Twelve years after the government launched a campaign pushing for a 24/7 economy, businesses in Kigali City are yet to adopt as they struggle with stringent government regulations, lack of public transport at night and affordable housing close to their premises.
The campaign to work 24 hours a day is part of government’s efforts to boost productivity which would in turn translate into additional taxes and create jobs for the youth.
The government has put in place the basics such as safe roads and security but traders say that they still face other challenges that make it difficult for them to operate at night.
“First, it is not profitable; the revenue doesn’t match the expenses. We have to spend extra on electricity and additional employees to operate at night when we get fewer clients. Most people live far away from the city and the public transport system does not operate late into the night,” said Dona Mahoro, a business owner in Kigali’s largest commercial area known as Matheus.
“I would like to live near my shop but for a business with a net income of Rwf200,000, it is not economically viable to spend more than half of it on rent when I can pay a quarter of the amount for a house far away from the city,” Ms Mahoro added.
A spot check by Rwanda Today in downtown Kigali and at the busy Nyabugogo commercial area confirmed that public service buses are available only up to around 11pm. Thereafter, commuters use either motor bikes or taxis which charge about three and 10 times more respectively.
For example, a ride from Kigali downtown to Nyamirambo a distance of about five km costs Rwf176 on a public service bus, Rwf700 on a motorbike and Rwf3,000 on a taxi.
However, Kigali City authorities said that while they are aware of the challenges traders face, they [businesses] should take the initiative and work at night and the rest will fall in place.
“The business community is the basis for all; once traders begin to work 24 hours, clients will get accustomed to it and transport companies will follow suit,” said the director of urban economic development in Kigali City, Augustin Rwomushana.
Sectors such hospitality have been working 24 hours for years, and the Private Sector Federation (PSF) believes the trend will pick up in other industries.
Estimates show that the average working time has risen by five to six hours since 2008. However, a lack of professionalism remains a setback for many local SMEs.
“Many businesses are manned by family members who lack professional management skills,” said the spokesperson of PSF, Theoneste Ntagengerwa, However, some business owners told Rwanda Today that sometimes security organs and city officials order them to close at night and that PSF is aware of the matter.
“They come around and ask us to close our businesses over issues that can be resolved amicably, which impacts on our revenue,” said a bar owner in Kamonyi district.
Mr Ntagengerwa admitted that “some local authorities, acting independently tend to close businesses at midnight.”
He, however, said that in some cases the decision is necessary to prevent noise nuisance in the neighborhood and crime especially in rural areas where there is no electricity.
“We are doing advocacy for all businesses to work 24 hours and we are partnering with the government to solve bigger issues like electricity,” he added. He advised businesses that specialize in entertainment to soundproof their facilities.
But the spokesperson for the Rwanda National Police CP John Bosco Kabera, refuted claims that officers are involved in closing businesses as long as they meet the stipulated standards.
“Security organs do not close businesses over security concerns; business owners are free to operate as long as they do not engage in unlawful acts,” he said, adding that “Kigali City authorities have in the past closed businesses on account of poor hygiene and sanitation, which should not be attributed to security organs.”
Among the traders who have managed to run 24 hours a day is Musa Kamanzi. He owns a cafeteria in Nyamirambo sector. He admits that his income has risen to Rwf 180,000 from Rwf120,000 ever since he bagan night operations.
“My clients are entertainers and employees on night shift; they are not as many as those during the day but the numbers are significant enough to offer my business stability,” he said.
“Our night income is rising because people are starting to be familiar with our operations, Nyamirambo and Gisimenti business centres are among the most vibrant at night, mostly because of their proximity to lower-income residences and their various entertainment facilities.