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Digital agents form trade union to advocate for their rights

A group of digital service agents at the closing of a two-week training on digital services and small business management on Thursday, October 22. / Photo: Courtesy.

A new trade union of digital service agents has appealed for government assistance in identifying and bringing together some 78,000 digital agents scattered across the country to join the organisation.

Mostly composed of young entrepreneurs, the union seeks to tackle multiple persistent challenges they have faced for the past ten years.

 

Closing a two-week training on digital services and small business management on Thursday, October 22, some 90 agents representing their peers from all districts expressed the need to have a strong platform to act as their voice.

 

The initiative seeks to turn an occupation, often looked down upon, into a respectable profession.

 

in recent years, the agents have spearheaded the country’s digital economy and driven financial inclusion.

In addition to telecommunication companies and financial institutions that rely on them to facilitate business, digital agents help facilitate hundreds of e-government services accessible to millions of citizens.

However, they are struggling silently.

“Most of us feel that this job is in the trenches,” says Venuste Sibomana, an agent based in Gasabo District. “Some of us are ashamed to talk about what we do.”

In addition, despite facilitating over Rwf1 billion transactions every day, the agents don’t negotiate the commission they receive from each transaction.

Service providers decide the rates, which agents say is unfair. Some refuse the agents to vend services of competing brands.

In case of fraud or robbery - which they say occur very often - they are not compensated. And that their parent companies are slow to intervene.

According to Frank Nkotanyi, the head of the nascent platform known as Country Agents Network (CAN), digital agents are too important to go on unrecognized.

“Agents contribute a great deal to the economy,” he says. “Every day they make transactions worth more than Rwf1 billion. And as the volume increases, their income stays the same.”

Nkotanyi notes that the platform will advocate for fairness and more skills and services.

Trained agents also say that coming together and working in a union will elevate their standard and confidence.

Alex Ntale, CEO of ICT Chamber at the Private Sector Federation (PSF), said that digital agency will soon become a professional business thanks to a new partnership.

“We are working with Mastercard Foundation and Access to Finance Rwanda to increase the number of services you provide. This will help grow your businesses and build the country’s economy,” he said.

Currently, the agents provide telecom services, e-government, tax, banking and agriculture-related digital services.

New services on the lookout from agents include transportation ticketing, agriculture e-commerce and online betting among others.

Speaking on behalf of the ICT ministry, senior technologist Patrick Rwabidadi welcomed the union initiative and pledged government support. 

“We’re willing to help you [agents] set up an association that will allow you to work together and easily connect with the government,” he said.

Similar sentiment is shared by Rwanda Development Board’s Elodie Rusera, Chief Skills Officer.

She adds that digital agents also need to improve their customer service and soft skills in general to augment the services they provide.

Once the platform grows strong, it plans to negotiate with financial institutions so that agents can present the transactions they carry out as collateral to acquire loans.

For now, CAN has developed an application that helps agents to join, monitors them and serves as a communication window where law enforcement and service providers can respond to issues in real-time.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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