8 January 2013

Rwanda: DRC Conflict Leaves Rwandan Fish Traders With Smelly Stock

Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN
Displaced families find shelter at an orphanage in Goma,two days after M23 rebels claimed control of the city (file photo).

TRADERS have wish lists, but for Rwanda traders in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is not profits at the moment; the continued conflict in eastern parts of the country means they just cannot wait for the ink to dry on the peace accord, that is, if it is ever signed in Kampala in the interim period.

The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda militia is made up of elements responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, in which more than one million lives were lost. It is one of many militia groups that continue to destabilise peace iEveryday that goes by without peace in DRC means losing money and they cannot wait to see the Kinshasa government strike a peace deal with the M23 rebels.

Emmanuel Muvunandida, a small scale fish trader, said his profits have dropped from a bi-monthly Rwf300,000 to Rwf50,000, because of recent fighting between M23 rebels and the Congolese government.

M23 captured Goma late last year, but pulled out after the Kinshasa government agreed to sit at the dais.

"My wish is for the war to stop for our business to resume with normalcy," Muvunandida said reflectively, last week, as he sat on a small chair by the open door of his store in Nyabugogo trading area in Kigali. "Our Congolese clients say they don't have money because of war."

Rwanda's exports to DRC are mostly agricultural products such as cows for meat, cassava floor, and silver fish locally called indagara, fruits, vegetables, and charcoal. The products make more than 60 per cent of the total transactions between Rwanda and its other neighbours of Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania, according to a 2010 survey by the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Central Bank.

While the survey had said trade between Rwanda and DRC boasted an annual volume of $20m (Rwf12.6b) in 2010 when tensions eased in border provinces of North and South Kivu in DRC, recent fighting between the Congolese government and M23 rebel group has seen business crippling again.

Buyers displaced by war

A Rwandan woman, who sells food products to Congolese from Birere near the border with Rwanda, told The New Times yesterday that her business has almost halted since her clients who used to come from Congolese regions of Masisi and Sake were displaced by the war.

The woman, who only identified herself as Mamashaberi, is one of many traders who have not come to Kigali to buy silver fish for sale in DRC in the last few months.

"It's been a month or two without going to Kigali. We no longer buy, we no longer sell," she said. "Our clients (in DRC) have left and those who stayed don't seem to have money."

Mamashaberi said she remains with a few clients, mainly those who live in the North Kivu provincial capital Goma, a pool of whom she said are not interested in her products like the villagers from other regions of the North Kivu province.

As for Muvunandida, who has been supplying silver fish to Congolese importers for a decade now, is used to the routine of making money in peace times in Congo and registering losses during instability.

Despite the war, he said he would go to Tanzania to import more Indagara, because he might have clients in the future if the rebels do not attack Goma again.

"Business shoots up as soon as there is some peace in Congo and falls during war; it's always like that," he said.

His hope now is that the ongoing talks in Kampala, Uganda, between M23 and the Congolese government will yield some stability.

"There is no market right now. I hope the war will end soon and my clients will come back," he said.

Another businessman, who imports silver fish from Uganda, said his business has dropped 10 times in the last two months. Minega Shyaka imports the product from Uganda and sells it to traders from Gisenyi, who export it to Goma.

"Those who were buying 50 packs are now taking five," he said in a telephone interview as he travelled to Kampala for his business last week. "I wish President Kabila could initiate policies that bring back peace in Congo so that people can go on with their business."

M23, which is mainly composed of former government soldiers, mutinied in April, accusing Kinshasa of reneging on a 2009 peace deal. Despite talks in Kampala, fears remain that war may resume again in Eastern Congo.

Last week, the head of M23, Jean-Marie Runiga, accused the Kinshasa government of deliberately delaying the peace talks by not signing the cease-fire and acquiring military reinforcement from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda militia group.

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