The perils of the street vendor in Kigali

Walking down the street one evening, out of the shadows sprang this guy shoving clothes and shoes in my face. My first instinct was that I was being mugged but in a few seconds I managed to slow down my mental engine only to realize.

Walking down the street one evening, out of the shadows sprang this guy shoving clothes and shoes in my face. My first instinct was that I was being mugged but in a few seconds I managed to slow down my mental engine only to realize.

It’s then that I realized that the poor fella was only trying to sell his merchandise to me and not trying to snatch my purse.
I politely declined and continued to my destination leaving him behind with his wares.

A few days later after that incident, I encountered another one, only this time, he pretended to be a fellow pedestrian and only showed me his merchandise when we were in the safety of a dimly-lit street side.

Once again, I politely declined his offers and walked on, though the truth is that some of his goods were really enticing. Had I not been limited by the global financial crisis that had already reached my purse, I would have walked away with something.

Anyway, this second encounter set me pondering the plight of the street vendor in the city and so like I always do, I looked closer into this.

Using my sense of sight (ok, I could have just said ‘eyes’), I noticed that the streets were clean of street vendors during the day save for a few who lurk around commercial and business centers selling their merchandise in rucksacks and back packs, moving from one office to another and boutique to boutique.

The vendors tend to take over during the early hours of the night especially around Centenary Building, UTC, opposite kwa Rubangura and iposita.

The night is their only refuge; it is the only time they can sell their merchandise with minimal risk of getting caught by the city council officials who banned them from the streets.

But even then it’s totally not safe and they are aware of this, so they are always working under pressure and undercover knowing that any time they would have to run for their lives in case the panda gari showed up.

That seems the street vendors’ plight. Not having enough capital to rent a proper selling from point and not willing to starve yet they can try to sketch a livelihood from the little they have.

The city council complains when these people come back on the streets to sell their goods but where do they expect them to go?

They did not allocate them to any area in the city where they could continue their businesses. If they expect them to move to other markets, well the one that could have gone to, Nyabugogo market, is full.

And let me even add that renting a stall in that market would not come cheap to a street vendor. So some are forced to risk and sneak their merchandise on the city streets.

However, many others have been forced from being ‘self employed’ to unemployed, increasing the second category’s levels in the country. So, our dear council ladies and men are indirectly contributing to the unemployment in our country.

Apparently, the panda gari are also worsening the situation by sending the rounded up vendors to their villages. This information (of vendors being sent back to the villages) I gathered while listening to the news one evening.

I mean, think about it: these guys will mostly turn out to be the drunkards of their villages using alcohol to drown out their frustrations. This in turn reduces their productivity which lessens their contribution to our small but growing economy.

So I ask myself, what can we as a nation do? How can we keep the vendors in business and at the same time keep them off the streets? I suggest that maybe the district could construct market sites for the vendors.

On the other hand, remembering how long it is taking them to construct the Nyarugenge market, I get discouraged with that idea. And beside, the market is more in a commercial building format and since the rent of such shops does not come cheap, the vendors are totally left out.

So with my ever cracking brain, I suggest that maybe they could start make-shift markets. They could pick out different areas around the city for these people to sell their goods from on specified days.

The system does not totally give the vendors maximum freedom to sell their goods but at least gives them a chance to still earn that income and also contribute to economic productivity.

I have seen it work in other countries that I have visited and it works efficiently for them, so, why not us. We are not able to provide an immediate solution o the perils of the vendors so why not give this a try for the mean time as permanent solutions are found and help them? It could be incorporated in the City Master Plan to avoid kajagari!


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