Is Rwanda’s nascent e-commerce business now ready for take-off?

After several episodes of failed uptake, local online businesses are making record sales in the midst of the new coronavirus lockdown.

And now ecommerce business operators are already drawing up strategies that will help them sustain the momentum in post COVID-19 Rwanda.


The pandemic has taken the world by storm. It has turned some megacities into ghost towns.


Social life has been disrupted while business activity has plunged, leading to a global economic recession as employees continue to face layoffs.


However, local e-commerce business operators are now turning the coronavirus bane into a boon.

"I would be ungrateful if I said that I'm counting any loss now," said Tabhim Uwizeye, the CEO of Olado, a domestic e-commerce start-up which sells an array of products, from kitchen utensils to toiletries.

Despite the absence of foodstuff in its store, the two-year-old enterprise has recorded a 45 per cent increase in its website visits during the last four weeks.

Orders on its platform have grown from 15 to 25 per week, the company says.

DMM Hehe, an established e-commerce business, too, has recorded a tremendous increase of 166 per cent in its gross merchandise volume and a 20 per cent user growth of its platforms.

Besides building software technologies that help other online-based businesses optimize their operations, the company runs digital marts and grocery stores.

Clarisse Iribagiza, the firm's founder and CEO, observed that the business will emerge from the lockdown even bigger.

"We see continued growth as more businesses look to embrace technology. So they’re able to be more resilient," she said.

Vuba Vuba, a start-up that was introduced in January 2020 following the collapse of Jumia Food Rwanda, is now operating with more than 85 restaurants and supermarkets.

Of these, over 25 partners joined the food delivery service after the lockdown was announced.

Vuba Vuba plans to expand its business operations once the lockdown is lifted, to Albert Munyabugingo, the company's CEO.

"During this lockdown, we've received many orders from places outside Kigali. This demand is telling us to expand our operations to other provinces and we want to do that as soon as possible," Munyabugingo said.

Vuba Vuba's 30 per cent increase in daily orders has resulted in a fleet of more than 30 motorcycles.

Murukali, another online grocery store, has delivered a total of 282 orders in the last 26 days of lockdown, recording a 68 per cent increase in sales.

As e-commerce thrives under the COVID-19 crisis, the virus continues to pause other setbacks to businesses.

For instance, online-based business operators continue to report slow and unreliable internet, which affects their operations.

Supermarket shelves for cereals and imported edibles are running empty due to disrupted supply chains.

"We are facing challenges in logistics especially for partner stores that cannot access their inventory for us to deliver it," said HeHe's Iribagiza.

Notwithstanding these bottlenecks, the government has continued to support and facilitate the uptake of digital, contact-free economy, especially during this crisis of a highly contagious virus.

For instance, charges on mobile money transactions were scrapped as part of the efforts to increase digital transactions and curb the virus spread.

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