Rwandan traders are struggling to find alternative sources of consumer goods and raw materials as stocks begin to run out following the disruption of supply chains by the coronavirus pandemic.
As a result, imported goods are hardly getting through into the country, pushing up the cost of those that get in.
Traders indicate that despite opening up, existing import windows give priority to food and fuel supplies, leading to the shortage of many non-essentials in the market.
The affected items here include construction materials, clothes, machinery, home utensils and others, which are imported largely from countries like China, Middle East and Europe where air travels or other means of delivery are still hampered.
While RwandAir resumed cargo flights to Guangzhou, China, the operation is ad-hoc depending on demand.
“Take an example of vehicle spare parts. For months there has been no flight coming in from China or Dubai, where most of them are imported from, and people are not going or coming from these countries by any other means.
Some cars are parked after failing to find spares locally. When one is lucky to find some in stock, they are ex-tremely expensive,” said Dieudonne Usabyarahabwa, a mechanic in Kigali.
Rwanda imports from China include electronics and electrical equipment, machinery, building materials, ceramic products, footwear and textiles, furniture, and vehicle parts.
Prices of imported goods have risen in recent weeks as traders who had not explored possibilities of placing online orders for those conversant with the electronic World Trade Platforms started depleting their existing stock.
Other traders decried delayed deliveries due to the Covid-19 linked delays at borders now affecting the most non-essential supplies from the region like cement and other construction materials.
A spot-check on the market showed that prices of many imported goods have increased by between 15 per cent and 20 per cent compared with their costs before the coronavirus pandemic struck in March.
A cement bag in Kigali, whose prices had remained at between Rwf8,700 and Rwf9, 500 before the lockdown rose to between Rwf10, 500 and Rwf11, 500 over the past two weeks.
The sole Rwandan cement maker, Cimerwa, is understood to be struggling to plug the shortage attributed to slow delivery of cement supplies from Tanzania.
“They have imposed limits on the volumes one can buy such that you only get a half of the volume stated in your order. At retail, if all I bought is sold before the weekend, I can only wait to be on the list next week,” said Abdou Nzamwita, a cement trader.
Cost increases have also been recorded on other items like clothes, and construction materials.
For example, a 50-kilogramme sack of steel nails that went for Rwf46,000 now costs Rwf53,000 while the most commonly used roofing nails sell at Rwf42, 000 for a 25kg sack from Rwf34,000 previously.
On their side, importers say though travel was still suspended, import of goods was possible by placing orders and making payment online with delivery being done after a week for those importing from China.
However, Adria Musabe, a China importer, told Rwanda Today many traders were skeptical about importing via online owing to concerns around quality, and getting exactly what they asked for.
“I have placed an order for clothes because I was running out of stock, now the cargo has arrived at Magerwa but I’m not sure yet if it is going to be what I ordered. We have been going to China, and in many cases we get items that are far different from what one has seen physically,” she said
Ms Musabe said that with many traders running out of stock and skeptical about placing orders online, the supply shortage will be even more pronounced with costs of affected items going even higher in the near future.