18 March 2017

Rwanda: Former Street Vendors Breathe a Sigh of Relief

It is a hot afternoon when I visit a former street vendors' market at Kisementi, Remera, in Kigali. The market structure can accommodate up to 30 vendors.

I scan through all of the merchandise, mainly fruits, without a word. Mistaken for a client, Odette Mukampazimpaka invites me to buy from her stall and it's from here that she tells me how she decided to settle after several years of street vending.

"I decided to settle my small business in a stall because I was tired of running battles with local defence personnel and the Police," she tells Saturday Times, dusting off mangoes.

In July, last year, City of Kigali authorities issued stringent regulations aimed to curb street vending. This included a directive to fine street vendors and buyers Rwf10,000 each.

Several new markets were inaugurated in 2016 in places such as Kisementi, Kimisagara, where 60 street vendors were relocated, Nyabugogo market (with over 2,000 former street vendors) and Jya Mbere mini-market in Muhima sector, with about 1,200 vendors.

The vendors, locally known as "Abazunguzayi," were instructed to relocate to established markets with exemption from paying dues for about a year to help them stabilise.

Citing poor sanitation, accidents, congesting streets during peak hours, among the problems caused by street vending, operations were mounted on vendors, which also involved confiscation of their merchandise.

It's against this that Mukampazimpaka chose to settle and operate from a designated market for former street vendors.

Most of the former street vendors who spoke to Saturday Times expressed their gratitude to the Government for the support. But they say limited capital to expand their businesses is their main undoing.

Goreth Nyiransabimana, another fruits seller at the Kisimenti market, said she is happy because she has a clear address now, and is getting more customers than before.

Elisa Kwizera, who sells clothes, recalled how often he was arrested over street vending.

"If it was not for good governance I would be in a prison now. I could sell like three T-shirts and two trousers per day but I could sleep in jail every night and use that money to secure my release, meaning I earned nothing. But now there is no more going usual brush with the cold cells in police stations," said Kwizera.

Madeleine Nyirabarenganayo, another vendor, also said their biggest challenge is now capital to expand their businesses.

That is why you see some stalls still empty. If one got credit of about Rwf500,000, it can be a good boost to buy more commodities and help us to develop faster," she said.

Francoise Niyigena now sells clothes in Nyabugogo modern market. She appealed to authorities to erect a signpost directing people to their market.

"We have realised that some people don't know the location of our market, it affects our customer numbers," Niyigena said.

Continued street vending

Despite the positive outlook, some vendors have remained on the streets, which presents a challenge because our would-be customers are buying from them, she added.

Those still on the streets claim they lack enough capital to operate from established markets.

"I cannot go to sit in the market selling two dresses; I will not get customers, because when they come they move straight to those ones who have many clothes," a woman who declined to reveal her identity because the engagement is illegal, said.

"On the street is where you get customers easily; some people buy by impulse but in the market you can take four days to sell two dresses," she added.

Other vendors who returned to the street claimed stalls allocated to them are bought off by rich people, sending vendors to the street again.

But Danny Muvunyi, president of Kigali modern market, denied this, saying no one had ever reported such a matter because districts nominate beneficiaries to be offered stalls.

The market is governed by a committee which monitors day-to-0day running so we don't know about that problem, he said.

Muvunyi added that they formed a cooperative called Ejo Heza (in Nyabugogo), which helps them to save some earnings which will be used when they start paying taxes after one year.

"Everyday, a member contributes Rwf200 to the cooperative, which is fair to every member," he said.

The Kigali city vice mayor for social affairs, Patricia Muhongerwa, advised the traders to take advantage of the markets to seek credit facilities under cooperatives to boost their businesses.

"We can't guarantee them capital but there are many banks and SACCOs. Those grouped under a cooperative with a purpose, SACCOs cannot fail to give them the money they need. They have to learn how to be creative. Not everything will be provided to them," she told Saturday Times.

On signposts, Muhongerwa advised the vendors to contribute Rwf100 each to erect them. She warned those still on the streets to vacate for their own good.

"Running on the street is not a solution but a source of problems because authorities are not about to relent on the ban on street vending," Muhongerwa added.

She said more than 236,000 buyers have been penalised since authorities started to fully enforce the City Council bylaw of May 2015 on illegal businesses and management of free markets.

The punishments include charging Rwf10,000 for both the vendor and buyer implicated in street vending.

The vendors are more than that but some of them abandon their merchandise and go when they don't have the Rwf10,000 fine, according to Muhongerwa.

"But I am sure when a person is punished, they would think twice before repeating the offence," she added.

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