It is a beehive of activity as livestock and other traders move back and forth loading tens of goats and sheep and other commodities onto a rickety boat at Ruganda ‘port’. The boat is headed for a journey across Lake Kivu to DR Congo. I am told the cross-border traders perform the ‘ritual’ twice a week during the two market days at Ruganda landing site in Bwishyura sector, Karongi District.
It is obvious that this is risky journey as the small boats are not anything near safe nor do some of the travellers have life jackets. Besides being overloaded with livestock, charcoal, beer, cooking oil and chickens, traders and other passengers compete for space on the same boats. These challenges could, however, be history after a new project by government to revamp the water sector is implemented in the coming months.
According to Rwanda Transport Development Agency (RTDA), the new marine system transport project will greatly improve water travel between the two countries and boost trade.
Fabrice Barisanga, the RTDA manager for planning and research, said the first phase of Lake Kivu water transport project would start later this year.
“The project that is set to be implemented in November this year will ease cross-border trade with DR Congo… and studies are ongoing for River Akagera navigability, which we hope will enable Rwanda’s marine transport system to connect to Lake Victoria,” he said.
The first phase of the project, under the Ministry of Infrastructure, will cost $27.3 million (about RwfRwf23 billion) and is expected to be completed by 2020, Barisanga said. He added that a project supervisor will soon be brought on board.
The official explained that, when completed, the waterway on Lake Kivu will also connect Rubavu, Karongi and Rusizi districts. New ports and other facilities that will enable docking of bigger cargo while passenger vessels will also be catered for under the project.
“Under the Lake Kivu water project, five ports will be established around the lake, but we will start with four ports in the first phase in Karongi, Rusizi, Rubavu and Rutsiro districts. We have already secured almost 44 per cent of required funds and are mobilising the remaining resources from stakeholders and funders,” he explained.
Boosting cross-border trade
The ports to be constructed, he said, will be equipped with different facilities, such as warehouses, offices, cold chain storage facilities for fish and horticulture produce, including vegetables, and police units, among others.
Water transport on Lake Kivu will boost trade between Rwanda and DR Congo which is Rwanda’s largest regional trading partner with 79.7 per cent of the export market. Rwanda’s exports to the DR Congo accounted for 83.3 per cent of the country’s total informal cross-border trade last year, according to central bank figures.
However, Léoncie Kankindi, the vice mayor in charge of economic development in Rusizi District, told Business Times that traders still face challenges to access the huge DR Congo market as there is no port in the district or cold chain facilities. Kankindi said that horticulture and fresh fish exporters make losses due to lack of cold storage facilities.
She said there is only an inland cargo handling facility (Magerwa) in the district, adding that Cimerwa and Bralirwa use trucks to transport their products to DRC.
“Marine cargo vessels would provide them an alternative transport means,” she said. In 2017, 10 per cent of Cimerwa’s cement was exported to the DR Congo and Burundi. Kankindi added that dealers in agricultural products use small boats on Lake Kivu for transportation, noting that 13 of Rusizi District’s 18 sectors access the lake. Traders in Western Province say that developing ports and cross-border markets, such as the one being constructed in Karongi, will boost business in the area.
The market is expected to accommodate over 600 people during market days, and it is these marketplaces where traders from DR Congo buy cattle, furniture, agricultural products like fruits and vegetables, as well as manufactured products.
There are over 331,800 Karongi residents in areas surrounding Lake Kivu, many of whom depend on the lake for their livelihoods. The lake boasts of tilapia and sardines.
Barisanga said the project is being developed with a “regional perspective”. “We are working with the DR Congo to boost cross-border trade and people’s movement. Already, there is a bilateral agreement on cross-border trade between Rwanda and DR Congo,” he said. He said the project will also ease connectivity of the entire Western Province, between Rusizi to Rubavu districts.
“This project is also expected to boost tourism and hospitality sectors as it will improve accessibility of key tourist sites and activities, like gorilla trekking in Volcano National Park. So, it has huge potential of expanding opportunities in sector and creating new jobs for residents, including tour guides and marine transporters,” he said.
It will also promote community-based tourism activities, such as coffee tasting and canopy walks in the surrounding districts, as well as support hotel businesses, he added.
Barisanga noted that the agency will work with the private sector to ensure that tourism sector players acquire modern and well-equipped tourist boats and other transportation facilities.
He said RTDA targets that by June 2020 two big marine vessels with capacity to transport over 120 passengers will have been introduced to ply the Rubavu-Rusizi route.
“This requires investment of between $7 million and $10 million to buy the vessels that will have high capacity of engine and other modern elements, including VIP compartments,” the official said. This presents private sector players other opportunities like starting up a shipyard for boat-building repair, he added.
PSF welcomes initiative
Stephen Ruzibiza, the Rwanda Private Sector Federation (PSF) chief executive officer, said it is essential to put in place infrastructure that will increase trade between the two countries.
“Improving maritime transport on Lake Kivu is another opportunity for the private sector to invest and expand their business. We have many members dealing with agriculture and livestock exports as well as processed goods and construction materials, but they lack enabling infrastructure such as boats and storage facilitates,” he said.
He was optimistic that once the project is completed, the private sector will invest more in hotels, logistics, and accommodation services.
What traders say
Jean Claude Dukundane, a businessman in Western Province, said once transport system on Lake Kivu is improved and safe, it will increase trade between Rwanda and DR Congo.
“Many people do not use water transport because there are no secure and modern boats or other vessels that can transport huge amounts of goods,” he said.
Dukundane, who sells eggs and chicken to DR Congo traders, said that marine transport project is an opportunity to invest in different businesses to widen income streams.
River Akagera project
He added that maritime transport will get another boost after completing an integral economic and technical viability analysis on developing inland water ways transport on River Akagera from Kagitumba (Rwanda) to Lake Victoria.
“We are about to issue a tender notice calling for consultancy services on navigability along the river. The consultant will conduct an economical and navigability assessment as well as the required resources for the project.
He added that the result of the study will influence government action. However, he added the project is part of regional efforts to improve connectivity between Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya with a view to easing cargo transport and promoting trade.
Other water transport projects in the country will be undertaken after completion of the current undertakings on Lake Kivu and River Akagera, Barisanga said, adding that an enabling law would be drafted by June this year to guide implementation.