Fortune Mukantagara, a mother of five, moved from Gitarama to Rusizi, Rwanda, a year after getting married.
She was in disbelief and shock when she found out that her husband, John Bosco, was married to two other women and had six other children. When Fortune attempted to seek an explanation, John Bosco’s reaction was to torture and abuse her, this would go on for two-years. After this period, he to leave their shared home and move in with one of his other wives. Fortune felt isolated and lost hope.
Alone now, she had to think about how to continue providing for her family. By working on other people’s farms Fortune was able to earn enough to save around 200 Rwandan francs weekly, feed her family and meet her household needs, but it was a very challenging and unsustainable situation. Therefore, Fortune joined a saving and credit association for financial support and guidance.
Within the association, Fortune met several members who would turn out to be her new family. It was these members that introduced Fortune to cross-border trade, an opportunity that she decided to take up. After a year of being and investing in the association, Fortune got her share of financial support worth 46,000 Rwandan francs, which she used partly to clear debts (school fees, medical insurance and household needs). She used the remaining money as initial capital for her new cross-border trade work.
Building an enterprise
She started to cross over the border to Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to sell vegetables (tomatoes, onions and cabbage), and despite the language barrier and demanding work she gained more customers in Bukavu. In 2017, Fortune joined International Alert’s Creating off-farm Rwandan enterprises (CORE) project, which boosts the potential of cross-border trade and works to foster an environment of entrepreneurship for women and youth in Nyamasheke and Rusizi Districts – increasing their ability to make a living and keep their families safe. By taking part in the CORE project and having access to the Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA), Fortune received some training on savings and credit for the first time. This helped her to further pursue her entrepreneurial ventures and maximise her returns. By end of 2018, Fortune saw her business capital growing.
In 2019, Fortune participated in more CORE project trainings and dialogue sessions which touched on gender, sexual and gender-based violence, cross-border dialogues, understanding people’s different experiences of conflict, business registration and other business hinderances etc. These discussions encouraged and helped women to work together with local leaders to overcome barriers to cross-border relations that could affect business operations and growth, and address the concerns of community members.
She received training on business facilitation, which linked Fortune with a long-term business mentor that would help support her as she grows her enterprise and helped her to understand the best way to borrow and pay money to the bank through the VSLA. With this support and increased knowledge around business management/entrepreneurship, Fortune could finally afford to build a house on the piece of land that she bought back in 2017.
Through the dialogue sessions Fortune has come to forgive her husband and become someone other women look up to and seek advice from, "I am so sure I have learnt enough from my experience; I would have done thorough investigations on John Bosco before having a relationship. However, the situation has made me strong enough to overcome life’s challenges. I am convinced I can live a good life without John or any other man of his character. Women come to me asking for advice and I have encouraged them not to accept men violence because of culture but to overcome fear, speak out and to report the cases. I am living an exemplary life," said Fortune.
Fortune continues to invest most of her money in assets and she hopes to continue expanding her business so that it is worth just over two million Rwandan francs, equivalent to the value of her house and land.
Through the trainings and dialogue sessions, business is being leveraged to adopt conflict and gender sensitive practices. It is also being used to collectively influence post conflict development policies and practices for more inclusive and sustainable development within communities, and end all kinds of violence and gender issues women and youth cross-border traders face in their daily work. Conflict hampers trade and socio-economic development and peace does the opposite.
Read more about the women working as cross-border traders in Rwanda and how they are persevering despite the challenges posed by COVID-19.