THE conversation about street vendors somehow always ends up being political and linked to the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).
The issue is certainly political in origin, and its management falls squarely under KCCA but those can’t be the only two focus points in dealing with the issue – and it IS a seriously disturbing issue.
Back in the early nineties when Uganda started building straight tarmac highways we heard the President complaining that residents upcountry were only using those roads to dry their cassava and maize, and it was a laughing point. His stress point then was that those roads needed to be used to transport produce to markets, rather than as pre-processing platforms.
The irony is that roads are designed to make connections that improve economics, and we – the educated elite – are clearly failing to make the right connections here, while ’those people’ have made a quick connection to improve their economic situation.
The Street Vendor problem, from the point of view of the elite chap driving home in a nice, air conditioned car having finished grocery shopping in the comfort of a large supermarket, is one of irritation and aesthetics. They make those neat pavements look shabby, and also get in the way, causing anxiety that they or their customers could stumble into the road and get knocked.
The pedestrian walking home might think the same, in addition to being worried that they might step on the wares of the vendors and get asked to pay for the damages. To avoid that risk, the more cautious pedestrian might choose to walk along the main road where there is a risk of getting hit by vehicles, but in that case the vehicle owner would be liable to pay any fines or compensation, since the congestion will make it easy to stop them should an accident occur.
The regular traders are unhappy about all this because they have to pay taxes and license fees where these street vendors don’t, and then their legitimate entranceways for which they pay rent get blocked by the very same street vendors who go ahead to ‘under-cut’ them with lower-priced items, thanks to their decreased overheads.
On the way to my home outside of the city centre, the street vendors even have night-time lighting from the solar powered installations KCCA put in as they re-did our road, so they can work late into the night.
It’s a mess of an affair, and within minutes of any discussion around it there is talk of politics a la, “Nanti those are voters…” and medioconomics a la, “How do you expect them to survive…?”
First of all, the fact that those are voters means that all parts of the government need to get involved in solving this ‘problem’, also because those elite or ‘rich’ people, the pedestrians who aren’t vending, the ‘legitimate’ or licensed traders, and so on and so forth, are also voters.
So yes – the issue is political in nature but only because it involves the management of society, not because we need to please people in order to make them vote a certain way or another.
The management of society involves administration as well as setting and managing (the right) expectations.
Each and every one of these people we casually refer to as ‘street vendors’ is a potential business unit capable of being built into a much larger enterprise. By the time they are engaged in selling whatever they are selling, they have a certain amount of enterprise, a motivation to go for profit, the mathematical skills to calculate it, and the energy to work.
So rather than deploy just the enforcement people from KCCA, what about we deploy business enterprise experts from the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda and Business Uganda Advisory Services to register and help develop these guys? Add to them a couple of business professors from the likes of the Makerere University Business School, and people from the Youth Livelihood Programme to fund their business expansion into places that are compliant with the law, and people from the Uganda Export Promotion Board to make them export.
Ridding the streets of these vendors means get them into a more formal, profitable setting and not into KCCA garbage skips.