Feature Article of Friday, 18 January 2013
Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.
Street hawking: The harder they come, the harder they fall (Part II)
By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
There is an urgent need for a change in local government policy that could make petty traders’ environment safer, more humane, and more rewarding.
The Accra Metropolitan Assembly may claim that it has constructed new places (Agbogbloshie, Neoplan Station in Accra, etc.) and that the hawkers have no justification not to use those places. They may claim also that the problem is caused by these hawkers who have refused to relocate to those centres. I disagree with them because those places aren’t conducive for these hawkers to settle in.
Apart from the corrupt tendency of extort money from these hawkers in the allocation of the stalls, there are also fundamental problems that repel these hawkers from those trading centres. Apparently, lack of adequate facilities and other factors such as distance have not encouraged these hawkers to relocate. More so is the fact that the Accra Business District is where the actual business can be profitably done. That is where the population of buyers converges.
Relocating hawkers to remote corners of Accra won’t solve the problem because the gravitational pull isn’t there to sustain their trade. Buyers will not travel to those remote places to do business with them. Many other factors contribute to this problem. Accra and Kumasi, particularly, are choked with residents who have to mill over each other for little space to do business of any kind.
The road network is horrible just as transportation is. Traffic snarls prevent swift movement to-and-fro. Which buyer will waste precious time in this situation, going to far-away markets in search of petty items? So, you see, the petty traders will go where the buyers are easily accessible. And most of these buyers are on the streets.
We are even not talking about criminals who have taken over public space to harass innocent people seeking simple means to solve their existential problems.
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.
The exigencies of the Ghanaian business environment demand that lasting long-term solutions be found for street hawking. The reality is that as job openings in the public sector shrink as against the exploding population of job seekers, the attraction toward petty private business operations like street hawking will continue to be the order of the day. As the education institutions continue to churn out products who cannot be employed—because no one is creating jobs—we should expect street hawking to be the norm.
No amount of promises from politicians will solve the problem. Rather concrete action that accounts for the genuine desire to provide amenities for the hawkers will do. The government cannot be relied on to generate jobs for the jobless. We all know how glib-of-tongue these politicians are and won’t rely on the to create jobs.
That is why private initiative must be encouraged and supported with the provision of facilities to accommodate the needs of the downtrodden who have chosen to hawk petty items for survival. Since we don’t expect this downtrodden segment of our population to continue being jobless and living below the poverty line, we must encourage them to do things for themselves.
All the government (through the local Assemblies) can do is to initiate projects to create the conducive business environment. The rest can be left to the individual petty traders to pick up from there. After all, we should rather be glad that these people haven’t resigned themselves to fate or turned their human facilities into anti-social vices. They have the sense to do something for survival. Why not support them instead of taking draconian measures to cut short their initiative and implement measures to dehumanize them and push them further into narrow circumstances?
Our local Assemblies must act with urgency to help these petty traders establish themselves and grow in their trades. The government will have less headache if these private traders grow their businesses to absorb the unemployed who would otherwise have turned their energies into doing anti-social acts such as armed robbery and prostitution.
Can our leaders think properly for once to solve existing problems and not create new ones to worsen the excruciating poverty that is stifling growth in our country?
I shall return…
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