ICT Africa Headline News

Rwanda's Last Typewriter Users

10 March, 2013
New Times
March 10, 2013

They could be the last and rare, but Nyabugogo's typewriters would rather stick around.

Despite the rush to modern technology of computers, internet, and printers, some people in Kigali's Nyabugogo business area would rather use the services of typewriters to have their ideas in print.

"They are cheaper and quicker," said 62-year-old Pascal Kamali, who had just had a letter written from an operator of a typewriter in Nyabugogo Taxi Park on Friday.

It could be years since computers arrived in Rwanda and many people in the country may not be aware of anyone using typewriters for anything in today's electronic era, but typewriter operators in Nyabugogo Taxi Park, probably some of the rare and remaining operators of the business in the country, are typing on and have their clients to themselves.

"Writings by typewriters take longer to fade in comparison to computers' ink which fades very quickly," Kamali said, putting his letter in an envelope bound for France where his sister lives.

Kamali is one of the few clients who still use the services of typewriter owners in Kigali, a place that operators of typewriters have seen embracing modern Information and Communication Technology (ICT), leaving many of those who didn't adapt to the changes on the streets and unemployed.

"The market is eliminating them, there are very few remaining," says long time public relations and communication expert with the City of Kigali, Bruno Rangira. In the past, many of those who were selling services to type documents using typewriters used to be readily available on the streets of Kigali since they didn't need to work from an office.

But vending on the street is banned under Rwanda's current trade laws and the advent of computers, which require to be set up in a place where they are kept clean and connected to electricity meant that many operators of typewriters would not afford to upgrade their business.

Rangira says there are now about ten nomad operators of typewriters in the entire city, including four women who operate from Nyabugogo Taxi Park where Kamali takes his business at least twice a month.

He doesn't own a computer and he has been using typewriter services since 2003 when he decided to keep all his writings in a cleaner status, turning even some of his hand-written documents and other old manuscripts into typed print.

"Whenever I want to have something written I come here," he said. "I come here at least twice a month."

Operators survive on their experience

Every day, four women in Nyabugogo Taxi Park set up a chair in the corridor near the entrance of the park closer to where inter-provincial Express passenger buses park. They place their typewriters on small stools and start making money. No office and no stands are officially allocated to them.

But the trade law in Rwanda prohibits street vending and the women are always on the lookout and always worried that officials and police in the city could remove them.

"This is unpredictable, we expect to be whisked out any time," says Cansilde Kamagaju, the 41-year-old mother of four who types on a Spain model machine made by Olivetti plant in Barcelona. "We don't have anything else to do. This is our profession."

Her workmate, Maria Goreth Nimukuze, agrees that their business is next to nothing unless they upgrade and work in a more professional way.

"We know it's illegal, we know that secretarial services are supposed to be a secret," she said with a smile as she typed on with her German-made Triumph typewriter that she has owned since 1998. "We don't think it's professional that we work from outside."

Though each of the operators said she makes a minimum of Rwf3,000 a day, they insisted that the money is not enough to rent an office in Nyabugogo because monthly rent of Rwf700,000 is too expensive for them.

"I have children to feed and my own rent to pay at home. The money can't be enough," said Nimukuze, who is raising five children.

Most of their clients are people who were used to their services in the past and they still use their experience in today's times.

Most of the clients describe the operators as very 'knowledgeable' when it comes to writing administrative correspondence in Kinyarwanda.

They receive clients who want to sit by their side and dictate their business projectsto these street secretaries and the banks receive them because they are written in crystal clear Kinyarwanda. They receive local defendants who want to write professional administrative letters for local officials and courts, and they receive ordinary clients who simply trust them for their enormous experience in administrative correspondence.

"These people are knowledgeable, they have a long experience. We found them here and people keep using their services because they know them," said Edith Umutesi, who sells juice from behind their stand.

Nimukuze couldn't find a better way to describe her strength than mentioning her mastery of Kinyarwanda. It keeps her clients away from today's modern and computer-savvy secretarial offices that are her competitors, she said.

"Today's kids speak English and staunch Kinyarwanda is now our strength," she said.

That trust from clients keeps their business alive, albeit threatened by technology, and they hope to keep working despite the decreasing number of people using their services.

And as they believe that one day they will be rich enough to upgrade to the ICTs, the women believe in their typewriters for now.

As she explained her hopes to get enough money to invest in a modern shop offering secretarial services, one of the women, AurelieMukankwiro, a 38-year-old mother of three, said, "Life goes on and no one really ever knows what God plans for us."

She and the rest of the women continue to blissfully bang away and hope for the better.

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