7 January 2013

Rwanda: January Money Crisis Can Be Avoided

"I was seated in a corner of a bar around Christmas, sipping my usual 'one for the road,' watching a group of individuals celebrate Christmas and end of year in style. I heard one of the guys in the group shout as he was ordering a crate of beer: 'What is money? Money is there to be spent!' Looking at him I said to myself: I wish every day was Christmas'."

Yet Richard Rugigana, a lecture in a Kigali university, at the same time wonders why people feel compelled to spend so freely during the festive season, like the man he witnessed in the bar. Because, as he points out, come January, the rush to banks for soft loans and school fee loans starts.

Some people start saving as early as October only to spend all their savings in the span of two weeks. If you go to supermarkets or gift shops in December, the queues at the counters are always unusually long. What makes it worse is that people often make purchases that are unnecessary. The end result: the January money crisis.

Among all those people travelling upcountry for the festive season, there is a good number who, when the party is over, even lack the money to pay the bus ticket to Kigali. Or if they make it back, they cannot afford to pay school fees. "What is the use of fueling your car to the village for Christmas celebrations, yet you end up selling some five to six chickens or some sacks of maize from the granary to enable you to get back to the city?" Rugigana asks. "Why buy expensive clothes for Christmas and end up with a big ugly padlock on your door because of rent arrears? I know fellows, so called 'learned' university lecturers like me, who are now rushing to the bank or selling some of their things to have some money."

Some have learnt the hard way to be a bit more careful. "For years, my wife and I went through the January crisis, but finally we decided it was time we do something about it," says Albert Ngabo, a trader in Quartier Matheus.

So the two of them sat together and came up with a solution. "We always make sure that we come up with a Christmas shopping list that does not stretch our expenditure. We stick to our budget and avoid any tempting expenses that do not feature in it," Ngabo explains. "And we always make sure that by the end of November, the back-to-school planning for our three children is settled."

Another thing that helped them is to avoid unnecessary plans that may inconvenience their budget, such as travelling upcountry. "Do it only if your budget can accommodate it, and if you do make sure to pay the January house rent before you leave," he advises.

It might be that more people have learnt Ngabo's lesson, because traders in different parts of the country have complained that during this festive season, they didn't see as much customers as they were expecting.

"Usually the turnout in the festive season is extremely high, but I don't know what happened because this year it was not the same," says Devote Mukankusi, a shopkeeper in the capital.

She thinks that one of the reasons might be that Rwandans are turning to supermarkets rather than the shops. "Every time I passed by Nakumatt in the second half of December, I found that there were crowds of people, while my colleagues and I were lamenting how slow business was in our shops."

However, a bar owner in the city says they didn't experience such problems. "For us the turnout was extremely high. On certain evenings, it was even difficult to keep up with the orders."

So it seems that even this January, many people will still suffer from a financial hangover.

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