Why Do We Import Cure-Dent From China?

The following article is a lesson for all aspiring enterpeneurs on the African continent.

I got curious about the small, mostly unnoticed item in Kigali, what we like to call ‘cure-dent’, the tooth pick. This is how I stumbled onto the fact that we import toothpicks. Yes we import toothpicks from China. Toothpicks here are a symbol for all the things we could make ourselves but import.

toothpicksIt got me wondering – just how complicated is it to make a toothpick? Firstly, toothpicks are made from bamboo and we have plenty of that in Musanze. In any case bamboo can be cultivated. It grows fast and there are new genetically modified reach heights of over 15 metres. A little time on Google showed me that it does not take very much to make them. Indeed the whole process can be done in a woodwork workshop. The process from splitting the bamboo to sharpening the toothpicks takes less than half an hour. That is about 100 packets of toothpicks.

The reason we give for imported stuff is supposedly because we do not have the technology required to make it. This is clearly not true in this case, and, I bet, in the case of a lot of other imports.

Toothpicks are very cheap. They go for between Rwf100 and Rwf500 for each small packet. This is after all the manufacture, freight, taxes and, of course, the shopkeeper’s profits have been considered. Maybe this is why we consider it not to be a profitable venture. Would making toothpicks be profitable? The answer is yes. Let us consider two reasons.

One – the Chinese are not known for time wasting. If they would engage in this enterprise to this extent, they must be something in it. Two – consider being able to make 100 packs of toothpicks in half an hour.

That makes 200 per hour and 1600 per eight hour day (you are by no means tied to this. If you sell them at Rwf50 per pack, you will be grossing Rwf80,000 per day. Now that is profit!

Where is the market? Are we not in the East African Community? We have to start exporting beyond the agricultural produce. Why is urwagwa and akabanga not on the shelves of Kenyan, Ugandan, Tanzanian and Burundian shops?

Why are we always importing? If we are importing toothpicks what do we not import? Unfair Balance of Trade and its accompanying Balance of Payments in addition to aid dependency are the main propagators of poverty in our country. They give us aid… .we use it to buy their products, down to toothpicks!

If we are to make it to self-sufficiency we have to manufacture and export. The journey to self-sufficiency must precede self-reliance. As Bob Marley would say, “We gotta be conscious”.

Article by Sam Kebongo writing for the Rwanda New Times.

Rwanda-DRC Border trade feels pinch from political stand-off

Spare a thought for the informal traders in this region. The terminology is also somewhat humorous, if not ‘offensive’ to an overly liberal mind – democratic South Africans in particular.

Trade along the Rwanda-DRC border is still going strong, although with some difficulty, despite the ongoing political tensions between the two neighbors.The Rwanda Focus visited Gisenyi, from where it has been reported that several Rwandan civilians who have attempted to cross into DRC for business have allegedly been arrested and tortured.

“You can’t go in there but if you insist, then be ready to die or to be tortured by the authorities in Congo,” said Safina Mukankusi, a cross-border trader. According to locals here, anyone with links to Rwanda in form of passport, looks or language is a target for the Congolese authorities. The irony is Gisenyi is full of Congolese civilians loaded with all sorts of merchandise bought from Rwandan markets which they then carry to the DRC.

It’s also here that massive petty smuggling takes place. “There are so many ‘fat’ women around here,” said a Rwandan customs official, explaining they are stuffed with several garments in which they then hide commodities such as alcohol and sell them on the Rwandan side at a profit. “Some make more than 20 trips per da,y often smuggling a single commodity per journey… but these are poor people who are looking for a meal from their petty deals,” the official revealed. From the proceeds from smuggled goods, the Congolese then buy food and all sorts of stuff which they take back home to sell.

With the current instability however, there’s a new development. “Many Congo-men are coming to sleep here at night and go back home during day for fear of attacks,” said Fidel, a resident of Gisenyi. He says most of them sleep on the streets while others have rented some cheap houses in which they spend the night, often in groups.

Looking at the people here, it’s quite hard to imagine that their country is home to some of the world’s most valuable minerals such as gold and diamonds. Bribes and other corrupt dealings are the quickest ways to get a service done according to Rwandan traders. “Once they know you have money, they will detain you until you part with some of it, it’s mostly those that don’t have anything who are tortured,” explained Laurent Makubu, who claims he has been detained but bribed the Congolese police with $15 to secure his freedom.

While the Congolese who cross to Rwanda report no harassment, it remains a mystery why their Rwandan counterparts are the target of mistreatment on the other side. As a result, most Rwandan traders say they have resorted to using Congolese middlemen to get goods from the DRC side but at a much higher cost as the middlemen charge for their service. Source: Rwanda Focus (Kigali)