Two months ago, the City of Kigali relocated vendors, especially women, who were operating along city streets to different markets in Gasabo, Kicukiro and Nyarugenge districts.
The move was aimed at easing their operations as they were given markets to work from for a year without paying any kind of fees. The project is under the National Employment Programme (NEP).
However, the vendors are unhappy and presently on the verge of abandoning the free markets, claiming they do not get customers which results into big losses. The vendors say they buy merchandise, particularly fruits and vegetables, but they do not get customers.
“So we end up making heavy losses because our products are perishable. What is the reason for staying here (in the free markets) when our children are starving?” vendors in Kimironko Free Market I said.
They add that some of their colleagues have since gone back to the streets, arguing that they can never lack customers on the roads.
Clementine Iyakaremye, a mother of two, is wary of the time she will start paying rent for her stall. She says the uncertainty has prompted many of the women vendors to go back to the streets or stay home.
In Kimironko Free Market II, there are less than 10 women; many of the stalls are empty. The market has no sign post, and one can mistake it for a parking space.
The vendors say the market has no future. However, Mukantwali Sifa, is at least happy that she has a place to sit and no longer has to engage in running battles with city enforcement officers with a baby on her back all the time. She is, however, torn between staying at the market and going back to the streets.
Josia Nyirahabimana, the oldest vendor in the market, thinks the situation will only change if a few challenges are addressed. She says the Gasabo District leaders should advertise the market and remove the fence so the market becomes visible to the public. Kimironko Free Market II is opposite Kimironko Taxi Park, but is in an enclosure, which makes it look like a private place.
Members here hold weekly meetings every Monday afternoon to share ideas on how to improve the market and also save Rwf500 as part of their savings plan.
Kimirinko Free Market I, which is under Abishizehamwe Kimironko SACCO has a membership of 30 women. It is the least active of the markets despite its strategic location near Kimironko main market and Taxi Park along the road leading to Zindiro.
A glance at Kimironko Free Market I gives one hope that these free markets are here to stay.
The market is buzzing with activity, and is full of seemingly happy women vendors tending to their vegetable and fruit stalls. The market has ample parking space and customer potential as it is along the main road. This is a complete opposite of Kimironko Free Market II.
The genesis of free markets
Issa Muvunyi Kibombo, the officer in charge of social protection and disability affairs at the City of Kigali, said each of the vendors was given start-up capital of up to RWf77,000 under the Gira Ubucuruzi programme. However, only vendors with the capacity to do business benefitted. Former street women vendors were given priority, he adds.
“District authorities were tasked to find suitable sites for the markets and allocate them to different women in their respective co-operatives as per their areas of residence,” he explains. In total, 14 markets were created - six markets in Gasabo, six in Kicukiro and two in Nyarugenge District. In Gasabo District, there are two markets in Kimironko, four in Remera and one in Gisozi, Muvunyi says.
According to Muvunyi, the city authority will pay rent for the markets for a period of one year, while the different districts will take care of operational taxes, also for one year. “All this is in an attempt to allow the former street vendors time to stabilise before they start paying rent and other operational taxes,” Muvunyi explains.
Leaders speak out
Amandi Musirikare, the acting Director Business Development and Employment Promotion Officer at Gasabo District, is optimistic the free markets will be a success and impact lives of many women. Musirikare says the current challenges the women are facing are expected “this being the initial phase of the project.”
“They will overcome the challenges if they develop an open mind and adopt a positive outlook of the whole project. The fact that they were used to trading on streets without paying taxes is one of the challenges we will have to overcome since it is a ‘mind-set’ problem. They only look at the challenges they are facing now, but fail to look at the bigger picture,” Musirikare says. Musirikare advises the vendors to be patient, saying going back to street vending is not sustainable and is a health risk besides being illegal.
This is shared by Angelique Musabyemaria, the president of Abishizehamwe Co-operative in Kimironko Free Market II, who says the market will soon attract clients. She blames some of the women who keep going back to the streets for the escalation of the challenges.
Muvunyi promised the city authority would start advertising the markets on radio stations and television stations beginning this week.
“We have visited the markets and are aware of the challenges they are facing. However, we are doing everything possible to find solutions. We are working closely with district and sector officials who are closer to these markets to see that the markets are known by the public, and also embraced by the vendors,” says Muvunyi.