Feature Article of Thursday, 17 January 2013
Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.
Street hawking: The harder they come, the harder they fall (Part I)
By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Once again, the Chief Executive Officers of the Accra and Kumasi Metropolitan Assemblies are out, warning petty traders (hawkers) to “voluntarily vacate” the streets and public spaces or face the consequences. Those in Accra gave a deadline that has expired with little indication that the warming had been heeded. Those in Kumasi have given a two-week’s ultimatum to the hawkers to do so or be met with stringent measures to uproot them from their business enclaves.
So, the tone is set for a physical confrontation between these stubborn petty traders and those who claim administrative/political jurisdiction over the business spots in these metropolises.
This ding-dong battle between these two is nothing new. For sure, we know what the trend is. The petty traders will not heed all those strings of warnings. The consequence? The Metropolitan Chief Executives will unleash the full force of the “law” at their disposal to physically “put the fear of God” in these recalcitrant petty traders.
But these traders will be unfazed because they have for long known how to cope with this situation. They have many ways to counteract such measures and will brace themselves up to absorb the pressure. There will definitely be casualties when brute force is unleashed on unarmed but determined petty traders seeking to make a living at all costs.
This scenario is perennially enacted and re-enacted. In the heat of the physical confrontation, the government will step in because it fears losing support from that constituency of petty traders. It will introduce cosmetic measures to attempt solving the problem, pay lip-service to it through cosmetic measures to placate the petty traders for goodwill at the elections, only to look on while the problem resurfaces and the local authorities return with brute force once again.
You see, my friends, that’s the situation. Obviously, this persistent harassment of petty traders and hawkers in our towns and cities by the local administration is appalling. It reflects a serious lack of management and administrative acumen, which is the main cause of our national development crisis.
Whenever I hear the stern warnings given by the management of the Assemblies to these hawkers, I cringe and wonder why Ghanaian public officers never learn any useful lessons from observable human behaviour to be able to solve pertinent problems once-and-for all. Can’t these Assemblies re-define their problem-solving strategies to account for the dynamics of life in their domains?
I wonder if they even have any development plan for their areas of influence. It is obvious that they are more invested in ad hoc measures spurred by political considerations, not economic expediency.
Do these local Metropolitan/Municipal/District Assemblies not go about collecting daily tolls from these hardworking but unsettled hawkers? They do. And what do they do with that revenue to provide facilities for these toll-payers? Little or nothing.
The nagging question, then, becomes: If the contributions of these hawkers sustain local governance, what prevents the Assemblies from settling these traders to assure them that their interests are catered for as responsible citizens contributing invaluable efforts towards local and national development?
The problem is that the local administrators care very little about the wellbeing of these poor hawkers. Otherwise, why haven’t they so far invested any resources in building decent trade posts or markers for these hawkers to operate in an atmosphere of peace and business-like instincts?
For as long as these hawkers feel discriminated against—or totally disregarded and disrespected despite the contributions they make to sustain the activities of these Assemblies—no amount of force will deter them from spilling over onto the public spaces to ply their trade.
I take umbrage with the management of the Metropolitan Assemblies, particularly. These sprawling cities continue to grow and the population increases. But sadly, little is done to provide social facilities that the residents need to live in measured comfort and decency.
How many public places of convenience and other social facilities do these metropolises (Accra, Kumasi, Sekondi-Takoradi, and Tamale) have to cater for the people’s sanitation needs? Good governance demands that the authorities address the problems of these petty traders in a more humane and business-oriented manner. One preliminary step is to take measures to address the concerns of these petty traders by involving them in decision making at all levels.
Meetings should be initiated with their identifiable leaders (almost every group of people in Ghana has an association with recognized leaders) and hobnobbing done to determine what the concerns of these petty traders are and appropriate measures taken to address them The executive officers of the Ghana Union Traders Association (GUTA), for instance, could be co-opted into anything that will be done to tackle the problems.
There is need for a non-partisan approach. Solving the problems should be devoid of partisan political inclinations. How difficult will it be for the Chief Executive Officers of these Assemblies to work hand-in-hand with identifiable public, quasi-public, and private business entities to find permanent solutions to this problem of street hawking? I suppose the problem isn’t being solved because of rigid antagonistic positions that all the stakeholders have taken, which is counter-productive.
How many decent markets do these metropolises have, where law and order exist for business to be done in an orderly manner? Certainly, if the existing trading centres function more like prisons, the traders will not be encouraged to use them for anything. They will rather choose to risk it all, gravitating to where they can attract customers and make quick money each passing day.
The sanitary conditions existing in the public markets are horrible. Go to any of them to see things for yourselves. Who will be proud to operate in such an environment when chances of making profits street hawking are better?
The unfortunate sequel is what we see every day when these Assemblies resort to the basest and crudest means of solving the problem, which is to unleash brute force and mayhem on these poor innocent hawkers as if doing so would deter them from pouring onto the pavements, streets, and any available open space to ply their trade. Street hawking cannot be tackled that way.
I shall return…
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