RUSIZI – It’s 8a.m at Rwanda-DRC border post of Rusizi I, the main entry point between the towns of Kamembe (Rwanda) and Bukavu in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
“Move over. It’s my turn to clear. I need an errand boy.”
These are common words from the seemingly exhausted businesspersons.
The intense facial appearance, the pulling and pushing dictate impatience if anyone was to write notes about the long queues that form at the migration offices.
The long line consists of women carrying babies on their back, old men, middle aged women; people of different age groups who dared the cold morning to purchase an item from the Rwandan side of the border.
“Thank God clearing is as simple as handing over receipts for commodities bought from Rwanda,” says Bashimbe Mapedo, a Congolese business woman.
Initially, clearing was faster than reading ABC until the number of customers from DRC dramatically increased.
Someone who last visited Kamembe, four years back, would jump in shock on seeing how the cross-border trade has steadily improved.
Boom in trade
Definitely, big revenue, and profits drop into Rwanda’s business pockets, courtesy of booming cross-border trade.
“Congolese purchase a lot from Rwanda on a daily basis,” says Felician Nshimiyimana, an official with the National Bank of Rwanda (BNR). He is in charge of registering daily exports and imports at the border post.
He confirms that between 1,000 and 1,200 Congolese cross over to Rwanda, just to purchase goods.
Tuesdays and Fridays record a surge in the number of customers, between1500-1800. Blame it or credit it on Kamembe’s bi-weekly market days.
As hundreds of Congolese cross over to Kamembe, it is clear they can hardly do without the cross-border trade.
A few days back when DRC was nearing their presidential and parliamentary elections, many were worried over fears that the border might be closed for a while.
Olivier Bachishogo, a Congolese businessman who buys eggs from Rwanda, says he thought his business was doomed to fail, in case the Rwandan border closed even for a single day.
“That’s actually when I realized that my business would hit rock bottom,” says Bachishogo.
Apart from abundance of foodstuffs like eggs, cassava flour, vegetables, meat, Sambaza (small fish) in Kamembe, the other prices are said to be relatively cheaper compared to the expensive commodities in Bukavu.
Other products from Rwanda include Azam wheat flour and Inyange Industries products.
“I can’t give statistics but at least more than 50 percent of commodities that go through this clearing agency are purchased by Congolese,” says Eudes Bugingo, a senior customs manager, Umutara Ware House, Rusizi.
Because of the increasing demand from DRC, a new clearing warehouse, named Kivu, has been put in place.
Clarice Niyigena, a Rwandan widow, sells Irish potatoes. On average, she receives more than 30 customers from the DRC, a day, each buying at least 50kgs of the commodity.
Though she was cagey when asked how much she makes a day, she says she was able to construct her own house, pays school fees for her three children and her business is growing by the day.
“The benefits actually go beyond exports; the vehicles used in transportation bring in revenue and they employ many Rwandans; not to mention the casual labourers who load and offload them,” adds Bugingo.
Some commodities such as sugar have high demand; they spend less than three days in stock, according to traders.
It’s obvious that business is flourishing along this border. But smuggling is cited as one of the problems that have persisted.
The practice is blamed on border communities who believe that engaging in illegal business is a short cut to wealth.
Some of the commodities smuggled into Rwanda include bitenge (traditional fabrics), liquor and, at times, powdered milk.
Rusizi District mayor, Oscar Nzeyimana, says that plans are underway to construct a mega commercial plaza at the Rusizi border to tap into more business opportunities in the area.
“It will be more like a multipurpose market with various food items and other commodities depending on demand from our neighbours,” says Nzeyimana.
The construction of a new market in the heart of Kamembe town is apparently aimed at attracting more Congolese buyers.
Meanwhile, the district is working on plans to increase forex bureaus to boost trade.
And, with Rusizi border now operating 16 hours a day, up from only 12 hours, businesses in this part of the world are absolutely enjoying more cash flow. The sky seems to be the limit for the excited, vibrant Rusizi population.