Boat engines are heard roaring from a distance as they approach Galiraya, a market at the shore of Lake Kivu in Rwanda.
Shortly, the boats from the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) start docking. Several passengers who have been sharing the same boat with assorted foodstuffs disembark from the reeking canoes.
These are Congolese [Bashi] traders arriving at Galiraya market where Rwandans swap livestock and fowls for foodstuffs from the DRC.
The presence of the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) and the local defense personnel is also felt. These personnel at the landing site are charged with collecting tax while the local defence personnel ensure security at the porous lake shore of Lake Kivu.
Claude Munyangabo a revenue correspondent responsible for proper income revenue collection at the landing site says, to ensure that Congolese pay taxes; their identification papers are confiscated and only returned after they have cleared, mostly in the evening.
The Congolese are willing to pay, lest they are locked out of the only market.
“I don’t carry more than Frw2,000 in my pockets. All I come with is money to clear taxes,” says Mbunda a Congolese trader.
Offloading bananas, yams, oranges and pineapples from Congo seems to take much longer time. The RAA personnel and security details carry-out a thorough check.
They are keen on smuggled goods, following reports that Congo is a leading source of smuggled goods in the Great Lake Region.
A trader said RRA is tightness is justified partly because Eastern Congo has no ‘functional government’. Unscrupulous traders use the area as a hub of smuggled goods. These goods are declared as in transit but after reaching eastern Congo they end up in neibouring countries.
As this trader explains customs and security formalities are done. The market becomes active. Heaps of bananas are being exchanged for animals. Ten bunches of bananas go for a fat goat, as a hen is simply swapped for one bunch.
On the open market a big bunch of banana would cost Frw1,500 on average and a fully grown-up goat is sold at Frw15,000, but here, ten bunches of bananas go for a goat.
As I came closely to a Rwandan lady exchanging eggs for a small yam I heard her complaining in Kinyarwanda, “Ariko urampenze, meaning you have cheated me.
On several occasions such complaints arise though they are sorted out on the spot. The cheated party is added a bonus locally known as enyongezo.
“If it’s a rainy season in Congo, the bananas float and we give out many at almost zero coast,” says Mpenzi. A sheep can earn one a heap of ten plus banana. ‘Mazizi’ type of babana used for making local brew—urwagwa is more marketable—thus expensive.
Congolese are cashing in on this type of banana. Negotiations or no negotiations, mazizi are only exchangeable with pigs. Here a pig goes for Frw40,000. Meanwhile, a pig or perhaps two can earn a Rwandans a whole banana plantation for given seasons.
“All Nkusi does is pay for the fuel that I use but the entire banana heaps I bring are his. He paid three boars for three seasons,” says Bahati servicing a loan of pigs he got from Rwanda.
Traders here are happy with the barter trade reasoning that the less they handle money, the less loses they encounter. The people are right instability in the DRC saw the country economy almost collapse.
Money lost value. To tame inflation, businesses men resorted to barter trade which has persisted, and has been exported to neibouring Rwanda.
Though the barter trade is booming, the Congolese complain that they are overcharged by Rwandan authorities. This eats into their profits and capital.
They also say some animals at times their animals are roughly handled by their Rwandan counterparts, the animals at times end up dieing on the way.
“These guys beat the animals much. Imagine burning fuel to Rwanda and you leave with a dead animal,” Bahat said.
As he complains the landing site is now filled with all sorts of noises from the animals on their way to Congo. The boats that came full of foodstuffs are now filled with goats, pigs, sheep, chicken and ducks.
Petronira Uwamariya, a Rwandan trader is worried barter trade will soon be replaced with cash. “One day money will replace barter trade,” she strongly believes. The entire Congo will soon become peaceful and the economy will stabilise.