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Picks and Shovels

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Africa, Economic Development
Fixing the road
Fixing the road

Just down the road from my house here in Kigali they are fixing the potholes. The holes have been growing bigger everyday as the heavy rains eat into them, and trucks grind away at the loosened tarmac.  The workmen start early; they are always there well before 7.30 when I go by, busy with their picks and shovels.

I asked a Rwandan friend how much a workman would be paid in the city.  She thought about  RF2500 per day - that is about £3 for a ten hour day.  Is that a little or a lot, I wondered? It is certainly more than the basic ‘dollar a day' which we often think of as the baseline for bare survival living in poorer countries.  But is it enough to live on?

So I went to the market and a nearby store to check out how much things cost. (I have only been here a couple of weeks so I have not got prices into


my head yet.)  Enough beans and potatoes for a family for a day would be about  RF600, but then you have to add on the costs of charcoal for cooking, water for drinking and washing, the price of renting a tiny room with a mud floor and no electricity or water, school uniforms, transport, basics like soap, salt and vegetables, and there is

Chickens biking to market
Chickens biking to market

absolutely nothing left.  Nothing for an emergency like when a child gets sick, nothing for second hand clothes, and certainly no chicken.  I don't know how people like these workmen manage to live.

The can of Heinz Baked Beans I saw in the shop cost RF1300 - half a day's wages for the road menders, so I left it on the shelf and thought carefully about the work we fund in DFID.  We try to get the right balance between helping the country's infrastructure work really well (like having good health centres and, even, building an efficient tax system) and direct help for the poorest people, like the road menders, who I'm sure will have fixed the potholes by now.

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  1. Comment by Waldo and Ellie Zaragoza posted on

    Great blog Martin - we have been seeing lots of examples like that here in Mexico too and also wonder how people manage to survive on what they get paid and work such long hours. Keep the blogs coming!!

  2. Comment by Nick and Sarah Harding posted on

    Wow we'll be praying!

  3. Comment by Trevor Hollingum posted on

    I'm sure that is you on the motorbike taking chickens to market. I recognise the shirt! Or pehaps it is a DFID standard issue.

    Your scribblings are interesting reading so keep them coming.

  4. Comment by Gillian Slater posted on

    Hi Martin
    Just got time before I head off on hols to add to your blog. Great writing and very moving. When I was out in Russia we saw road menders doing the same manual work with picks and shovels, probably for comparably poor wages, but they were all women, the roads were still semi frozen and they were wrapped in numerous layers of clothes and scarves. Such labour suprised us in a supposedly fairly affluent country.
    I agree with the last blog that is definately your shirt-I'm sure I saw it in Bangladesh and Kenya.
    Enyoy your break in England