The constitution gives all Rwandans right to good health and the State has a responsibility to lead the way towards that effect.
However, it would be wrong to talk about good health while ignoring an important component, common to mankind; the need of a toilet.
Human beings need a toilet at home, on their way to work and at any place where life leads them.
For this reason, passers-by, those who have to dwell at any venue for a short while or for an important part of their day, guests and hosts, friends meeting over lunch, people coming together to discuss problems and those who bring them tentative solutions, everyone needs a toilet around.
In this perspective, a law on environment dated August 2018 provides in its article 37, that the State has the obligations to protect and conserve water resources and promote sanitation.
While discharging such obligations, it focuses on putting in place public toilets to foster hygiene.
The 5th National Housing and Population Census that was unveiled in 2022 indicates that in Rwanda, 72 per cent of the country households own decent toilets at home. And, in cities 56 per cent of them have unshared toilets.
While these figures show that the country still has a long way to go in terms of private toilets, it becomes even more in-cumbersome to find a washroom a way from home.
In cities, even when you find a public toilet, you are required to pay for the service, or to beg the users of a building to “lend you” the toilet. They can hand you a key of one of the washrooms, or can even refuse help.
On their way to provinces/Kigali, commuters who have no choice will also request the driver to stop at a place where they can find some shelter-case of a forest to ease themselves.
A forest in the vicinity of the road will be a “perfect bet” for men but women will try to think about a place where they can find a private toilet from the household.
In some instances the dear women will reach there only to be disappointed that the toilet is dilapidated, in such a sorry state that someone cannot find a place where to settle and ease themselves.
A woman will suffer cases of lack of toilet more than a man would.
Back to public places, people in several services in town suffer much more when they go to the bank for financial services.
It has become as though banks are exempted from providing public toilets to the people they always call ‘dear customer’-mukiriya mwiza- in their publicity, the client to whom they give a loan at an interest rate of 18 per cent or higher.
What A Bank Can’t Do, A Bar Can Do
In front of the toilet challenges, Kigali Today Journalists joined hands for a reportage which can reveal that, banks and financial institutions contribute a lion share to the gap.
When you go to Muhanga district, one amongst three Satellite cities of the country (others being Bugesera and Rwamagana), banks and pharmacies will not give you restroom.
Their defence is partly: “ for us, we offer quick service to an extent that before you need to use a washroom we have served you and you have returned to your business.”
Leave alone that one may even have to queue at the bank, this answer is not convincing enough, because the need of a toilet is not something everyone would give timing.
Out of some seven banks in Muhanga, three have toilets. Other banks will send you to the neighbors if you need a restroom.
Their clients will be obliged to find the toilet where they pay a coin, commonly Rwf 100, but one would be lucky if the bank is adjacent to a bar. The later allows “free entrance” to the toilet.
Same challenge of toilets is reported in the intellectual city or probably, academic and religious city of Huye, if we are to go by the dominant activities in this secondary city.
Passengers on transit, traders and their clients, students and their teachers/lecturers and some people on field trips from several institutions and clerics are some of the people you expect in Huye.
The city is not any different. A mother who, a couple of months ago asked to have a restroom testified: “I was expectant when I went to the bank(…we kept the name confidential) for a financial service. In my situation, I could need the restroom frequently, but there was none,” she said.
“I could leave the queue to find a restroom at the next building after informing the security guard so that they don’t prevent me from entering, if ever I come back late.”
In Nyagatare district, Eastern Province, out of ten financial institutions, three may be able to satisfy the toilet needs for the clients.
In telecom institutions, said a source, the situation is even worse and I wonder if the staff themselves can find a restroom.
Niwebabyeyi 37, from Rubavu district in Western Province also tells the challenge of washroom in this secondary city on the border with Goma-DRC while saying:
“There are always queues at the banks, but you don’t find a toilet in their premises. You need to leave the bank and find one from an adjacent bar where you get free service,” she said.
Uwababyeyi suggests that the lack of public toilets means lack of respect to the clients.
“It does not seem to them that a client is a king. Otherwise, why can’t they at least provide the washrooms where a client can pay as we see in other places like the taxi parks or the markets?”
In Musanze district, there are toilets at the banks which are mostly located in the modern market of Goico. The toilets serve the house users in general, and one pays Rwf 100 per visit.
Last, but not least at all, the capital Kigali does not make that much difference. There are toilets in bank headquarters which are concentrated in the Central Business District(CBD).
Toilets can also be accessed in branches established in big buildings like CHIC, MIC and the likes.
The washrooms serve everyone, they are not specifically attached to the bank.
However, the banks do not mind that much the toilet service especially in other branches with average buildings. but for this, I always made sure that I
Some bank headquarters may also disappoint from time to time. The writer, last time visited the headquarters of one financial institutions, located in its own state-of-the art building.
When he asked for a washroom, a security guard directed him to a huge corridor, and when he headed there, he was told that a cleaner who had closed the washrooms was not around.
He was obliged to rush to the other side of the road. A disaster could happen if he had not found a small washroom that is used by security guards in the backyard of another bank.
The lack of toilets in the financial institutions is contrary to the regulation of the central bank relating to the financial service consumer protection that were released last year.
Article 73 of these regulations states that a financial service provider shall consider putting in place appropriate infrastructures and facilities to facilitate customers joining the financial service provider. The infrastructure include washrooms for customers at conveniant location.
Since last year when the regulations were issued, some financial institutions did not heed. According to Gerard Nsabimana in charge of inspection at the National Bank of Rwanda, “ever since, two financial instiututions with multiple branches were closed for not abiding with the regulations in relation to the toilet facilities.”
“We have started inspection and wherever we find institutions which do not comply, we hold them accountable. Even yesterday we closed some branches,” Nsabimana further said without being specific on the institutions that were affected.
In other areas where public toilets are needed, the Ministry of environment would be in charge of assessing the enforcement. However, either they do not have a clear policy around this, or they don’t have much information on the progress, given the answer Kigali Today was given when we tried to seek their viewpoint on the matter.
Beware of hygienic/sanitation threat
Lack of public toilet facilities, difficult access to the toilets because one has to pay for the service, dilapidated or dirty public toilets, such are some of the reasons that promote the poor hygiene and sanitation across the cities of the country.
Innocent Sibomana, a resident of Rubavu town suggests; “ If a client comes to you, but you don’t give them washroom to use to their convenience, is that good service or promotion of dirt?”
In Nyagatare, a district with around 600,000 inhabitants as per the national census, there are three public toilet locations including in the taxi park, at Nyagatare market and ‘Kwa Ngoga’ which is currently not in use because there is no manager in charge of maintenance.
The taxi moto operators at Kwa Ngoga told Kigali Today, that they have nothing to call a toilet.
“When it becomes impossible to hold on, you start your engine and look around where you can see a favorable corner to relieve your body. Of course it spreads the dirt but we have got no choice,” one of the moto riders said.
In the city of Kigali, for anyone to find a toilet, it could be easier to talk to a security guard or a cleaner. Still, one will have to pay a coin in most cases.
As a city with heavy traffic of people from across the world, Kigali needs to stand out in hygiene and sanitation much as their motto revolves around Security, Cleanliness and Work.
The green city wouldn’t fail to add plenty of toilets in the beautiful gardens and there must be a plan to that effect.
Kigali Today used official means to seek information around this but officials did not get back to us until press time.
During an event to mark the International toilet day however, Kigali Today understands that the City Mayor Pudence Rubingisa said that the city is planning to add 80 new public toilets to existing 27 public toilets.
Should a toilet service be paid?
At a time when bank interest rate is on the rise, property owners have increased the sens of frugarity.
They use all possible means to eaern from any corner of their facilities to be in good books with the bank.
One might argue that Rwf 100 “per entrance” is not a big deal, but traders who may have to use the washroom for four or five times a day do not fill confortable.
“Sometimes you don’t make money, but you still need the washroom. Would you borrow money for the toilet? In my view, everyone who pays a rent in a building should automatically be granted the right to use a toilet from the facility,” said one of the traders from Musanze city.
In Musanze, someone would find a corner behind a house under construction if they do not have money for the toilet, or they can walk to the district office for free restrooms.
In this struggle to find a toilet, some people may lack a sense of compassion.
When we started writing this story, our field reporter in one of secondary cities went to find out how it works.
She posed as though she was on her periods and asked a lady in charge of the toilet to allow her to go and change pads.
“You may go and find a coin from a friend in the market. This is business and no joking around,” the lady told our fellow journalist.
The journalist suggests: “if a fellow lady could not have compassion in you in the hardest situation, they would not have compassion in a man.”
Meanwhile, our reporter also found that it has become a common trend for churches to also charge money to people who need to use the toilet.
“Everyone has to pay a coin, including children,” our reporter has found.
From Kinyarwanda compilation by Emmanuel Sebasaza Gasana
Anne Marie Niwemwiza
Joyeuse Marie Claire