When Therese Mukagakuba, a trader from Busasamana, Nyanza District went to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to buy goods for her shop for the first time, she didn’t know Arabic, English or Swahili, the main languages in Dubai. Mukagakuba could speak only Kinyarwanda and French.
As a result, she had to pay middlemen to help her buy the products she wanted.
“Sometimes I could sense that the translator wasn’t doing a good job, meaning that I paid high prices because I wasn’t able to bargain on my own,” she said.
When Mukagakuba, who deals in decoration items, returned to Dubai with 19 other traders from Nyanza a year later on a study tour, they still faced the same challenges. On returning home, the traders vowed to learn the three languages so as communicate with traders in Dubai on their own.
That is how Dubai Family, a Nyanza-based group of business people committed to learning languages and sharing ideas, was born. The trader said the move was also aimed at helping them to improve service delivery, generally.
“I am now able to communicate with a client who doesn’t know Kinyarwanda. Even if I am not yet fluent, I have mastered the basic communication skills in these languages as a business operator,” Mukagakuba said in an interview with Business Times.
John Munyambonwa, the Dubai Family leader, said it’s costly to engage in import trade without basic skills of languages spoken in that country.
The trader said that those who don’t know English, Swahili or Arabic have to hire translators at a cost of about Rwf20,000 for any shop visited. “Imagine if you are to visit four or five shops a day? That’s a lot of money for any importer,” he said.
He adds that it is important for traders to be open-minded if they are to compete favourably.
“We are becoming an open country with many foreigners coming to invest or for tourism. So, we have to be able to communicate in various languages. However, we don’t need to enroll in formal schools because members who know languages teach their colleagues. Presently, all our members are able to communicate with all kinds of customers,” Munyambonwa said.
The association has come up with other ideas to help them improve services and also grow as traders. For instance, when they meet on Sundays, they always pool resources and the money is given to a member.
“We have an account where the remaining money is deposited as savings after giving out Rwf1.2 million to the person as per the list of weekly contribution to recipients,” Munyambonwa explained.
Bertilde Uwamwezi, a hardware dealer, is all praises for the group though she is yet to visit Dubai. “I have learnt from this group that working together is more important than undue competition. I’m planning to go to Dubai and I am sure will not face many challenges, thanks to support from colleagues,” she said.
Members also help each other to improve service delivery, she said.
“For example, if a group member runs short of products they can come and I give them what the customer wants and then reimburse after restocking. This was impossible before,” she said.
Said Havugimana, the owner of Hajji Enterprise located in Busasamana sector, teaches colleagues English every Sunday.
“They have the will and they are very motivated to learn. In fact, many local traders have greatly improved English language speaking skills,” he added.
Havugimana said the group has also a social aspect, noting that they also share ideas. He added that it also becomes easier for local leaders to educate them about government policies and activities.
What PSF says
Immaculée Kayitesi, the PSF representative in Nyanza District, said Dubai Family was born following a study tour to Dubai by 20 businessmen at the end of 2016. It is open to all business operators in the district.
“During the tour, many of them hired translators as they didn’t know English, Swahili or Arabic. That’s what pushed them to form the platform through which they could learn languages,” she explained. She added that the traders can now import products from Dubai without going through middlemen.
She said the group is now working to find a market for local agricultural products in the United Arab Emirates, which she is hopeful they will get.
Kayitesi urged traders in other districts to learn from their counterparts in Nyanza, adding that unity is more important than competition.