GOMA (DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC of CONGO) – A tricycle laden with sacks of mangoes, physically challenged courier Claude Kalwira is seen riding over the short stretch between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Due to his disability, Kalwira has a permit to shuttle a few goods in and out of Congo, completely tax-free. However, an eight-month border closure last year fuelled by the coronavirus meant he and 200 fellow couriers saw a slump in business dry.
With borders reopening on November 5, a new testing requirement indicated that the 30-year-old’s cart, with steel tubing and butchered motorcycle parts, is now one among the few travelling the route between the twin cities of Rubavu and Goma.
Kalwira, who lost his right arm in a car accident when he was young, “This border is vital for us.”
Given that this is a country with few opportunities for people with disabilities, Kalwira’s trade is still existing because of a decades-old trick in customs law.
Sending goods through the means of custom-made carts is cheaper when compared to hiring a truck. And as demand saw a revival, it bounced back after travel became active across the busy crossing.
That said, most have not been able to have any benefits out of it.
The couriers are now required to take regular COVID-19 tests, which at $40 per swab is something they find it hard to afford, as many earn less than $20 per day.
Kalwira and around 60 of his colleagues get free tests, as provided by Rwanda, however, the remaining 140 couriers must spend for their own themselves.
The couriers, who have been out-of-work have been coming together on their hybrid bikes on the Congolese side of the border.
Father-of-six Dieu Merci Kahasha called on the Congolese government to take necessary action.
“If Rwanda can help the Congolese people by giving them free tests, our government should also … so that we too can find food for our families.”