Kigali hawkers in cat and mouse game with police

Hawkers deprive government of tax and are suspected of being thieves—police Rukundo Nsobumunenyi, 17, is playing a game of cards in the slums of Kimisagara, Nyarugenge district, after recently being frustrated by police. “The police recently arrested me and took my eggs,” he says.

Hawkers deprive government of tax and are suspected of being thieves—police

Rukundo Nsobumunenyi, 17, is playing a game of cards in the slums of Kimisagara, Nyarugenge district, after recently being frustrated by police.

“The police recently arrested me and took my eggs,” he says.

He adds that; “Usually we do odd jobs and get start-up income. I had to do odd jobs where I got Rwf5,000 as start up for the hawking business. But it was taken by police.”

Nsobumunenyi says that he was forced to fend for himself after an uncle intentionally stopped paying his school fees claiming that he had married and therefore had increased responsibilities. But he says that survival has been complicated by the police.

“The police arrested me on the ninth month [September] of this year. They held me for thirteen days. They took my eggs. When they arrested us we were like 30 but at Gikondo we found another 2,000,” he recalls. Upon release he says that his eggs were not returned to him.

Nsobumunenyi is just one of many but in the struggle to earn a living by hawking are confronted by the police and stripped of their start up income as a way of forcing them to operate in markets.

And though there is a visible threat of being apprehended and thrown into prison and worst being the consistent loss of their petty merchandise which is their sole source fo survival, they adamantly return to the hawking business.

On release from prison, still with no choice they have to go through the initial stages of doing odd jobs to raise start-up income that enables them to return to the hawking business but some have devised strategies of keeping away from the police thus perpetuating the cat and mouse chase.

Nsobumunenyi also complains that apart from confiscating their merchandise the police also take their money. Though the police refute the latter accussation.

The operations by police are aimed at getting rid of hawkers from city streets into the confines of markets and also associate the wandering way of doing business with social evils. But the hawkers maintain that they can’t manage the levies in the markets to hire stalls and pay daily dues.

Protais Murasira, police spokesperson, says that police is just implementing the law after districts asked them to apprehend those hawking.

Jean Marie Njangwe, the in charge Nyamirambo Police Post says hawkers deprive government of tax and some are suspected thieves.

“It is illegal to (hawk) because they don’t pay tax. When you do business and you are not registered anywhere is illegal. There is a law from the district to stop them from hawking.

Others are ‘thieves’. They usually carry one pair of shoes but with a hidden intention of stealing at night. ”

Adding that, “they litter the city with garbage and even cause accidents.”

Njangwe explained that once arrested hawkers are made to part with their merchandise.

“Some of these [perishable] are thrown away. But usually once they are arrested the commodities are held as exhibits.”

But he says that taking suspects’ money is not allowed.  He also said that the arrests have been intensified by deployment of a ‘Mobile Police Unit’.

Despite having been arrested before, many like Louisa Mukamano, 31 a resident of Kimisagara, have endured doing business outside the market claiming that they cannot afford the market‘s monetary demands.

“A friend has allowed me to station my business here in front of her building. I have spent seven years selling peas and cabbages,” she says.

Divorced but with three children to look after, Mukamano determinedly says, “Many times we hide but you can’t stop working because we don’t stop eating. There is nothing to do.”

Mukamano revealed that after being frustrated by police, some hawker sresolved to head back upcountry but others remained with a new plan B to beat the police crackdown on hawking.

“Others returned to upcountry because their capital had been destroyed. Some of them stopped coming in the morning hours since it is when the police would take their produce. Now they time during evening hours.”

Many of the youth in their late teens and most in their early twenties involved in hawking reasoning that their families could not support them at school and some lost their parents during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

In Kimisagara market, Faransina Twagirimana, 29 years old is sitting next to a heap of onions.

He reveals that, “We pay Rwf2,500 as rent for space to operate, a trading fee of Rwf4,000 and rwf1,000 to clean up the place.” He has been operating in the market for four years and says that the taxes haven’t changed.

“I pay them because they are mandatory,” he adds. Unlike many who strive to get start-up income by doing odd jobs, Twagirimana’s parents provided the capital.

In Kigali City, hawking is a visibly rampant business activity during the day. Along the various roads, by-passers are occasionally blocked by hawkers carrying brown envelopes to conceal the merchandise that they tend to sell to the public.

Origene Rutayisire the mayor of Nyarugenge said that after confiscating commodities, they are distributed, “to the hungry or to orphanages.” He also condemned the hawking business.

“They inconvenience those operating within the markets who pay taxes. It is okay to do business but they are doing business in the wrong place. We want to build markets.”

Rutayisire explained that within the district budget, there is a plan to fund the construction of 6 mini markets that will allow the businesses of those hawking to mature initially without paying taxes.

“In next year’s performance contract we are going to build 6 mini markets. We had planned it last year. When they start earning profits, they will start contributing for money used to construct the markets. And later they will start paying taxes
He also said that there was controversy surrounding the origins and the business activities of the hawkers.

“These people may pose as businessmen during the day but we are not sure where they get there commodities,” said Rutayisire.

Adding that, “there are those who come from villages. Street children also suffer this. We usually send them back home because the police has no right to keep the children. But those without parents are taken to orphanages.”

Rutayisire said that to effectively eliminate hawking, “we have community policing committees- a unit of police with plain clothes that works with the natives to get rid of such cases by confiding in the police in the district and villages. He also said that a census will be done on business owners in an attempt to reduce rural-urban migration.”

As the urban-rural migration intensifies the slum population is increasing and the government is increasingly being burdened to come up with an effective solution.


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