Traders count losses, whine over hostility in DR Congo

Sunday March 12 2023

A truck awaiting clearance to cross Gatuna border. PHOTO : Cyril Ndegeya


Informal traders, mainly women, whose livelihoods depend on across-border trade with Democratic Republic of Congo are frustrated by drop in trade due to diplomatic tiff between the two countries.

Thousands of women traders both formal and informal have for years woken up very early and crossed into DRC with goods and returned home with a profit but today this is not the case for many.

Although the borders are still open to travelers and business from either country, the situation in DRC is unpredictable and often hostile to traders from Rwanda.

Dativa Mukandutiye is a member of a big co-operative society that has been growing vegetables and onions in the Mugina marshland in Kamonyi District for 15 years.

A few years ago their fortunes changed for the better when they got a market in DRC, together with other farmers they have been taking their produce to Goma, but this has stopped since the war broke out.

She said the situation in DRC is unpredictable and that the reports coming from traders who continued have been worrying.



The situation with informal women cross-border traders is best captured by Basemera Peace Mugisha, who coordinates a women cross-border trade project at profemme-Twese hamwe in Rusizi.

“Although women cross-border trade still takes place, it has significantly reduced due to intermittent protests and hostilities in DRC. Some of our traders cannot access certain markets in DRC,” said Ms Mukandutiye.

She said traders who have braved the tough realities and continued to take goods to DRC have ended up losing money when their Congolese customers refuse to pay for the goods. In some instances, Rwandan traders are barred from directly selling goods in DRC, forcing them to go through middlemen.

“Some Congolese middlemen or agents don’t even come with capital, but they end up deducting a big percentage on every sale, its like we no longer have rights over their trade,” said Ms Basemera.

Some women traders have also ended up sending their goods on trucks to DRC and buyers pay them on mobile money, but this has also exposed them to fraud.

“They also lose money in many informal payments like bribes on the way, high taxes, in DRC everyone acts like the police, some Congolese use the volatile situation to take advantage of traders,” said Ms Basemera.