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The scourge of road occupation by traders in African cities

11.07.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
The struggle to survive and make ends meet has pushed many Africans, especially the young people to engage in informal sources of employment (mostly self-employment). Since getting employment in many African cities is more difficult than threading a needle in the dark, these young people resort to doing what is most available and provides quick cash, which is street trading. This is most common in Africa’s capital and economic cities.
A street trader is a person who sells goods and services to the public without having a permanent store or structure, but has a temporary structure which could be at a permanent spot or pushed around in a cart or on the head (hawking).

It is a common phenomenon to see people lined up along some major streets in most African cities with stalls full of products for sale such as fruits, vegetables, fast food, food stuff, clothing, souvenirs, and many others. In some areas, it is possible to get anything you need along the streets.

Reasons why traders occupy the streets in Africa

Street trading is not only an African thing because it is common in other parts of the world. The peculiarity of the street trading in Africa is the fact that these traders encroach into the road so much that movement is sometimes impossible, and this is because of the following reasons.

  • Poverty is one of the main driving forces behind informal employment in Africa. Many African families depend on small businesses to survive, especially since many of them do not have the capital to establish their businesses in regular shops or locations authorized by governing bodies.
  • Rural exodus. The difficulties related to living in the rural areas have forced many young people to migrate to nearby cities with the hope of living a better life and providing for their families back home. Unfortunately for them, the situation is not always as they think it is or as recounted by friends. When these young people meet the realities of living a city life in their quest to survive, they have no other choice than to use the little money they have to buy provisions which they sell to passers-by.
  • Lack of gainful employment in both government and private sectors. Those who sell along the streets are not only illiterates or those who have moved from their villages to the city. It is very common to see university graduates selling along the streets. This is because they were not able to secure a job after graduation. Instead of getting into drugs and other illegal doings, they buy products and retail them on the streets in order to make ends meet.
  • Disorganized nature of administrative setups and procedures. Many of those who end up filling the streets with their merchandize do not always want to be there. Some end up on the streets because of how difficult it is to get regularized with the administrative systems in place. Others cannot afford the taxes levied on them for selling in communal markets and shops, as these taxes are usually more than what they sell daily. In this light, they prefer to be on the streets where they can easily sell their products and also escape these administrative authorities during raids.

Problems related to occupation of streets by traders

When people gather where they are not supposed to for any reason, there is bound to be problems. This is true of street vendor who cause a lot of inconveniences as a result of their occupation of streets and pavements. They are also exposed to a lot of dangers by being on the streets.

  • Congestion is one of the major problems caused by street vendors, especially those who have stalls is. These traders often encroach into the road so much so that circulation of people and vehicles is disrupted.
  • Exposure to accidents and diseases. Spending the hold day outdoors completely exposed to the weather causes serious health problems for many street vendors. Also, young people who sell on road lanes are exposed to accidents especially with the high rate of careless driving in Africa, and with hundreds of ‘’Moto taxi’’.
  • Littering and pollution is another problem related to street vending. Those who sell perishable goods such as fruits and vegetables usually do not go far away from these streets or to the refuse disposal spot to dump their rotting products. Instead, they create piles of dirt along the streets which often look and smell bad especially in the rainy season.
  • Constant raids from the police and municipal authorities. In some countries, it is illegal to sell along the streets in many cities in Africa. Unfortunately, this is an unavoidable situation as the streets are always occupied by traders, even those leading to the market. As results these traders are in constant trouble with the authorities that seek to restore order on these streets. Most of these traders often lose their goods during the process and are forced to start all over again.

What can be done to remedy the situation?

The problem of street occupation by traders in African cannot be solved without providing solutions to the underlying causes.

Since unemployment is one of the major reasons why these people end up on the streets, African governments need to find a way to provide jobs for their citizens. Also, since it is quite impossible for the government to employ everybody, she should encourage entrepreneurs by making it easy for them to establish and run legal businesses so as to employ others.

Trading on the street in itself is not the problem. The problem is in the disorder that reigns among these traders who encroach into the roads and make circulation difficult. Authorities need to set rules and regulations for these traders to follow so as to make street trading orderly and beneficial to both the government and traders.

The government also needs to review the prices of communal stores and shops in markets so that they can match the realities of traders.

With these, the government will be helping herself and her citizens. This will also help decongest the streets of major cities in Africa.

Article from AFRIC editorial

Photo credit: google images/ illustration

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