By Gaston K. Rwaka
It is too risky a venture for any mother with a child on her back to hit the streets of Kigali with a basket of fruits on her head selling to town dwellers in order feed her family.
The city of Kigali authorities have over the years cracked the whip in order to keep off street hawkers in Kigali for various reasons including to keep the city organized and orderly and as well as giving formal businesses a chance to trade since they pay taxes and high rent.
Many women on the streets are single mothers who lack formal jobs and enough financial capital to start formal businesses and the only available and affordable option for the women is to hit the streets with small baskets fruits and vegetables on their heads trying to fend for their families.
It is a common sight on the streets of Kigali to witness running battles between village and sector security personnel and women vendors with baskets on their heads and children on their backs. Many are arrested once netted.
Government has also over time built mini-markets that are somewhat affordable so that street vendors can be accommodated and do business there as a solution to curbing rampant vending mainly by mothers.
According to government, many what they call affordable markets have been constructed in various suburbs of the capital and other major towns around the country to provide a working station for street vendors.
With all the measures put in place by the city of Kigali to curb this illegal practice, single mothers are going an extra mile against all odds to stay in the business and risk arrests and other consequences to feed their families.
For Jeannette Umuhoza, a single mother of two and a vendor in nyagatovu cell and other areas around Kimironko sector, she has been arrested several times for this practice but she is not about to put the basket down because it is the only source of income for her to feed her children.
“I came to Kigali in 2017 from huye district after giving birth to my first child and I thought I would leave a better life in the city and be able to look after my child. It was not easy for me to get a job in Kigali and the only thing for me to turn to was vending although risky,” said Umuhoza.
Findings from the Labour Force Survey (LFS), indicate that over the past three years, more females were informally employed with 92.5 per cent in 2017 to 91.2 per cent in 2019.
In Rwanda for instance, 74 per cent of women are in informal businesses, living on a daily basis without any savings or social protection.
For Rwanda, Cross Border Trade (CBT) refers to trade with Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania and Uganda.
Although many have taken spaces in these markets around the country, some have resisted this move and still run the streets citing lack high costs of business like monthly rent and high taxes among others.
For Pascaline Karitasi, one of the vendors who stayed on the streets irrespective of the government initiative says, “I have been selling from streets for more than 5 years and I have 5 children, I can’t work in the market because there are not as many customers. My customers know me very well and I make more profit than those who work in the market.”
It is estimated that between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of cross border traders are women, and 90 per cent of these women traders rely on CBT as their sole source of income.
According to the city of Kigali, some street vendors will get free spaces in unoccupied market buildings with financial support in terms of tax exemption for three months as well as other support that includes increased capital, training and coaching on doing business as an incentive to take vendors off the streets of the city.
However, Jeanne byukusenge, a vendor who just came to Kigali last year after covid-19 ruined her rural business in rulindo district says government efforts to provide spaces in markets is a good move but not enough due to influx from rural areas.
“The challenge of street vendors is too big because there are many people who are unemployed both in villages and in the city. All of them come to streets every month to earn a living and support families thus the growing numbers and persistence of the problem,” said Byukusenge.
According to Pudence Rubingisa, the City Mayor said during Global Platform of Entrepreneurial Women that was held in Kigali last year that at least 3,832 street vendors could be supported to leverage the new markets and get finance to run their small businesses.
These include 1,800 street vendors from Gasabo district, 952 from Kicukiro district and 1,080 from Nyarugenge district to be deployed to the expected markets.
According to University of Rwanda research paper by Jean Bosco Ndikubwimana, given the emerging social classes, globalizations and loss of values (local currency) against the trading dollar, most of the petty traders are facing challenges to meet the legal trading requirements, including tax obligations, small traders opt to street vending which might be easy to evade tax and also avoid paying renting cost.