How black market forex exchange operators are thriving in Kigali

In March, the central bank announced a new regulatory framework for forex bureaus that saw the tightening of operation conditions for the sector.
A sign post showing exchange rates in downtown Kigali. File.
A sign post showing exchange rates in downtown Kigali. File.

In March, the central bank announced a new regulatory framework for forex bureaus that saw the tightening of operation conditions for the sector.

The new regulatory framework impacts are, however, limited to only registered forex bureaus in the country, leaving black market forex operations to thrive.

 

A spot check by The New Times, testimonies from the black market operators as well as experiences by registered operators reveal that unregistered operators continue to work in the market.

 

In Kigali, the operators are hard to miss around the City Mosque and at Nyabugogo Taxi Park with their operations running from 8am till late.

 

The operators are also common at border points, especially Rubavu and Gatuna.

Around the mosque in Kigali, the operators position themselves outside registered bureaus making it easy for them to approach potential clients and redirecting them to their own services.

Most of them offer rates relatively lower compared to legal operators.

For instance, last week, the central bank exchange rates for the Dollar were Rwf825.6 and Rwf842.1 for buying and selling, respectively. Bank exchange rate was on average Rwf839 and Rwf851 for buying and selling, while most bureaus had an average rate of Rwf845 buying.

Black market operators, who this reporter approached, were offering as low as Rwf830 for buyers of the green buck.

This, registered operators say, is putting them out of business, especially at a time when the new regulation and operating requirements are costing them more and consequently eating into their profits.

Low risk, high returns

A number of operators who spoke to The New Times said that there is little risk of apprehension in the course of their duties.

Others said their illegal enterprises have been able to create a steady clientele base who they even visit and serve at home or workplace.

An operator, who only identified himself as Mucyo, told this paper that over the four years he has been in the trade, he has been able to build a reputation among a section of clients.

Others, he said, call him to their work premises and homes.

“I can even give you a receipt if you need one for official filing purposes. It’s about competing for clients, so some of us can even bring you the money at home or at work to give you the best service,” Mucyo said showing a receipt with a rubber stamp on it.

On the risk of arrests, he said authorities have been more keen on apprehending hawkers as opposed to them.

Another operator who agreed to comment on condition of anonymity said that there has been little efforts to apprehend them, which has given some clients confidence in their operations.

Without disclosing their earnings, the operators say that they have fair earnings considering that they are untaxed.

Mucyo said that over time, they have learnt the Dollar demand patterns, which has enabled them ‘remain in business.’

Alphonse Murangwa, who manages a city forex bureau, said the operators have for long been causing them losses as they have rates that are hard to compete with and they position themselves right outside their premises.

Central bank concerned

Commenting on black market operations, central bank vice governor Monique Nsazabaganwa said they are concerned about the issue and are working with several authorities to deal with it.

“We are always concerned, that is why we issue regulations and notices to the public. We also partner with Rwanda National Police and local governments in various places. We also carry out campaigns in different places to sensitise the public,” she said.

Nsazabaganwa said regular crackdowns are held to discourage the practices as well as efforts to improve the professionalism in the sector.

“The most important thing is that we keep cracking down such practices. We also keep modernising the business of forex bureaus. They now have an association which is helping us to bring discipline and professionalism into the market,” she said.

Nsazabaganwa said the black market operations risk promoting vices such as speculation, rollout of fake currencies and money laundering.

Police spokesperson Theos Badege said they consistently work with the central bank to enforce the law.

“We consistently enforce this article of the penal code. We work closely with the central bank and the licensed bureau d’e changes to protect our currency. Law enforcement operations have been focusing in Kigali city around the old post office area, at main borders and cities (Rubavu, Rusizi, Gatuna). We urge the public to report malpractices in this area,” he said.

City of Kigali spokesperson Bruno Rangira said that often, it is hard to spot and arrest illegal operators as they do not walk around with products the way hawkers do.

However, Rangira noted that if spotted, the operators and their clients are arrested alongside hawkers.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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