19 February 2019

Rwanda: How Effective Has the Ban on Hawkers Been?

analysis

Jean Biziyaremye,like the majority of former street vendors doing various businesses in Nyabugogo Market, regrets that he should have quit the street business earlier given the stability he has at the moment.

"Street business was a burden that the City of Kigali has relieved us of. I spent a couple of years playing hide-and-seek with police and other security organs but we got nothing out of it.

"The most important thing now is that we have a known address where our clients can find us and we have learned to form savings cooperatives," Biziyaremye told The New Times last week.

Fighting hawkers was not an easy task from the very beginning. The quest took a new twist back in July 2016 when the City of Kigali issued stringent regulations that were meant to curb street vending after the City Council built free markets for the hawkers.

Sanctions included a Rwf10,000 fine on anyone buying or selling commodities on the streets.

The fines were key in mobilising street vendors to join the free markets which the City of Kigali built for them.

Augustin Rwomushana, the city Director of Urban Economic Development Unit, told The New Times that fining all those involved in street vending activities contributed to a decrease in the number of hawkers who used to trade their goods along the city streets.

"Yes, fines were and are still on for those involved in street business as it impedes development through tax evasion and other malpractices," Rwomushana said.

The city further found in the move a potential alternative to fight street business and found it easy, as a result, to mobilise street vendors to join free markets constructed across the city.

"Though fining street vendors and their buyers is one of the measures taken to curb street vending activities, we [City of Kigali] have always provided support, both financially (startup capital in the form of revolving fund) and building free markets for the identified street vendors to make sure that they are working in an organised manner and in a conducive environment," he said.

Since 2014, more than Rwf800 million has been earmarked to help build free markets, renting markets, and other financial support such as startup capital in form of revolving fund.

During that process, eight free markets were constructed by City of Kigali while others are being rented from private owners to cover all the hawkers identified in the city.

But why are hawkers still in the streets?

When you ask some city dwellers why they are still doing business across the streets, many say that besides shortage of capital, they cannot get stalls in the free markets because they were given to the rich.

"Honestly, I am not happy with this street business because the security organs don't give us a break. I bring my goods to the streets because I don't have a choice. We are told we can get a free stall at the free market but I didn't get any. Getting a stall has become another business," a street vendor in Biryogo told The New Times.

This is, however, something both the City of Kigali and former street vendors doing businesses at free markets see as a total lie.

"I have never known or heard of anyone who bought a stall in this market (Nyabugogo free market). We got the stalls for free and it has been fairly done to everyone's satisfaction," said Karemera, a businessman in Nyabugogo market.

Rwomushana also rejected the claim, and made it clear that stalls were given to street vendors identified and selected on merit from the village level.

"Beneficiaries of free markets are selected based on the criteria set, for example the categories of Ubudehe, and this is approved by the village, cell, and sector authorities and then submitted to District and City of Kigali for verification," he noted.

With the efforts put in moving street vendors to markets, Rwomushana believes that with the continued collaboration with stakeholders, hawking in Kigali will be history, sooner or later.

"The number of hawkers has reduced considerably compared to the last few years. Those who are still in the streets are those who come from the city's neighbouring areas seeking employment. It is a continuous struggle that cannot be ended today and that is why there are still some in some areas of the city," Rwomushana explained.

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