Small-scale businesses on the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are recording booming sales following improved relations between the two countries.
The western parts of the country which are the fruit and vegetable baskets now supply their produce to the more lucrative market across the border where the demand is high.
Farmers say that the rapprochement with Kinshasa presents a fresh opportunity for Rwanda to tap into DR Congo market, which is one of the country’s largest external markets in Africa.
The launch of the national flag carrier into DR Congo, currently flying six times a week has also helped to boost trade.
Compared with the Kigali market which is more than 150km away, Goma in North Kivu Province eastern DRC is a better option for traders in Rubavu which is about 15km away.
“I used to sell my cucumbers in Rubavu and Kigali markets for about Rwf5,000 a basin. The same quantity sells for more than double that amount across the border,“ said Valens Nshimiyimana, a resident of Kivumu sector in Rutsiro District.
Mr Nshimiyimana’s cucumbers and tamarillo are flown to the DR Congo every week.
He said that his vegetable business struggled for five years due to tensions at the border between Rwanda and DRC.
“It has been a great run for our businesses… to have RwandAir fly to DR Congo has enabled my monthly revenue to rise to Rwf800,000, from Rwf150,000” said Mr Nshyimiyimana.
Fruits and vegetables ranging from cabbages to onions, carrots and tamarillo are at the centre of this booming business between Rubavu and Goma.
Recently, the director-general of Immigration and Emigration of Rwanda Régis Gatarayiha and his DRC counterpart Roland Kashwantale Chihozam held talks on modalities of operationalising one-stop border post La Corniche - Grande Barriere.
La Corniche links Rubavu to Goma, a hot spot for trade with daily traffic flows of close to 50,000 people.
However, an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in parts of eastern DR Congo which was officially declared in August last year affected business.
“There was a slow down on our commodities’ demand, but now business has returned to normal,” said Devota Uwintije, a Rubavu cross-border dealer in vegetables. “I supply vegetables to hotels and restaurants in Goma town, but the unrest caused by the Ebola outbreak affected business.”
According to the National Institutes of Statistics, Rwanda’s formal export share to DR Congo dropped to 9.6 per cent (Rwf13 billion) in the second quarter, from 12. 78 per cent (Rwf13.9 billion) in the first quarter, due to the Ebola outbreak in Goma.
Local government authorities also say that the differences in border operating times have also adversely affected businesses.
“On our side, the borders remain open for 24-hours since 2016, but DR Congo’s La Corniche (Grande Barrière) close at 10 PM while at Petite Barrière closes at 6PM, which is bad for business,” said Gilbert Habyarimana, the mayor of Rubavu district.