Almost two months after hawkers were removed from the streets around Kwame Nkrumah Circle, the new Pedestrian Market has far more vendors than customers under a giant billboard depicting confused looking kayayo next to a 'Grand Opening Pedestrians Shopping Mall' caption.
"Business is slow,” said Daniel, a seller of shoes, encapsulating what seemed to be the general sentiment of the hawkers, the ones who bothered staying awake to try to scrounge up some business anyway.
There are still vast areas of empty booths, still more being constructed, and more planned. “We will be extending the market subject to availability,” said Ali Baba, Personal Assistant to the Mayor, in an interview with The Statesman. “This will be Phase II.”
Outside the gates a few vendors are still brave enough to roam about, calling out their wares, though somewhat softly, in what is now illegal space. This reporter did manage to buy a new notebook from one of these hawkers as an eagle-eyed policeman walked by without interfering. When asked why he chose the street instead of the new market, the notebook-seller shrugged, laughed, and refused comment.
Some newspaper vendors have complained to The Statesman that they are being harassed by police even though they are legally entitled to sell outside of the new market grounds. According to Mr Baba, policemen are instructed to enforce selling restrictions on newspaper vendors if they sell more than just newspapers.
“If newspaper vendors are selling only newspapers they are okay,” he said. “But if they try to sell other things too they are in violation” and will be harassed by police.
“We have more than a hundred policemen on the ground,” said Mr Baba. “But they will be out in full swing once the Pedestrian Mall is commissioned…We are only waiting for His Excellency” President Kufuor, but the official commissioning is due for some time next week.
Mr Baba seemed perplexed as to why vendors would still be selling on the street, and said that the Pedestrian Mall only needs more press coverage, more word-of-mouth promotion, and in general more recognition from the public. “If I know it's the place to go and buy,” he said, “I will go there to buy.”
For now, it seems that most of the public is unaware, though some observers of consumer behaviour note that putting all the hawkers into one area takes away the 'impulse buy.' If you find yourself without a hanky and you are sweating in the trotro, you might buy one as the hanky-seller walks by, but there is little point in having several hanky-sellers lining booths.
“It was better on the street,” says a man identifying himself by the name 'Cool.' “No one is coming to buy, and some people have had their things spoiled” by Monday's downpour. On Wednesday large patches of mud could still be observed, and one wonders how a space packed full of merchandise will fare in the rainy season.
Mr Baba counters that “markets all over Ghana and Africa are open; no market anywhere in Africa is closed, so hawkers must take precautional measures” against the rain and other elements, just as they would on the street.
Bernice, a seller of pens and stationary, told The Statesman that the storm had even proved fatal to some hawkers. “Some women were swept into the water and died,” she said.
Baba countered that there is no proof to this rumour, calling it “political propaganda.” He said that the AMA has met with the leaders of the hawkers, who assured city staff that it is a false rumour.
Still, the hawkers met by The Statesman were unanimous in their preference for doing business amongst the natural flow of traffic on the streets. Mr Baba said that the city had to remove the hawkers to reduce congestion in the area and help the flow of traffic, and the area around Circle seems to be flowing better as a result.
“We removed them,” he said, “and we gave them a convenient space.” He attributed their reticence to move to “the Ghanaian attitude,” saying, “They are even in discussion with Traditional Authorities to hold a traditional ceremony. They wanted us to give them a cow for this purpose. We told them we are not involved in superstition.”
He said that if superstition is keeping hawkers away, they will have to solve that problem themselves, and added that the city had already gone beyond its duty in providing the space for them. “We were not obliged to build this market,” he said. We did not want to build it, but we were pressured… and [the hawkers] still won't go there.”
Once the market is officially commissioned next week, Mr Baba said, “we will drive everyone” into the new market space.
Yet it seems that, despite the rows of empty stalls, the hawkers have come to the new space. It is the buyers who remain absent.