After several running battles with the Police and City of Kigali law enforcement officers, 74 street vendors from different corners of Kigali pooled resources to construct a commercial premises in 2009.
The 33 men and 41 women each contributed Rwf 250,000 and formed an association known as Duhahirane –Gisozi.
This contribution, according to Eric Shirubute, the vice-president of the project, was given in two instalments.
Gasabo district then awarded them the 6,000 metres of land on which they built their workplace. But that was just the starting point.
Shirubute says they then secured a Rwf2 billion loan, which they used to construct their first market at a cost of Rwf560 million. The market was a hall with stands covered with iron sheets and surrounded by smaller shops.
Two years later, the number of members increased from 74 to 250 (120 men and 130 women) transforming from an association to a cooperative.
The rapid rise was partly due to awareness campaign by the original members of the cooperative and district officials on the benefits of operating in a cooperative.
Shirubute says bringing together people whose mindsets were different and whose financial ability was low to raise capital was just one of the challenges that pushed them to achieve their target.
“When we started sensitising them about the project, some could not believe the project was possible. But all things are possible when people are united,” Shirubute said.
In March 2012, the group started to construct a Rwf1.6 billion modern three storey market started, and according to Prosper Nsengiyumva, one of the managers, will be operational by the end of the month.
Today, Cooperative Duhahirane boasts 321 members who all have stalls in the old market or are operating in surrounding buildings, depending on one’s business capacity. These will be entitled to space in the new market.
However, another block will be constructed later to cater for another 44 members.
The Gasabo district Vice Mayor in charge of economic development, Jean Claude Munara, said the district helped to link members of the cooperative to financial institutions.
“Out first role was to sensitise them to leave streets, help them to form cooperatives, link them with banks, and then after assessing their capacities, we gave them a plot to operate on,” said Munara.
“The Police jailed me at Remera Police Station for three days after they caught me selling merchandise on the street,” Rose Nzabonimpa, a mother of four, living in Kigugu cell, recalls.
She is a former street vendor and one of the project initiators.
Now she has no regrets. With the new market, her business is worth Rwf5 million after investing Rwf 30,000.
“I am now safer as I have my own house to live in. I have a precise and recognised place to sell from,” she declared.
Another vendor, Francois Nsabimana 25, a former street child was taught how to make charcoal stoves and metallic cases by one of the project initiators.
Today, he has a working place free from the freezing nights and rain.
“I can now make money instead of begging for it to survive,” he said, adding, “I am now married and built my own house; I could not have achieved all of these if I remained on the street.”
Nsengiyumva said apart from changing the lives of former street vendors and their families, the project has offered jobs to at least six thousand other people.
He is optimistic the project members will benefit more in the forthcoming days once their new market is complete.
In order to develop the area, Munara said the district is planning to pave all the commercial area roads with stones.