame (front centre) visits a well-kept part of Kigali. (Photo/PK/Flickr).

Rwandan authorities said there’s no unofficial detention centres in the country.

The East African nation has been criticised by the U.S. and advocacy groups for cracking down on civil liberties, even as investors focus on its status as one of the continent’s fastest-growing economies, which expanded 7% last year.

The $7.5-billion economy relies on crop exports including coffee for most of its foreign-exchange revenue, while it sold $400 million of Eurobonds for the first time in 2013.

Justice Minister Johnston Busingye said Human Rights Watch hadn’t contacted authorities about the report. Gikondo is a transit centre where “victims” of Rwanda’s recent history are detained before being relocated to rehabilitation centers, a system that avoids criminalising them, he said by phone.

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