Trading in the Great Lakes: A story of friendship across borders

“We are very united and no longer afraid of each other as Congolese and Rwandan women”, says Simire Cibolonza (pictured left), a saleswoman from Goma, a city in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which borders with the city of Gisenyi in Rwanda.

Relations between these twin cities, and indeed countries, have been strained by mistrust and suspicion over the past twenty years, and at times this has spilled over into hostility. It has become very difficult for locals to cross the border without being harassed and threatened, and it is often women who suffer the most intimidation.

That’s why International Alert started a project called Tushiriki Wote (Let’s All Participate), which aims to address women’s economic vulnerability and exclusion from decision-making processes and build cooperation and peace in the Great Lakes region.

Supporting women cross-border traders is key to this process as it enables social and economic relations to be built across divides.

Simire, who sells cabbages in Goma, has benefitted from the project. She has formed a strong friendship with members of Dutezanyimbere – a Rwandan group of women cross-borders that formed itself through the support of Tushiriki Wote and our local partner Réseau des Femmes Oeuvrant pour le Développement Rural.

They now work together closely and the trust they have built up means the group now provide Simire with cabbages on credit, which she pays back immediately after selling them in Goma.

This friendship and cooperation has helped these women deal with the challenges and threats they face when trading on the border.

“One day there were some people in Goma who refused to pay back vegetables they have taken from us by force. When hearing this, our friends and collaborators in Goma helped us force these abductors to pay”, said Pelagie Mukantwari, a member of Dutezanyimbere.

Marie Josee Nirere (pictured right), another group member who comes from Gisenyi, says the friendships she has forged through this group will stand with her for life. When she recently fell ill and was hospitalised, a dozen Congolese women crossed the border to visit her.

“I will never forget the support they provided me during these difficult times.”

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