Rwanda: How Covid-19 Has Shattered Kigali’s Night-Time Economy

The date March 14, 2020 will indeed not be forgotten in Rwanda’s history, most notably for being the time when the country reported the first case of Covid-19, a pandemic that would later disrupt most aspects of Rwandans’ lifestyle and economy like elsewhere across the world.

Kigali, a city whose streets, bars, nightclubs and restaurants used to be packed especially during weekends, its streets are now empty by 8p.m, the start time of Covid curfew. But, like elsewhere in the country, businesses in these spots now close as early as 6p.m, creating a ghostly quiet atmosphere in these popular commercial centres that are usually teeming with patrons during nighttime hours.

Only essential businesses like pharmacies are operating 24 hours a day.

This is also the case in locations such as Remera, Kicukiro and Nyamirambo that were known to be ‘alive’ even in the dead of the night.

All these are results of the Covid-19 directives in place which include halting business operations past 6:00p.m as well as closure of bars.

The preventive measures, business operators say have affected business operations that had a 24/7 structure.

According to Eugene Mugisha, Manager at Iwacu +250, a bar and restaurant in Kicukiro District, businesses that used to attract many customers at night are feeling pinch brought about by the pandemic.

He said: “We are earning less than we used to. We have had to reduce the number of staff members because of the few working hours. This time we are using 30 per cent of employees. The clients have also reduced to 15 per cent compared to pre-Covid-19 era.”

Mugisha said that his business would attract an average of 3,000 people between 6 p.m. and early morning.

Alex Shyaka, Director of Sawa Citi that runs a supermarket chain in Kigali also explained how the pandemic has not spared their operations.

“We were affected big time. On average, people working in offices leave work at 5p.m, which means that they have a few minutes to purchase as we now close at 6:00p.m,” he said.

He added that “with the inter-district travels being restricted at the moment, buses that used to leave or arrive at Nyabugogo bus parking and buy some snacks are no longer doing so, hence reduction in revenue.”

The businessman says that before the outbreak of Covid-19, the business had got used to working 24 hours a day.

Will the 24/7 working culture come back to life?

Twelve years ago, the City of Kigali launched a 24-hour business campaign to boost the city’s night-time economy.

The idea was to have a city that never sleeps, a bustling metropolis that offers opportunities and memorable experiences to its inhabitants and visitors any time of the day.

During his inaugural press conference in 2018, Mayor of Kigali City, Pudence Rubingisa, also pledged additional efforts in promoting the business culture of working 24/7, placing infrastructure and public transport on his priorities.

All factors constant, once achieved, the 24/7 business culture among other things benefits a country’s economy through provision of jobs, and increased tax revenues because businesses are earning more hence paying more taxes.

This being said, it leaves a question of whether it will be easy for this culture to bounce back post-Covid-19.

According to Teddy Kaberuka, an economic expert, there are chances that when the pandemic is dealt with, this culture will rejuvenate.

“Once Covid-19 goes away or is put under control, the 24/7 working culture will bounce back because people have understood the importance of working hard especially after a crisis so as to recover what they lost during hard times,” he said.

He added that: “On the other hand, decision-makers should redefine the working framework of this culture, it should be more practical and this goes hand in hand with availing essential things like transport late at night, security and other things of the sort.”

Shyaka also said that there are some prerequisites that should be given attention to the night-time economy to come back to life.

“We expect that once this pandemic goes away, people will be eager to go out and have fun as they used to, hence resuming the 24/7 working culture,” he said.

However, he added, relieving Covid-19 restrictions may happen at a time when people are comfortable with working from home and hence reducing the demand for commodities.

“In this case, to revive this culture will require campaigns that seek to increase the demand for night time goods and services,” he explained.

Businesses are also anticipating upcoming national and international events such as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), slated for the week of June 21 this year, to increase money circulation among the public and hence cause the demand for products and services.


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