Rubavu, a once-thriving city nestled on Rwanda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, found itself caught in a mix of a series of misfortunes in recent years.
The residents, small businesses, and cross-border traders, who have long relied on vibrant cross-border markets and water-based tourism, now face the devastating aftermath of the floods that struck on May 2.
The disaster delivered the final blow, obliterating their hopes of recovery and plunging the city into despair.
The Rubavu community had already weathered a storm of challenges in recent times, including the Covid-19 pandemic, Nyiragongo volcanic eruptions in 2021, and bilateral conflicts between Rwanda and DRC, all of which affected businesses in the area.
Three years ago, stepping into Rubavu was a vibrant spectacle of hotel posters, concert buzz, and bustling business. Today is a somber display of gutters, shattered homes, fallen trees and muddy paths. Silence hangs heavy, whispering desolation and stagnation.
The onslaught began with the Covid-19 pandemic, which swept across the globe, severing the influx of tourists who once breathed life into the local economy. The absence of visitors dealt a blow to Rubavu's businesses, which relied on tourism to sustain their livelihoods.
Elyse Majyambere, a beach operator on Lake Kivu, relied on tourists such as honeymooners, conference attendees, and sports enthusiasts in Rubavu. Since 2015, this has been his primary source of livelihood. After Covid-19, security concerns, and floods, he considers leaving.
“I have only received two clients in the past two weeks and made Rwf30,000. I cannot live on that. I have decided to look for another job. I kept thinking maybe things will get better for business but maybe they ever will,” Ms Majyambere said.
It is not only the forces of nature that conspired against Rubavu. Ongoing cross-border conflicts with the Democratic Republic of Congo cast a shadow of uncertainty over the city, making it an inhospitable place for residents and entrepreneurs alike.
The two-year-long conflicts between Rwanda and DR Congo led to the disruption of trade flows. Cross-border passing has cut down from 99,000 people per day in 2021 at Rubavu “petit barriere” to 55,000 in late 2022.
And now, the recent floods have delivered the final blow to Rubavu's cross-border traders who are the lifeblood of the city. The floods also wreaked havoc on the local marketplaces, now, these once-thriving hubs lie in ruins. Over 5,000 houses were washed away, leaving countless families without shelter.
“I used to sell Irish potatoes, vegetables, and fish between Rubavu and Goma’s markets. I kept the stock in my home. On the night of May 2nd, I had a stock worth Rwf 270,000. It has all been washed away along with my house,” recounts Mukamisha Chantal who used to be a dweller but is now accommodated at one of the camps with other affected families along with her mother and toddler.
Rubavu had been hit by calamities before when the Nyiragongo volcanic eruptions, with a magnitude of 5.3, spewed destruction and chaos.