Battery power

With our trip to East Africa fast receding behind us, I didn’t think there’d be anything more to write about it. Then the following showed up at our door the other day — an envelope from Rwanda! Sent in a very official plastic envelope, emblazoned “Securite assuree (Safe and secure).”

Rwanda bureaucracy1

Inside Steve found an even more official looking letter from Dr. Alexis Nzahabwanimana, the “Minister of State in Charge of Transport,” who was responding to the letter Steve had written him.

Rwanda bureaucracy2

Steve had been complaining about an incident that I didn’t report on in this blog. It occurred June 12, when we flew from Kigali (the capital of Rwanda) to Tanzania on Kenya Airlines. Here’s how Steve described what happened:

“After passing the first checkpoint, I checked my baggage, which contained items such as large bottles and a pocket knife that are prohibited in the cabin. In my hand luggage, I had some AA and AAA batteries that I need for my electronic devices. These items are not on Kenya Airlines’s list of prohibited items. I have traveled all over the world and I have never been told that dry-cell batteries are prohibited from airline cabins. Had Kenya Airlines advised me that these items are prohibited, I could have tucked them in my luggage before checking it.

“At the second checkpoint, the police confiscated my batteries. ¬†I explained that they were not on the list of prohibited items, but the officer in charge was not amenable to reason. The loss of my property caused me considerable inconvenience and some expense.

Steve wrapped up with a lecture: “If Rwanda is to realize its goal of becoming a high tech center of East Africa, it is important that visitors not have their property confiscated illegally, especially when it relates to their electronic equipment. I am bringing this matter to your attention because I hope you will correct this improper behavior on the part of the police through appropriate channels.”

Dr. Nzahabwanimana begged to disagree. Batteries are a component of improvised explosive devices, he pointed out, helpfully including for our edification a diagram of how to build one.


As “a signatory to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) that establishes international Standard and Recommended Practices (SARPs) that have to be complied with by all its signatories to Safeguard International Civil Aviation against Acts of Unlawful Interference,” Rwanda had a duty to keep such potentially dangerous goods out of airline cabins. Hence, the police “were therefore acting within the confines of the International Standards and National regulations…”

Dr. Nzahabwanimana also included a “Dangerous Goods List” that included “Batteries, dry, containing potassium hydroxide solid, electric storage” on it. Steve jumped right on that, determining it to be part of an obscure UN document. He also researched the US Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) guidelines. We all know how lax they are — but they make it clear dry batteries for personal appliances can be transported in cabins.

Steve was threatening¬†to write back and argue with the Africans some more. For my part, I’ve been urging him to spend the time instead earning some money that we might use for further travel to electrifying destinations.