Clad in his navy blue uniform and faded blue jeans, Jean Bosco Fukamusenge looks visibly exhausted as he peeps inside passing vehicles.
Those inside the vehicles seem unbothered with his ‘weird’ behaviour. He keeps on with his act. It seems like something he has done for a long time. One would think he does it on impulse. It’s part of his instincts to automatically bend and peep into every passing car.
The huge pile of newspapers in his hands is what justifies his constant glances in the different directions; he does that in anticipation of passers-by being interested in buying at least one of the many newspaper brands he is holding.
When I first approached him, he brought the pile of papers while displaying to me the different brands. He wanted me to choose a paper of my choice. That’s when I told him I had not come to buy but rather to make a few enquiries into his trade.
He was willing to do so especially after identified myself as one of the nations only English daily reporters. He narrated the pros and cons of the newspaper vending business in Rwanda.
He described it as pathetic and not very profitable. He said that despite having an association in place to support them and advocate for their business, newspaper vendors are not helped much. He sighted occasional harassment.
Fukamusenge revealed that the on many occasions, security personnel of some buildings in town have thrown them out and sometimes confiscated their papers even when it’s a customer who has called them to deliver the newspaper.
“I have suffered losses before. My papers were confiscated and torn before I could deliver them to a client who had called me for a paper. From that time, I swore never to enter those buildings even if that’s where we used to get many consistent customers.”
Ildefonce Tugirayezu, a Security guard on one of the big city buildings, said that the reason some of the newspaper vendors are stopped from entering buildings is primarily for security purposes.
“Some of them used to come dressed shabbily which would give a wrong impression thus prompting Security Personnel to stop and chase them away.”
He further revealed that another reason as to why they stop them is because when other vendors see them entering the buildings, they also get reason to enter hence causing commotion and which may pose a security threat.
Apparently, vendors are not allowed to move from place to place selling papers. The guidelines indicate that everyone has their particular spot where they sell papers from. The vendors complain that this limits their market space.
Asuman Rurangirwa, a newspaper vendor near the Kigali central parking lot commonly known as Kwa-Rubangura directed his frustration towards the police.
He decried its arrests of vendors when they are gathered together waiting for newspapers at the different outlets. He said the papers sometimes come at different intervals with some coming really late.
“Police finds us gathered in one spot waiting for newspapers and they straight away start arresting us saying we are idle. Even though we have our work cards, in most cases they don’t even listen to our explanations.”
In response police spokesperson, John Uwamungu, said that the issue of the vendor arrests is new to him. He however said that it could be that these vendors stand in positions which are not allowed by the laws governing the city.
“I have not been aware of this issue but what I can say is that you may find that these vendors are arrested because they are standing in unlawful positions as per the requirements of the laws governing the city.”
Apart from the challenges in their daily business operations, the vendors also pointed out insufficient and inconsistent supply of certain newspapers which are usually on high demand.
These vendors pay Rwf1000 per month to their association on top of other payments. On average, they get Rwf 100 per paper they sell.
Some claim that making any savings from sales is made more difficult when they can’t access sufficient quantities of the newspapers to sell in the first place.
The vendors also claimed that some customers and subscribers cheat them.
“There are customers who have cheated us of our money. They tell us to bring them papers on a monthly basis but after seeing that money has accumulated, they tell security not to allow us in,” said Rurangirwa.
Jean Bosco Dukuzumuremyi, a subscribed vendor with The New Times complained of some people who ask for a newspaper, read it for 20 minutes and then return it without paying for it.
He also said that only subscribed vendors are in position to get The New Times yet its readership is growing by day. That if they can let others subscribe to it, it would really help them in getting food to their tables.
On average a vendor sells close to 40 news papers in a period of a week and this includes papers that come out daily, bi weekly and once a week.
The biggest challenge here is for the daily papers that at times come out late and making really hard to get customers that late and it so happens that when a day passes, the paper cannot sell.
Bruno Rangira, Kigali City Council Director of Media and Communications, said that the reason why these vendors are sometimes arrested is because they sometimes operate in a disorganised fashion.
“They are supposed to be operating from their designated points. When they don’t, it causes commotion and insecurity in the city.”
He added that the initiative of enforcing order in the city started last year and it is not limited to newspaper vendors but other businesses as well.
“We are trying to solve the problem of congestion and chaos,” Rangira said.
Leaving alone the aspect of influencing information flow, these young men and women who engage in this business need to be facilitated and helped by authorities.
They could, for instance, be given strategic spots in residential areas so that they can flourish in their business while making it easy for the readers to access the papers.
Newspaper business is an early morning business. This means that by 10a.m, the city council should not be worried of vendors looking out of place.
Also, papers that are not sold usually are returned to the supplier. This would therefore prevent chances of littering as the vendor values each paper.