6 February 2013

Rwanda: Biryogo, Where Roadside Garages Are Trending

Many youth in Kigali have embraced small undertakings, but in their pursuits, it appears car repairs is the most lucrative engagement.

Commenting on the support they provide to talented but jobless youth, Theodore Habimana, the WDA TVET Training Director, said their priority is to provide the youth with opportunities in different professional schools. He said they have 305 schools teaAnd when you cannot afford a garage, then moving with spanners, too, can make a garage, the roadside garage. Some claim they prefer to work at these non-recognised and unacceptable places.

Biryogo slum remains among Kigali's most crowded places and the most teeming with roadside mechanics.

If you travelled on the main road leading to KIST and some of the Biryogo, Gabiro, Umurimo and Nyiranuma cells inner streets, what greets you are varieties of cars, some parked awaiting repair, and others under repair.

On roadsides here, two sign posts warn of the consequences of working from non-designated areas. "It is forbidden to repair and to have a car repaired at the roadside. Whoever goes against this will be punished," the signpost reads.

Normally, when a car comes, not less than five mechanics rush towards it.

How they operate

Kiza Sef, 27, is one of the lads you will see approach your car to ask if you need servicing. He wakes up at 5am and lives his abode in Rwampara to troll the street till late in the evening. Kiza says in a day, he can repair two cars, at Rwf2,000 each.

"I have been in this job for seven years. When Local Defence personnel come to chase us from here, I hide in garages," he said.

Kiza said local leaders have been urging them to form cooperatives. However, he says setting up a communal garage like authorities want them to do requires capital, which is lacking.

"Going far from this road means no clients," he said.

The roadside mechanics say garages owners pay Local Defence personnel to chase them and the car owners away.

Another mechanic, who only identified himself as Hamza, said on a lucky day, he repairs three cars and walks home with Rwf6,000.

"It is our way of life. We know that garage owners are not happy with what we do. But we are better off doing this instead of stealing or begging," Hamza said.

Nteneri, one of the Biryogo garage owners, said he just lets the youth work, because "Most of them are young. Preventing them from working could force them into all sorts of crimes."

Vehicle owners care less

For vehicle owners, the bickering is none of their business wherever they repair from.

"I do not mind whether it's illegal or not, what matters for me is to have my car repaired. These street mechanics help people save time and money. I could replace side mirrors from the shops for Rwf300,000, but with these roadside mechanics, they will cost me Rwf60,000," a motorist, who requested anonymity, said.

The motorist added that minor vehicle repairs do not need a garage, but a good mechanic.

Gabiro cell leader, Saidi Munyengabe, estimates that the number of mechanics operating on roadside increased from about 30 in 2000 to at least 200 today.

"These people are hard working but stubborn. They have been told several times to relocate to Tabarwanda, Gatsatsa, and Point Lourd, but refused," Umurimo cell leader William Serwiri said in reference to some of the recognised garages in town.

Serwiri, however, said he is optimistic illegal practices can be stopped if the youth get a common structure to use as a garage.

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