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Navigating The Deadly Kivu Lake Face To Face With Pirates

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Navigating The Deadly Kivu Lake Face To Face With Pirates

As water waves roll so fast sliding over the shores repeatedly, the birds circle above the lake trying to catch their last victims – fish. The sound of excited birds and water thrashing the beach is breathtaking.

You can watch over and over again. And as it clocks 4PM a ship arrives and docks. Porters offload cement bags from the ship. Besides, passengers are entering the boat heading from Rubavu to Mugonero in Karongi District as others head into the boat to Rusizi for a 14-hour journey in Kivu Lake.

It is at the Kivu Lake port located near BRALIRWA, (Brasserie des Limonaderies du Rwanda), the local biggest beer brewery premises in Rubavu District of Rwanda’s Western Province.

Going from Rubavu to Mugonero takes five to six hours in Kivu Lake according to Augustin Bizimana, the captain of the boat belonging to Dukoranumwete Cooperative, who says passengers pay Rwf2000 for that journey on water.

Bizimana 47, has been working in Kivu Lake, either as a fisherman or a transporter for 39 years today. He says that he devoted his life to fishing after he finished his primary studies. He later shifted from fishing to transport business.

Transport operators on lake Kivu are grouped under Dukoranumwete Cooperative

Ever since Bizimana started working in the lake, he drowned in the water only once. “That time, I was on the side of DRC[former Zaire], I was saved by Congolese fishermen,” he remembers.

Dukoranumwete Cooperative is comprised of 14 members. It has two wooden boats with generators of Japanese brands, Yamaha and Tuhatsu. Each generator was bought around Rwf2,250,000.

The boat [with a Yamaha generator] can carry loads of 12 tonnes but the quantity of loads reduces when it carries passengers. It carries 30 passengers according to Ezechiel Shumbusho, another member of Dukoranumwete Cooperative.

Unlike the other boats which transport passengers and commodities in Kivu Lake, the boat belonging to Dukoranumwete Cooperative, heading to Mugonero has no roof. When it rains, passengers use tarpaulin to cover themselves.

From Rubavu to Karongi, the boat transports Irish potatoes while on its way back; it brings sweet potatoes, cassava flour, bananas, mangoes, timber and charcoal.

Jean Pierre Gatege is a resident of Nyamyumba Sector of Rubavu District. He is ready to enter the boat to Muramba in Rutsiro District to visit his family members that live there. He will be driven by the boat heading to Mugonero and be left at Muramba shore where it will stop and continue to Karongi District.

He says he prefers travelling in water because there are almost no accidents in the lake with no bumping like it happens on roads and the prices, also, are lower compared to those they are charged by buses.

Gatege adds that accidents can take place only when water enters the boat and transporters make sure to always empty water from the boat so that it may not happen.

Both passengers and transporters commend the Rwandan government for having sensitized them to wear life jackets whenever they travel by water. “They are a lifesaving tool, we acknowledge much the government for having introduced them,” says Jean Pierre Gatege.

Passengers who talked to Taarifa hail the boat called “Rwanda” said to have been given, to the population who travel via Kivu Lake from Rubavu, Rutsiro, Karongi, Nyamasheke to Rusizi District and vice versa, by the Rwanda’s First Lady Jeannette Kagame.

“That boat [Rwanda] is special,” says Jean Pierre Gatege. “When you travel in it, you can even sleep. There is a TV inside; we go watching news and music. There is also a bathroom and it takes less time to Rusizi than other boats,” he explains.

However, according to Amiel Nduwamungu, another passenger, the boat [Rwanda] is not regular as it goes to Rusizi only on Sunday and gets back to Rubavu on Wednesday.

It is cheaper to travel by water than land in this part of the country.

How Safe is it to travel on Lake Kivu

Augustin Bizimana says “there are no accidents in the water. Accidents happen only when boats are overloaded.”

“After we were recommended by the authorities to work in cooperatives, we use good boats and all passengers wear life jackets. There is presence of the marine army and police patrolling. When you respect that, almost no accidents can take place in Kivu Lake,” explains Bizimana.

With their experience in Kivu Lake, in both fishing and transport, Bizimana says that they are able to predict the wind that may blow and cause accidents according to seasons.

“We know how to predict the wind according to the sun and rain seasons. We can look at the air and put off journeys when we realise bad wind could blow. When it blows dangerously while we are already in the lake, we dock at the shores and wait for it to cease and later proceed,” he says.

According to Ezechiel Shumbusho, the tarmac road that was constructed from Rubavu to Karongi has reduced the number of passengers who use the water route.

Before the tarmac road from Rubavu District-Rutsiro to Karongi District was constructed, passengers from Rubavu to Rusizi would come from Gisenyi Town in Rubavu District and other areas around and take boats as they considered it as the easiest and least expensive transport means.

But, after completion of the ‘Kivu Belt’ road linking Rubavu, Rutsiro and Karongi with Districts of Nyamasheke and Rusizi, it attracted many transport companies. This has reduced the number of passengers who use water transport as the road transport prices lowered.

This has affected Dukoranumwete Cooperative as it now uses only one boat to carry passengers with loads of commodities while the other one is parked. Even the biggest boat, ”Rwanda” that uses six hours from Rubavu to Rusizi reduced prices from Rwf5000 to Rwf3000 because nowadays passengers prefer using the road route.

After construction of ‘Kivu Belt’ road linking Rubavu, Rutsiro and Karongi with Districts of Nyamasheke and Rusizi, water transport is not a lucrative business any more. Some boats have been docked permanently

Pirates Cannot Miss on any Lake 

All is well for transporters in Kivu Lake. However, their agony is caused by transporters they call “smugglers”.

According to Bizimana, “smugglers [locally known as rushimusi] are transporters who do not work in cooperatives and charge less money than normal.”

Bizimana says that all transporters and fishermen in Kivu Lake are required to be registered in cooperatives. The “smugglers” don’t belong to any cooperative; don’t pay taxes and charge less for transport on water. They charge passengers Rwf1000 for a Rwf2000 trip.

He says that some of them have official documents from the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) and from Rwanda Cooperative Agency [RCA] while they truly do not belong to any cooperative.

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