Local municipal authorities are responsible for improving the living conditions of city dwellers by providing social amenities and maintaining basic services. In addition, they regulate the operations of informal sector workers like street vendors and ensure the cities are clean. In Ghana, local authorities have played either a supporting or hindering role in response to street trading. On the one hand, the government, through its local authorities have created new market spaces to accommodate workers who sell on the street. On the other hand, street vendors are constantly on the run because municipal authorities would chase them from their locations of trade activities.
A study of the municipal regulation of street vendors showed that “they were susceptible to conflicts with the city managers/mayors, the police, motorists and pedestrians regarding the use of city centre spaces. Under the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) Byelaws 1995, “street vending is unlawful and strictly prohibited to all persons occupying a selling space or site, except for those who hold a hawker’s permit. Accordingly, the AMA is mandated to ban street trading and vending activities in Accra. To enforce this legislation, the AMA created a Special Task Force whose responsibility was to arrest street vendors selling at unauthorised places within the metropolis. Over the years, however, the action of the AMA has not yielded the desired effect. Their approach has been to raid and chase street vendors away from their locations—the effect is that the vendors have had to run constantly away from authority and relocate to areas where they feel they can continue their trading activities without pressure from metropolitan authorities.
The ineffectiveness of the Special Task Force to regulate street vending in the capital led the metropolitan authorities to devise a solution. In 2007, a pedestrian shopping mall was constructed to provide 4,000 sheds for street vendors at Odawna, a suburb of Accra. Still, this development could not deter street vendors from returning to the street because they complained that they had been deprived of customers and regular sales. As a result, the conflict between street vendors and local authorities persist. In 2009, the AMA conducted a decongestion exercise to address the existence of slum dwellings, congestion in the city capital and sanitation problems aggravated by the activities of street vendors. However, the city of Accra still suffers from communicable diseases like cholera despite the campaign.
In 2002, the Hawkers Empowerment Program (HEP) was created as an intervention strategy by the International Labour Organisation to empower vendors, especially women by training them in micro-entrepreneurship to reduce their vulnerability and improve their socio-economic status. The initiative also focused on capacity building and sex education in the prevention of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS. The Ghana Social Marketing Foundation (GSMF) reported that the HEP trained 90 hawkers nationwide and improved their sexual and reproductive health, business management skills and social status (GSMF, 2003).
It is obvious that governments (both past and present) have taken efforts to enhance the capacity of street vendors. However, the question remains why street vendors remain vulnerable in the streets. In 2006, the government established the Microfinance and Small Loans Centre (MASLOC) and other national initiatives such as the Hawkers Empowerment Program to equip street vendors with start-up capital to improve their living standards. These programs are aimed at equipping the street vendors with requisite skills to improve their lives and contribute to the economy by engaging in properly regulated jobs that can be taxed and used in nation building.
Apart from these initiatives, the street vending phenomenon still exists giving rise to a number of questions: What is the success rate of the already existing programs aimed at improving the lives of street vendors and how is the impact of these programs evaluated? Are these initiatives still operational and have they served the purpose for which they were established? Honestly, it has been more than a decade since the conception of a number of initiatives to address the problem so and yet we keep coming back to them.
This week’s discussion focuses on informal sector workers, specifically the activities of street vendors in Ghana.
Do the institutions governing them support or hinder their operations?
WRITER: Kwame Twumasi-Ankrah | firstname.lastname@example.org