The New Times (Kigali)

31 December 2012

Rwanda: Picking Up From the Ruins of Nyagisozi Market Fire

Nyanza — Early this year, traders in Nyagisozi market, Nyanza district, were left hopeless and desperate after their merchandise was destroyed in a fire which gutted the market.

It emerged that almost all the destroyed property was not insured-something which left many shop owners wondering what their future would hold

Following the incident, it emerged that almost all the destroyed property was not insured-something which left many shop owners wondering what their future would hold.

Nyagisozi is located deep in the rural Nyanza, about an hour and half drive from Nyanza town.

The shops and stalls had been constructed using planks and woods. And, when the fire broke out late in February, it spread like bush fire. Hours later, ashes replaced many of the shops and stalls. Losses were valued at about Rwf20 million.

It is a seemingly small amount compared with what was lost in other fires which gutted shops, nightclubs and residential houses across the country.

But the Nyagisozi market fire was a serious setback for local businessmen who relied entirely on the 'small businesses' for survival.

"I was desperate. I did not know what to do. I thought it was the end of the world for me and my family," Gerard Twizeyimana, one of the affected individuals, recalls.

"That was the case for almost all of us [who lost our properties in the fire]. We were worried," he reminisces about the incident and its aftermath.

But, then, news came that local leaders were exploring ways of helping the affected traders.

It was the best news they had received following the blaze, one of the affected people told The New Times.

In fact, following the fire, local authorities agreed to facilitate the affected individuals access loans to restart their activities. And, the victims were assisted to secure loans, through the Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP).

VUP is an integrated local development initiative started in 2009 to accelerate poverty eradication, rural growth and social protection.

The social protection programme has three components: public works (job-creation through the construction and maintenance of public assets), credit packages (loans foster entrepreneurship opportunities) and direct support (unconditional support to households that do not qualify for public works or credit packages).

Through its credits package, the affected individuals applied for loans which they received shortly after.

They, then, rebuilt their premises and restarted their 'small businesses'.

"The loan was surely critical in restarting my business," Twizeyimana notes.

Twizeyimana, a shop owner in the market, says he received a loan of Rwf 75000 from VUP. His colleagues received the same amount.

"Life is now taking a new shape for the better as my business is making profits," he says.

Immaculee Uwiringiyimana, also lost her merchandise in the February 28 fire.

"If I had not received the loan, I would have not been able to restart my business," she says.

"The environment is favourable and the profits we are making are enough to sustain our families and service the loan on time," she optimistically says.

Every individual who receives a loan under the scheme repays with an annual interest rate of about 2%, according to Laurent Mbonigaba, a VUP official in Nyagisozi sector.

Sitting in front of her new wooden store, Uwiringiyimana, expresses hope her business will prosper.

"After the fire broke out, I thought I would never recover. But the loan I secured put me back on an optimistic journey...a journey from desperation to a life full of hope for a bright future," she says.

But still, a new danger hangs over the businesses in the market: again, the shops were rebuilt with timber and it is obvious that if the fire breaks out for a second time, the same scenario might re-occur and millions might be lost once more.

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