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16.12.2005 Feature Article

Letter From The President: The hawkers should stay

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Countrymen and women, loyalists and opponents, strange and stupid things happen in Sikaman everyday. Stupidity is so common in our country that hardly a day passes by without someone giving me cause to laugh at his or her folly. I think the mayor of Accra, Nii Aridji, deserves special recognition in this regard. He has been so consistent with his vain (and foolhardy) attempts to rid the streets of Accra of hawkers and it has all gotten me thinking that, perhaps, he should be rewarded as the most pigheaded personality of the year.

He started his campaign to get the hawkers off the streets some nine months ago. He made the exercise appear prudent. But it was just a show to cover his failure to fulfill his pledge to clean up Accra within one hundred days of assuming office. And it worked. By chasing the hawkers around and getting the whole nation to talk about the so-called decongestion exercise, almost everyone – except my excellent self and a few watchful others – forgot about the filth and the stench in the national capital. Aridji started the decongestion exercise without any consideration whatsoever of the social and political ramifications. I warned him but he did not listen. Then came Odododiodio. We needed to win an election and here was our mayor hounding our grassroots supporters as if there was no tomorrow. For a moment, he got the point and stopped the mad chase of the street vendors. Unfortunately, the harm had already been done and we lost Odododiodio. I tell you, we could have very easily captured the Odododiodio seat if Aridji had not harassed the street vendors.

Since Odododiodio, the hawkers have returned in full force to the streets of the central business district – as they should be. I am not a city planner but I think that there are hawkers in the central business districts of every major city in the world. This exercise to chase out the hawkers is so pointless that sometimes I wonder what Aridji's real motives are. After all, we all knew he was just spewing trash when he swore to clear Accra of filth within one hundred days. So it wasn't really necessary for him to go chasing hawkers to cover up for his inadequacies, was it?

I know you might be wondering why I have gone back to this subject again. Well, let me tell you. Recently, police officers hit the street under the guise of enforcing trafficking regulations by getting the hawkers off the streets. What role have the hawkers played in the increasing spate of accidents in the country? I have not heard of or seen a single fatal accident in the central business district of Accra in the past 10 years or so. So why are the police on the street “enforcing traffic regulations”?

I have no evidence whatsoever but I have this feeling that Aridji has solicited the help of the police to enable him achieve his crusade to get the vendors off the pavements in the central business district. So far, the police have adopted the tactic of “persuading” the hawkers to voluntarily get off the pavements and the streets. It has not work and it will not work. The police have therefore vowed to soon start hauling the hawkers before court for “flouting trafficking regulations”.

I think that both the police and the Accra city authorities have lost focus. The AMA should concentrate on cleaning Accra (to control the embarrassing cholera outbreak), checking the springing up of slums in the city and essentially keeping the city beautiful and serene. The police on the other hand should concentrate on chasing the real criminals (the armed robbers who terrorise residents and the 419 scammers who defraud people), enforcing traffic regulations to check the carnage on the roads and training themselves to be more professional. The pointless harassment of hapless hawkers should stop and soon.

We live in a country where jobs are hard to come by. The only way for most unemployed men and women to engage themselves is to trade. These people sell odds and ends just to be able to feed themselves (with gari and 'moko yerawa'). I don't think that the guys selling on the pavements in the central business district of Accra (and some other major cities in Sikaman) enjoy standing in the scorching sun for the fun of it. If they had any other alternative (like working in air-conditioned offices even as cleaners and messengers) they wouldn't be standing on the streets. If these guys and gals had been given hope for the future in their villages they wouldn't have trekked all the way to Accra to hustle. They would have stayed in the hamlets and even worked on farms if they had been shown that there was money in farming. They have been forced by circumstances to do hustle on the streets and we should let them be. Until we create conditions that give them hope and alternative livelihoods we have no right or justification hounding them to get off the streets simply because of some mayor's determination to make up for his failings. We should be thankful that these young men and women have not taken to crime and have decided to make a living for themselves by trading. Just imagine what would happen if we compel them to go into crime. We can't control them. That's why I am saying that we should be pragmatic.

Secondly, I get so pissed off by the efforts to get the hawkers off the streets when there is no alternative place for them to go to. Construction works on the promised market for them have not even started. I will bet my last pessewa that the Chinese will finish constructing the stadiums for the 2008 Olympic Games before the AMA and its agents start to lay the foundation for that market. Finally, I don't buy the lame argument by the police that the hawkers should get off the streets for their own (hawkers') sake. They claim the hawkers are risking their lives by selling on the streets. I have not heard of a single incident of a hawker being knocked down by a car in the central business district. It doesn't happen. Even if it does, it is not as frequent as the police (and the AMA) would want us to believe. In any case, the traders are wise enough to recognize that occasionally getting knocked down by a vehicle is an occupational hazard they need to deal with.

Excellently yours,

J. A. Fukuor Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

J. A. Fukuor
J. A. Fukuor, © 2005

The author has 204 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: JAFukuor

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