Profile in Disaster Law Advocacy: Hon Patricia M Hajabakiga

Published: 28 June 2013 9:05 CET

By Ida Marstein

As a politician in Rwanda and the East African Community (EAC), Hon Patricia M Hajabakiga is a strong advocate for legal preparedness for disasters in the region.

Ms Hajabakiga is currently an elected member of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), the legislative branch of the EAC. Her interest in disaster management grew from her time as a student of environmental studies at the University of York in Canada, and deepened through her later work in various non-governmental organisations.  In 1998 she was appointed Rwanda’s Permanent Secretary and Minister of State in charge of Lands and the Environment, a position she held until 2008. In this role she gained extensive hands-on experience with the challenges of addressing the range of natural hazards Rwanda faces, from floods and landslides to earthquakes and bush-fires. She credits the government’s crucial partnership with the Rwandan Red Cross for disaster response.  

As Minister, Ms Hajabakiga was deeply engaged in the process leading to Rwanda’s first disaster management policy, adopted in 2004. When asked why she finds law an important aspect of effective disaster management, she said that “legislation is crucial to ensure that disaster management policies are implemented properly and that the required planning is undertaken.”

Ms Hajabakiga explained that through her experience as Minister and as a member of the Disaster Risk Reduction Committee under the Prime Minister’s office she realised the importance of developing legal frameworks at regional as well as national levels. “In many cases, the effects of a disaster are so extensive that a state cannot manage or afford to handle them on its own. Therefore, I believe that the countries in the East African Community should cooperate and assist each other in the preparation for and response to disasters,” she said.

Driven by this belief, Ms Hajabakiga took the initiative to develop the “East African Community Disaster Risk Reduction and Disaster Management Bill.” This draft bill is currently being debated in the EALA. “The objective of the bill is to provide a legal framework for [disaster] assistance for people in the East African Community member states… through the integration of comprehensive disaster risk reduction and management practices in the Community.”

The draft bill includes preventive measures, such as early warning systems to enable the affected population to react efficiently in case of a disaster, while also creating a regional response mechanism. “The idea is to establish a regional fund to strengthen the member states’ own capacities to respond to disasters, while at the same time enabling regional intervention and support in disaster situations if a member state of the EAC is hit by a disaster.” Coordination with international actors is also addressed in the draft.

When asked about her vision for the draft bill, Ms Hajabakiga shared her strong belief that the bill will be adopted and that it will benefit the people of the five EAC member states. She further hopes that once adopted, the bill will encourage the commitment of EAC member states to implement strengthened disaster response mechanisms at the national level.