Two years since Kigali authorities set guidelines that banished vendors from the streets to protect registered businesses, the vendors are still finding their way back.
The vendors insist they are not leaving the streets anytime soon, even with the daily clashes with the security forces.
“There is nothing else I can do in this city if I don’t come here to sell my products,” Nyirahabimana (not her name) a single mother of four who operates on Nyamirambo streets told Rwanda Today.
Nyirahabimana is among several other women and men who have encountered run-ins with security operatives who man street corners to keep an eye on activities by hawkers and vendors.
The 38-year old woman sells mainly fruits on the streets, and walks many kilometers away from home every day to reach out to her customers.
“Sometimes the security officers come show up in plainclothes and when they reach us, they take away our products but we run away for fear of being jailed,” said Nyirahabimana.
In fact, Nyirahabimana and colleagues have a network, which allows them to detect members of District Administrative Security Support Organ (DASSO), from a distance so they can run and hide their products to avoid loss.
Street vendors like Nyirahabimana are not allowed to operate in Kigali, after a vigorous campaign that was launched in June 2017 that included using security organs to get them out of the streets.
Officials say the decision is designed to restore cleanliness, ensure prevailing security and enlarge economy by collecting more taxes.
The city had built at least 14 markets worth Rwf300 million dedicated to street vendors in order to get them off the streets but the vendors have been reluctant to go there.
“Business in these markets is complicated because of high competition, I have so little investment that I cannot compete with others who have many different products around me,” said Kanziga (not her name), who claimed to have tried these markets but failed and eventually came back to street.
“You can actually spend a day without selling anything,” she added. “My entire pot is not worth Rwf10,000, how can I sell it on parcel in middle of heavily competitive market? But at least here [on street] I can earn Rwf2,000 on good days, and I don’t have to pay anything on it as sellers in markets do,” said Kanziga. “This is where all my family depend”, she added pointing her pot.
Kanziga, and so many others said they have lost a lot of money because of DASSO members who take away their products.
“We just borrow money and go to bring other products. This is better than seeing your children die of hunger,” she added.
Officials in Kigali city cite mindset as the biggest obstacle for street vendors who haven’t yet joined markets.
“They think business is about consistent interaction with buyers. They don’t understand that patience, marketing and customer care can elevate their profits in markets than what they make on street,” said Augustin Rwomushana, Director of Urban Economic Development in Kigali city.
Rwomushana dismissed cost excuses as street vendors are guaranteed free rent and tax for their first year, in which they are supposed to save enough resources to help them afterwards.
The director advised customers to avoid street products “because they cannot be sure of their quality standard as they don’t know where they get these products from.”
Kigali city said to have provided 8,000 former vendors with free parcels, a fact that has reduced their number across the city.