IN the busy streets of Kigali city, airtime vendors loudly announce the prices of their commodities.
Telecommunication companies have greatly benefited from these vendors as a way of maximizing on profits.
Jean Paul Twagira earns his living by vending airtime for Tigo, MTN and Rwandatel. Twagira joined the trade in 2007 at a time when he had no income to support himself. When he joined, he was seeking to augment his earnings from other businesses like car washing and guarding cars in several parking lots. However, one evening he discovered the untapped potential in selling airtime cards.
The fresh-faced 17-year-old said that his day on the streets begins at about 8:00 a.m daily. He seemed was restive because he had not made any income yet. Every morning, he queues at an airtime point of sale at an airtime Service Centre around Remera-Giporoso before he heads to the taxi park to trade.
“There is money in the selling of airtime. The response is overwhelming. People, particularly elders are impressed by what I do,” he said.
He lives at the low-income Ruturusu cell in Umubwe village part of Gasabo district. His work station is at the Remera bus terminal.
“I earn a living out of this business,” he confesses as his eyes scanned the area for potential buyers.
Twagira said that he wanted to be a businessman. He says he has always been business minded unlike most people who start business just to escape from poverty. He was been inspired by his peers to venture into the airtime business. He has a burning desire to go back to school.
His eyes stare intently at every passerby who walks towards him. Many are not interested, but he is not discouraged.
“Everyone is my client here,” he announces, perhaps to gain more inspiration as some people look down upon him with despise
“I can afford to pay rent and send some of my profits to my mother in my village in Muhanga district,” he said.
He says his turnover on a good day is Rwf1500.
“I enjoy doing my business so much to the point where I even dream about it at night; I like my business,” he said.
However, several clients have complained of buying fake airtime cards from these vendors during rush hour. They say it has become a risky business transaction.
Jean Pierre Rukundo, a businessman in Remera-Giporoso said he was one time duped when he bought an MTN 1500 card from a vendor at Caritas House.
“Since we were at the traffic lights, my brother drove off. When Just I tried to recharge my phone the operator said that I had already used the recharge key. I could not tell what had been used to seal the recharge numbers!” Rukundo said.
Another vendor who only identified himself as Halerimana admitted that many people who have bought airtime during rush hours have been made to pay the price for the meagre profits the airtime vendors reap in daily sales. However, this profit is not easy to come by, as the “profession” is heavily flooded.
He added that the more cards you sell the more the profit you make. He confesses that their “workplace” is not a bed of roses and their business is faced with a lot of challenges, which could be the reason why some of the vendors have resorted to duping customers.
“There are so many of us selling the same product at the same price and at the same place. So it is very difficult to have a customer base. You cannot claim a territory to sell since we are all not paying rent for the space we use,” Halerimana said.
Some of the vendors have opted for unscrupulous means of survival as the going gets tough.
“Some of us end up employing dirty tactics to recover losses, but we do not condone that because we the vendors end up having a bad tag on our foreheads,” Halerimana said.
On the other hand, Twagira admits that he once cheated when his financial stand was in shambles. He said he owed a loan shark some money and had to make a tough decision selling fake cards because he did not have anywhere else to get the money.
“It’s not like we want to do these things, but poverty pushes us to that end. If you ask people to give you money they will not, so we employ such tactics and when you sell a fake card to someone who is in a rush, you immediately change posts once they are gone just in case the customer makes a U-turn,” he said.
“You only need to do that twice a day to minimise the chances of being caught and also your conscience would tell you not to overdo it,” he added.
This however, creates a situation of insecurity for these vendors.
“Some conned individuals have gone to the extent of launching manhunts for airtime vendors, but have been very unlucky,” Twagira said.