Its coming to 7:00pm on a Thursday evening, Emmanuel, 19, (Not real name), a hawker stands under a tree near one of Kigali’s first storied shopping complexes, commonly known by its owner – the late Vedaste Rubangura.
Emmanuel, who requested that his name not be printed for fear of persecution by police, only has two pieces of clothes for sale. The garments are suspended on his arm, he somberly says that he just sold off a white skirt for Rwf1500 to a female customer.
Emmanuel is just one of the hundreds of hawkers that emerge from oblivion at the fall of darkness and strategically position themselves near public transportation areas. The plan is to target the working class who are returning home after a day’s work. The hawkers are popular because of their willingness to bargain with clients.
But all is not smooth for the night vendors.
The police are constantly on their heels, trying to break up the illegal mobile markets. Despite the police wrath, the hawkers have managed to thrive. They have a strategy.
Emmanuel, leans against the tree, his eyes are keenly groping the area for both potential customers and threats. The dark is their accomplice.
“I sell at night because they arrest us during the day. Some of them put on plain clothes and arrest us,” he says.
After completing S4 two years ago, Emmanuel took up hawking after failing to raise money to continue with his high school.
For the time he has been on the street, police confrontations and arrests are not a new phenomenon.
“We are chased everyday and I have been arrested twice in two years,” he says. On average, Emmanuel earns Rwf35, 000. A large portion of it goes to paying his monthly house rent of Rwf15000.
“I failed to get another job. This is better than stealing,” he says.
In the hawking business, the likes of Emmanuel play the role of middle men. Emmanuel says that they buy used clothes from markets like Nyabugogo, pack them in back packs and hit the streets.
When they learn that I am a journalist, they swarm around me and quickly voice their plea.
“Please tell the government that we are living in poor conditions and trying to survive but we are being chased and arrested. How will we survive?” One of them says as the others struggle to get their grievances across.
One hawker, looking sharp in a green head band with a matching jacket shouts with an angry tone “I have been arrested countless times yet we are trying to survive,” he says, “During the police chases, we get knocked by passing cars.”
In the middle of my conversation with the hawkers, A police patrol car drives by. They all suddenly start running, scattering in various directions.
“This is how we live our lives, when the police comes, we run into hiding. When they are gone we return,” One of them says.
Another hawker is carrying a swollen jaw. One of his friends refers to him as an example of police brutality.
“Look at his jaw. It is swollen. He was beaten by a policeman. This is what we have to live through to earn a living,” he says.
But that does stop business from going as normal. The injured hawker has clothes tucked under his left arm.
Kigali City Council (KCC) maintains that hawking is illegal and should stop. According to the City’s Vice Mayor, the hawkers were given an alternative.
“We told them to organize themselves and start operating in markets,” Gakuba said.
The Vice Mayor also said that the hawkers had a 3- months- tax exemption if they shifted their business to designated markets.
KCC asked police to enforce the directive
Marcel Higiro, the police spokesperson says that the campaign to get hawkers off the streets has been successful so far.
“These people (hawkers) crowd the city. Slowly we have been arresting them and returning them to wherever they came from,” he said.
With hawkers like Emmanuel returning to the streets even after being arrested more than once, the KCC and police’s strategy raises is questionable.
Pamphile Nshimiyimana, an employee of Sony Ericsson who was once a client of the hawkers says that the chasing game by police is not a solution to the hawking problem.
“They should build low cost markets and charge very low taxes.” Nshimiyimana said.