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“You are your own capital”: They sell without a store

If you ever find yourself in Kigali City’s Bus Station, known as ‘Downtown,’ you’ll encounter young men who will enthusiastically tell you about the great shoes they have for sale at a good price.

You might be just passing by with no intention of buying shoes, but the way these young men describe the quality and price of their shoes often ends up convincing you to make a purchase.

Many people buy from them and continue on their way, but they don’t really know the truth about these persuasive sellers who tirelessly seek customers for their trade. Most of these individuals are youths known as ‘abatatsi’ or ‘abapyesi.’

These ‘abatatsi’ don’t have shoe or clothing stores of their own. Instead, they collaborate with shop owners to find customers. For every pair of shoes a customer buys, they earn a commission of 1000 Rwandan Francs.

They have other methods too, like finding customers themselves and asking what type of shoes they’re looking for. Then, they source these shoes from the traders they work with.

For example, if a customer wants ‘New Balance’ shoes, they’ll inquire about the price from a shop owner, say 20,000 Rwandan Francs, and then sell them to the customer for 30,000 Rwandan Francs, keeping the difference as profit.

Some of these workers say that, even without owning shops, they earn a substantial income through this method, enough to support themselves daily.

Niyonzima Fabrice, who has been in this line of work for three years since finishing high school, shares his experience. Unable to continue to university and with no other job prospects, he turned to this trade.

He says, “I finished school and couldn’t go to university. I didn’t have any other job opportunities, and I didn’t want to just stay at home, so I started working here.”

“Now I collaborate with almost all the shops here. I can find about ten customers a day. Isn’t that a decent income?”

Iranzi Boris also mentions that he can take home more than 10,000 Rwandan Francs a day, which is a good amount of money to live on in Kigali.

From the perspective of Niyonizera Emmanuel, a shoe seller in Downtown, these young men help them easily find customers, and the small commission they pay them is worth it.

He says, “The trader waits inside the store for customers, while there are people passing by who don’t know where to buy shoes. These young men bring us more customers.”

“It’s not a problem to give them a small amount of money for bringing a customer. They work like commission agents, really speeding things up for us.”

Despite creating jobs for themselves and supporting their families, these young men are sometimes seen as a security threat to passersby and are occasionally mistaken for vagrants, which leads to problems with the authorities.”

Straight out of Twitter