Kampala city vendors vow to defy minister. Should we support them in fight against politicians, traders?
Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) councilors meeting at City Hall on Oct. 24 resolved to allow evening hawker markets on some city streets. The move was a triumph for embattled city Lord Mayor and opposition stalwart Erias Lukwago and the vendors.
But it means the government side; led by Minister for Kampala Beti Kamya and KCCA Executive Director Jennifer Musisi must either implement a policy they oppose or come up with a counter punch.
It also means that once again, city residents will be forced to pick sides and could end up paying a heavy price for the bickering between politicians, traders, and hawkers commonly called street vendors.
A report released by Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA) in August showed that, based on an in-house verification exercise, the city of a day time population of about two million has about 1,760 street vendors.
The hawkers commute into the city every morning to set up their makeshift display stands and mats on street pavements or roam the city with their merchandise.
They use mats, polythenes, tarpaulin, tables, racks, wheel barrows, handcarts, and bicycle seats to display their goods. Others carry their commodities on their hands, heads and shoulders, while others hang them on walls, trees and fences.
They will corner you in an alley and rub fake gold trinkets, designer bags, and used clothes, shoes etcetera in your face. Or they will approach car windows brandishing bananas, apples, and cabbages. Several more will lay their ware on the pavement so that you cannot ignore them as they block your way. Some city residents love the “convenience of shopping while seated on a taxi” but others hate the crowding, littering, and disorderliness.
Most hawkers, like Shadia Naluwagga, say they would rather not be on the street but are forced to be there by tough economic times. Nulawagga says he has been a street vendor in the Central Business District (CBD) for the last seven years. Before hitting the street, she says she operated from a brick and mortar shop in one of the newly built malls in downtown Kampala.
This mall, like many in Kampala city, is a collection of rows of tiny shops, piled on top of each other in multi-storey blocks that look like giant shoe-boxes with minimal ventilation. Normally, several traders pile into one shop and are allocated a few shelves to display their wares. The rent is high and often paid in advance and in dollars. The traders also have to pay for using the toilet, lighting bulbs, and even garbage collection.
Naluwagga says she switched locations and landlords but the conditions did not improve. The final blow was when her rent was raised multiple times in a short period.
“I was forced to eat into my capital until I sold out the remaining merchandise,” she says.
That is when she hit the street and initially operated only in the evening; targeting workers on their way back home. She started operating all day when competition increased as throngs of new vendors arrived after KCCA’s enforcement of a street vending ban slackened. She does not regret the move and says she makes more money.
“There is no business in arcades and shopping malls. It is only the luxury of working under shade and an enclosed permanent structure but with matters of returns, I choose to work along the streets,” she says.
Street vending has a bonus too; Naluwagga does not pay rent, like tax, or licence fees. It also requires little capital to start. Despite these advantages, street vending is a risky business. The KCCA enforcement officers routinely impound vendor’s goods and city goons are a constant threat. Vendors are also exposed to accidents, the heat on sunny days and damaged goods on rainy days. Then there is the politics.