EVEN A cornered rat will turn and bite at the cat. But for street vendors in Kigali, it’s more than just being cornered from time to time but they have lost patience. And when this happens, the hunter becomes the hunted, as city law enforcers have found out.
Street vendors are accusing local security agents (DASSO) and sanitation enforcers who work in collaboration with Police of taking home merchandise confiscated from them.
The vendors say their confiscated merchandise end up in the hands of security agents but that it is a tad painful to see the same law enforcers turning up in their goods days later.
“Some of them are our neighbours, so they confiscate clothes from you, the following day you meet them or their family wearing your jacket or socks, that’s absurd and unfair,” said Nyiranizeyimana, not real name.
“It hurts when they take away your merchandise which they rarely take to police posts. They take them home and give them to their wives and children. I have been in this risky business for 14 years now, have been jailed several times now with my little girl on my back, but I would prefer to keep on fighting because it’s almost the only source of livelihood for me now,” a vendor this newspaper will only identify as Mukeshimana said.
Street vendors are still many despite the long-standing crackdown on them by security agents, with vendors and their buyers facing up to Rwf10,000 in fines as per the City of Kigali law enacted in January.
Arrested hawkers are routinely held in police posts for a couple of days until they pay fines and those who can’t are later transferred to Kigali Rehabilitation Transit Centre in Gikondo.
To avoid being whisked away to police posts, some vendors say they bribe city patrol officers, who in most cases don’t give them back their confiscated merchandise upon release.
“You choose between being jailed and bribing them and they set you free,” said Nyiranizeyimana, who has been vending on streets since 1998.
City of Kigali last year constructed markets for street vendors, where they could operate in an environment free of rent and taxes and other local government dues for one year.
Twelve markets were constructed in the three districts of Kigali city, offering space for over 8,000 street vendors with view to fight tax evasion and ensure high levels of cleanness and orderliness.
Inspite of the incentives, however, some of the vendors decided to leave the markets to resume street vending, claiming established settlements denied them steady supply of clients.
Mayor refutes claims
But the claims by the street vendors might not register much notice with the authorities.
“Those are groundless excuses,” Nyarugenge mayor Kayisime Nzaramba told The New Times. “We asked them where they wanted those markets, and that’s where we built them.”
Regarding seized goods that allegedly benefit security people, Kayisime said that would be a malpractice that is unlikely to happen given the professionalism of the security personnel.
She said confiscated goods are taken to three small stores in Rwampara and Kimisagara suburbs from where they are relocated to a larger facility in Mageragere Sector every evening.
“Clothes are stored in Mageragere while perishables like bananas and vegetables are dumped as they can’t be consumed,” said Kayisime, insisting that security agents’ conduct is commendable.
“It’s illogical to say that they meet them wearing their clothes because clothes look alike, how do they identify them? But should that happen, we will take serious measures accordingly,” she added.
However, Kayisime couldn’t explain where the clothes kept in Mageragere end, only saying they are given to people involved in developmental activities.
The mayor also could not cite any examples of such activities.
The City public relations and communications manager, Bruno Rangira, had earlier told The New Times that confiscated clothes are given to the needy and vagrants that are taken to Iwawa Rehabilitation and Vocational Skills Development Centre.
Nyarugenge District has documented four ugly incidents in the last five months in which local law enforcers were fought off by street vendors.
A fortnight ago saw a bitter feud pitting law enforcers and vendors at Nyabugogo bus terminal. A vendor was beaten up by three law enforcers who were also wounded by a mob in ensuing scuffle.
A one Kazungu was selling samosa when law enforcers approached him, and instead of complying, Kayisime said, Kazungu incited chaos which resulted in security people being injured.
But the vendors have a different version: Kazungu had given the DASSO personnel some money as a bribe promising them more after selling his goods; they fought when he refused to respect his pledge when they later came back.
Police Spokesperson Theos Badege condemned the behaviour of noncompliant vendors, calling upon them to cease the illegal business and also avoid jeopardising law enforcement.