MBALE – On the 17 of January, I woke up to the news that street vendors were being kicked out of the City.
Shortly, I read with amusement in the Uganda Dailies, “Security Minister bans hawkers in the villages” Sources in security noted that the Security Ministers’ decision came as a result of reports that some of the vendors were working with criminals masquerading to be hawkers.
Street vending is a low-cost entry job for recent immigrants, it serves as the vital first rung on the ladder of success and still performs this role many cities in the world.
The vendors sell everything from manufactured goods to foodstuffs [cooked and uncooked] to household items including clothes, Kitchen ware, pastries, beverages, fruits and used footwear, pirated CDs and the goods splay across the sidewalks, making it a minefield for pedestrians in a hurry.
And it should clearly be understood that the Street traders aren’t happy about selling on the streets; they say they are not selling on the street by choice, but because they must make ends meet in a tough economic environment.
“This is where we get food; this is where we get rent. This is where to get everything,” said Mr Paul Bukenya, a graduate of Ndege University who sells an assortment of plastic goods [watches, novels and Phone batteries. “I don’t have any direction to go. Let the government give us jobs and we will work.”
Although many people including KCCA were awash with excitement that RCC Hood Hussein was right to clean up the city, there are those like me who think that street vending activity is one of the most important components of the urban informal sector and ought to have been given time.
Besides the mobile vendors who move from place to place, there are also immobile vendors (in makeshift structures), with various types of display, operating adjacent to the shops, either on the pavements or along the road itself.
This complex interplay results in experiencing a mixed use of the commercial space where shop owners, wholesalers and street vendors compete with and/or complement each other to provide goods and services to customers in a free economy like ours.
RCC Hudu reasons that the existence of street vendors and hawkers possess a security threat to the city as terrorists could disguise themselves as vendors to cause harm to people, adding that criminals engaging in petty offenses like snatching bags and phones from people on the streets could also disguise as street vendors or hawkers.
I want to remind Hudu that the continued crude eviction of street vendors without any viable livelihood option might have serious political drawbacks and heightened insecurity for the government than if you left them on the streets
Note must be made that vendors in Kampala are a mere representation of who we are as a population in this country and no country can be better than her people; actually vendors are only a mirror of our national average per capita income; most of us are a hand to mouth feeders, therefore we automatically become the immediate target market for these vendors.
RCC Hudu, my grandmother taught me one thing whenever we went to dig with her “Those who accomplish great things pay attention to little ones also,” maybe this can help you get some lessons.
It is absurd that the NRM government has a narrow understanding of a City as driver of modernity, and view Street trading, which is part of the urban environment in Africa, as an unacceptable relic of underdevelopment and a manifestation of poverty; that is why Street vending absence is generally viewed as progress.
Please be reminded that we are not an island. All countries around us have Street traders but they have solved the problem by offering alternate spaces to conduct business and the sheer number off hawkers makes them a big political force.
You ought to note that rather than merely lamenting that street vendors are a security threat that must be evicted from the streets, government should have plans to build new markets to house all vendors.
Maybe the NRM government should learn something from Author: Max Lerner who says that the way to prevent war is to bend every energy toward preventing it, not to proceed by the dubious indirection of preparing for it.
And to KCCA and RCC Hudu, the Bagisu have this to teach you some lessons; removing a piece of Cassava from the boiling pot of cassava doesn’t stop the rest from cooking.
I want to make it clear that because Street vending/trading takes place in undesignated areas of public space, it is considered as an “informal activity” by city authorities who use “informality” as an argument to legitimize repressive actions against the street vendors.
The KCCA law enforcement against street vending oscillates between tolerance and brutal eviction and street vendors have been operating in a highly hostile and at times dangerous environment especially when you look at the recent evictions of immobile vendors from the Streets in Kampala.
And to KCCA could n’t you have had a city-wide scheme instituted by legislation that would also include the “norms of spatial planning to be adopted by the planning authority for ear marking vending zones for street vendors rather than just the ruthless eviction police and your law enforcement officers?
Security minister Muhwezi and RCC Hudu be reminded that the Street vendors/hawkers you are chasing from the City pay taxes and have a right to sell on the streets because many cannot afford your market stall fees.
You also ought to learn that recently many nations have embraced street commerce as a way to reduce poverty and boost marginal groups, especially poor women from ethnic and racial minorities.
Street vending has its own distinct dynamics that link the participants to space in ways that mostly does not concern other informal sector workers.
And since they sell goods which are produced either informally by them or from the formal sector, they have to get access to market in order to earn a living.
It is clear that Street vending offers still more benefits, it enlivens urban public spaces and increases public safety by making streets vibrant and welcoming besides promoting street vending can generate employment, keep people safe and create the vitality and comity that is the hallmark of livable human cities.
Street vendors and market traders are an integral part of urban economies round the world, offering easy access to a wide range of affordable goods and services in public spaces and most of our relatives are in here.
I hasten to add that Street trade/hawking also adds vibrancy to urban life and in many places is considered a cornerstone of historical and cultural heritage and many others benefits which as authorities we should not just dismiss.
Street vending provides the only opportunity to the disadvantaged people such as, people who have no pen pusher relative, cash education, some of the recent migrants, disabled and women- street vending is the way out since the formal sector is full of obstacles to enter for these groups.
It is unfortunate that rather than think of the street vendors as human beings trying to find a way of living, NRM authorities associate street trading with chaos, congestion and insecurity as they share the presupposition that this sector is disorganized and unregulated and yet, depending on their specific contexts, large numbers of street traders are members of organized groups that negotiate with urban authorities on a varying basis.
For instance, in many urban authorities across East and central Africa, there are many street trader associations, often in the form of self-help groups, as well as advocates for the rights of street traders.
Interestingly, these formal associations registered by the authorities are engaged in street trade, which is perceived to be in the “informal sector” and street vending activities further encompass several internal organizational and operational rules to which street vendors adhere, including the areas of operation, membership in vendor associations, the times of operation, and the tools of trade.
Our government and KCCA should have designed a fair and effective Street Vending Policy to help these human beings also survive in the city rather than chasing them away.
There is no doubt that informal trading persists and continues to grow, providing a medium of exchange in the daily lives of a large segment of the urban population and Street trading activities are very much part of the urban landscape and economy as “income generating activities outside the regulatory framework of the urban centres.
Therefore, if street trading is outlawed and considered a violation of city by-laws as in Kampala, allow the Street vendors go villages to vend their property.
The eviction of Street vendors in Kampala by KCCA law enforcement officers, police and army deployed by the RCC illustrates the contradiction between the undeniable socio-economic contribution of street trading on the one hand and the hostile operating environment and the ambiguous regulatory framework, which invokes the enigmatic concept of “informal activity”, on the other hand. There is need to rethink this.
The informal sector where Street vendors are remains an ambiguous concept notably because informal activities, considered being in opposition to “formal activities”, are instead inextricably intertwined with them.
In order to address the permeability of informal/formal activities, state intervention, broader economic dynamics and private regulation, and I want to propose that the government understands informal activities as a “continuum of characteristics” first.
However, the two bounds of the “continuum” are still defined as “informal” at one end and as “formal” on the other so that the same paradigm based on the concept of “informality” is in play.
RCC Hudu who claims that vending and hawking is illegal because it congests the city and robs the government of revenue since street vendors and hawkers do not pay licenses to operate, should be able to rethink this kind of reasoning.
He ought to understand that Street vendors/hawkers have long existed and still do business in many cities both in developed and developing countries; many people argue that if properly managed, street vending can provide a meaningful livelihood option, particularly for unemployed and poor urban dwellers.
You have evicted Street vendors/Hawkers, most of these could be your brothers but I want to remind you the Bugisu way RCC Hudu that “If while climbing a tree you insist on going beyond the top, the earth will be waiting for you.”
David Mafabi is a veteran journalist and PML Daily senior writer