• Authored By: Philemon Okillong
09 May 2024

The recent directive by the Minister of Works and Transport, Gen Katumba Wamala, to have roadside vendors operating along city roads evicted has sparked a debate about striking a balance between urban development and the livelihoods of those dependent on street vending.

As the Government of Uganda moves to restore order on Kampala’s bustling streets, what happens to the vendor whose only hope for a livelihood to sell that apple on the street? What about the youth who must sell that car wiper in traffic to get supper?

While the directive aims to enhance road safety and decongest city roads, the immediate consequence is the displacement of vendors whose livelihoods solely depend on street vending. For these individuals, street vending often serves as a primary source of income, while providing opportunities for self-employment, and allows them to earn a living and support their families. Thus, the potential impact on livelihoods raises serious questions about how the government can implement measures without disproportionately affecting the vulnerable economic groups.

The government’s commitment to provide alternative spaces for displaced vendors is crucial in mitigating the negative impact on livelihoods. While the immediate eviction might cause disruptions, a well-thought-out plan for relocation and the establishment of designated market areas can offer a sustainable solution.

Notably, governments previous attempt to evict street vendors since 2011, with new enforcement measures issued in 2021 and 2022, have yielded limited success, despite the enforcement of several methods including the confiscation of goods, street-wide arrests, and criminal prosecutions among others. Such attempts, especially the forceful and brutal manner of eviction, met resistance and were heavily criticized by the affected individuals, human rights advocates, and civil society organizations. Hence, this calls for a need for a lasting benevolent solution.

Creating more designated places that are affordable and easily accessed by shoppers may help. Photo/EPRC

One potential alternative is the creation of designated vending zones equipped with basic amenities such as proper sanitation facilities, waste disposal systems, and security. These zones could be strategically located to ensure accessibility for both vendors and customers while minimizing disruption to traffic flow.

The government should collaborate with relevant stakeholders, including vendors themselves, to identify suitable locations that balance economic opportunities with urban planning goals. By involving vendors in the decision-making process, the government can tailor solutions that meet their needs and contribute to a more inclusive urban development strategy.

Additionally, the government could explore the possibility of providing training and support for vendors to transition into more formalized businesses. Initiatives such as skill development programs, access to microfinance, and assistance in obtaining permits can empower vendors to operate within the legal framework while contributing to the local economy.

While the vendors may object the eviction directive initially, it provides an opportunity for the government to address the broader challenges of informal street vending. Rather than viewing it solely as a crackdown, the government should approach this as a chance to uplift the economic conditions of the affected individuals by fostering a conducive environment for their businesses to thrive.

Furthermore, the government can collaborate with non-governmental organizations and international partners to develop comprehensive solutions that address the root causes of informal street vending. By tackling issues such as unemployment, inadequate social services, and limited economic opportunities, the government can create an environment where individuals are less reliant on informal street vending for their livelihoods.

In conclusion, the minister’s directive to evict roadside vendors in Kampala presents a challenge that requires a balanced approach. While prioritizing urban order and road safety, the government must be equally committed to mitigating the impact on the livelihoods of those directly affected. By implementing thoughtful alternatives, involving stakeholders in decision-making, and addressing the underlying issues contributing to informal street vending, the government can pave the way for a more sustainable and inclusive urban development.

Featured photo/BBC Africa

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