In Biryogo, Nyarugenge District, women carrying the agataro (an open basket) on their heads was a common sight. The ladies would brace the scorching sun to vend food stuff like bananas, pineapples and mangoes, among other items.
As street vendors, one of the challenges they faced was the lack of market space or a cooperative. But that challenge is no more as they have since moved to a modern Nyabugogo market which was launched recently.
Assiah Umutoniwase lives in Karabaye, Nyamirambo. The 23-year-old mother of one deals in yellow bananas. It is a business that she has been doing for two years now. As a street vendor, Umutoniwase would wake up early in the morning to hit the road and make a living.
“To get the best bananas in the market, I had to wake up earlier than normal and head over there with my basket. To get clients, I would carry the basket on my head and walk to as many areas as possible,” says Umutoniwase.
“It wasn’t easy,” she adds, “I would earn about Rwf 2000 per day, yet I had Rwf10,000 to pay for rent, and also, feed my child.”
For Francine Uwingabire, a mother of two residing in Rwampala, as a street vendor, she had to toil to survive the hard life of the city.
“Life in Kigali is not cheap. You always worry where money is going to come from. I had no option but to walk around with a basket on my head, even though I wasn’t guaranteed a stable living,” she says.
Uwingabire adds, “I separated with my husband and he was not supporting me in any way. I couldn’t leave my children to suffer; I had to feed them, myself, and pay rent. Carrying pineapples on your head and walking to many areas of Kigali is really hard but it must be done if you want to survive.”
For Uwingabire, street vending is risky, and can even lead to health problems.
According to 20-year-old Jacquelline Uwineza from Gitega, the lack of fixed setting sometimes has led to clashes with the law. Also, women are forced to spend so much time away from their kids because they can’t make them walk as far, among other problems.
Markets and cooperatives
Nyabugogo market is currently their place of work; they were allocated to the market by the government to avoid disorder. A good number of these women come from Nyarugenge and are now in groups, each comprising of 13 members; in Nyabugogo market.
The groups, which they take as cooperatives, have names like Sugira, Gukunda umurimo, Tuzamurane, among others. These women sell fruits and vegetables, among other foods.
32-year-old Virginia Kampire, a mother, says that there has been change in her business since she joined the market.
Kampire was a vendor in Nyabugogo, carrying a basket of vegetables on her head, hoping to make money from the many people in Nyabugogo on a daily basis.
“As a street vendor, I used to walk with the basket all over Nyabugogo. I did not have particular customers. I was always running from the authorities. I barely made any profits. Today, in our cooperatives, we get profits, loans, and you don’t have to worry about the authorities,” Kampire says.
According to 25-year-old Gaudence Nirere, a mother of two under Sugira Cooperative, she was always looking over her shoulder, worried about getting caught by the authorities, and also, thieves. It is much easier to work in a market.
“I remember being robbed one night when I was selling pineapples in Nyamirambo. There is a lot of trouble on the streets; some people want to get items from you without paying,” she says.
“With cooperatives, we have security. We even take time to exchange ideas as mothers, which didn’t happen on the streets as we were scattered and focused on getting to as many places as possible,” Nirere adds.
Uwingabire, under Gukunda umurimo Cooperative, says that cooperatives enable women to get loans and it is something a street vendor can’t get.
What authorities say
Idrissa Nkurunziza, the Director of Business Development and Employment in Nyarugenge District, says that building markets for street vendors is one of the best approaches to keeping order and also, making the streets safer.
“Nyarugenge District is using this approach because it also helps mothers spend more time with their children as they do not have to walk around. When a mother is on the streets, it’s difficult to be available to look after the kids.
“Today, women work in the markets that the district built for them. They have working hours and also, time for family just like other people, “he explains.
Nkurunziza adds that the new market in Nyabugogo launched two weeks ago will reduce the number of street vendors in Kigali city in general.
“Nyarugenge District has a large number of street vendors, so, the policy of increasing markets will place more stability and they will profit from it,” Nkurunziza, says.
Nyarugenge District has built up to five markets for street vendors: Nyabugogo alone has three markets, Nzove Market, Kivugiza Market and Kimisagara Market.
Gitega Sector in Nyamirambo is also known for its growing number of street vendors, especially women.
Clemence Uwimana, the head of Business, Employment and Economic Development in Gitega Sector, says women vendors in Gitega are about 294, adding that the vendors’ problems also include lack of education for their children as they earned peanuts. They hope that the availability of markets and access to loans through the cooperatives will change this.
“These women, as street vendors, didn’t get time to look after their children, let alone get enough money to educate them. Working in a market is something which has brought many optimistic changes for them,” Uwimana says.
She adds that this fixed setting motivates them to share ideas and also, learn from each other.
The Mayor of Kigali City, Monique Mukaruriza, says that the policy of building markets for street vendors in general fixes the problem of insecurity in the city.
“The markets offer a permanent address to the street vendors. This is the best approach to address disorder in Kigali which causes uncertainty. For women, the markets give them the opportunity to work together,” she explains, adding that when women work together, they share ideas and broaden their mindset.
Vendors share their views on putting an end to street hawking
This is one of the most promising government policies regarding hawkers, especially women. There were many issues with street hawking, for instance, some people were cautious about buying their products wondering about the quality, and state of those products, among other things. But with the establishment of those markets, those women can do their business freely and clients now know where to find them.
Change is not easy, and at some point it might be a bit challenging for these women to adapt to doing business in a well established market, but the benefits are plenty. Women should embrace the initiative, and make most out of the opportunity. I think working in the market will benefit them in such a way that they will get consistent customers, have a permanent address, and join cooperatives which will boost their business.
Streethawking was denying these women room for expansion, personal development and growth of their business. However, now they are going to be able to access not only an increased number of customers, but also, government incentives, social services, and the benefits of working in an organised environment. This is a good initiative that street vendors should not hesitate to take on.
Maria Tereza Mukandahigwa
Working in markets will enable women to practice the modern way of doing business, exercise business ethics, and advance their endeavors. The challenges will be there at the beginning, but they will soon adjust and make most out of these established markets. There is no prosperity when it comes to selling foods on the streets; it’s risky, disorganised and slows development.