Rwanda/DR Congo: Finding a day’s work across the border (Syfia Grands Lacs)

| March 28, 2011

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It’s six in the morning. Men and women, boys and girls walk down the road towards the Rwanda-DR Congo border, many carrying hoes on their shoulders. They line up outside the Ruzizi II customs office. This road leads from western Rwanda to Kamanyola in South Kivu Province, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

They wait an hour for the pass that allows them to cross legally. There are many people and the line moves slowly. An immigration officer says, “If they are from the Bugarama sector, which borders the DR Congo, they show their identity cards. Those from other areas must have a pass.”

An estimated 1,000 to 3,000 people pass through customs each day. Across the border in DR Congo, Congolese farmers are waiting. They hire the Rwandans to work in their fields. Rwandan Théogène Nahimana says, “Yesterday the man who hired us took 40 people.”

Those not immediately recruited walk further along the road. Donatien Kizungu is a Congolese farmer from Kamanyola. He has a large plot of land that he cannot cultivate alone. He says, “Here, no Rwandan will go without work, especially during this rainy period when we need to prepare the land and plant.”

The Bugarama region of Rwanda is heavily populated. People have little land. They cannot grow what they choose. They can only grow the crop selected by the government for their region. They struggle to feed their families, so they travel to find work when the need arises.

The Congolese farmers pay varying rates to the Rwandan workers. Mr. Kizungu explains, “After six hours of work, we pay 1000 or 1200 francs (about two dollars). But it all depends on the period. At planting time we pay more.” Some Congolese offer more, depending on need. One woman says, “Yesterday I was first hired for 1200 francs. Suddenly, I saw another recruiter who proposed 1700 francs. I … went with the second offer.”

Another way for Rwandans to earn money is to rent land for cultivation. In Kamanyola, annual rent is between 20 and 40 dollars, depending on the size of the land. Fitina Nyiranizeyimana is a young woman who rents a field near the border. While others seek jobs, she plants beans in her plot.

There are other reasons to cross the border. With poor electricity supply in DR Congo, farmers use mechanical mills to grind maize. But this gives poor quality flour. So the Congolese often travel to Rwanda to grind maize with electric mills. Traders from Kamanyola prefer to travel through Rwanda to reach Bukavu, a large town in southern DR Congo, as the roads are better. With improving relations between the two countries, people take advantage of the opportunities offered by their common border.