So, after President Paul Kagame tweeted, officials from the Ministry of Health and Rwanda Standards Board with the help of the police launched a massive clampdown aimed at confiscating bleaching cosmetics with concentrates of prohibited chemicals.
Yet as we know, it is difficult to regulate personal behaviour. However, while it is next to impossible for the government to stop people from doing it, we take issue with the fact that prohibited chemicals still find their way to the market and many ordinary Rwandans can access them.
The dangers of bleaching are many with medical professionals partly linking skin cancer to skin bleaching. And when people with bleached skin develop complications, it piles pressure on our health system.
But perhaps more importantly, why should it require the president to pronounce himself on every national, regional and local issue for government officials to act? For instance, when the president publicly raises concern about an issue, we immediately see heightened action.
Yet in this case, there are more than a thousand types of chemicals listed as either prohibited or restricted in a ministerial order, which are available everywhere so law enforcement offices and other departments have never lacked a basis for action.
Why do our officials seem to always need an extra push from the president to take action? One wonders why the relevant institutions also need to be reminded of their work, which in most cases they take up voluntarily.
In fact, some politicians such as members of parliament actively campaign and pledge to be dedicated to public service only for them to assume office and do little.
In this case, it should be an indictment on the state of affairs at the Rwanda Bureau of Standards as well as the Ministry of Health for failing to enforce a strict ban on dangerous substances which puts Rwandan lives at risk.
Indeed, in most the cases the reactionary behaviour of some of the institutions when an issue is highlighted by the president is ineffective because it is short-lived, only done to demonstrate that they are working.
This is partly because some of these are carried out haphazardly with no long-term plan to address the root causes of the issues. Yet one would imagine institutions such as parliament with the capacity to summon and hold public officials to account should be able to regularly rein in officials that are not doing their work. Given that the president’s plate is full, it is difficult to imagine that he will have time to follow up on all issues.
This is why our members of parliament have to do more to hold public officials to account, be visible and firm in ensuring that there is more accountability.
Since our borders are porous, these illegal chemicals will always find their way into the country. So it will take more than the police camping at cosmetic stores. It will take a massive campaign that leads to a shift in mindsets to convince citizens to voluntary give up using bleaching chemicals