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The Street Hawkers of Addis

Maryamawit Engdawork, The Reporter   in  · ·
May 18, 2015

The streets of Addis Ababa are becoming vibrant and crowded, especially after work-hours, with street vendors selling different items.

Thus, in the evenings, the pedestrian walks are crowded with sellers and buyers bending down trying to get what they want, and what suits them. These can be witnessed around many squares of Addis Ababa, including Megenagna, Mexico, Kera, Arat Kilo and other major places.

The bend-down market provides its customers with different products including vegetables, clothes and household goods at bargain prices. Everyone is rushing on the streets; the sellers shout how much they are asking for a product that tempts passersby to buy things that they want, though they had not planned to, making street vendors profitable. There is no long negotiation about price as everyone is on the move, time is running out and it has been a long day. At the same time, sellers are in a rush to sell as much as they can before the day is out or security people come and  confiscate their merchandise as street-side vending is illegal under the law except on Sundays and Saturdays in specified places.

At a certain moment you would notice that all of the street vendors have collected their goods on display and are running in different directions: that is when they have sighted security people coming. Those who are caught beg for mercy or even offer bribes to the security officers to have their seized merchandise released while the rest of them are trying to hide. The street vendors will do anything to escape from the security; they even jump in front of a moving car because they want to make it home with their merchandise safe with them. But once the security people have left, the vendors return to their places and start calling out for buyers.

Even if the activity is considered illegal one cannot deny its importance for the economy by creating jobs for many unemployed citizens, especially the youth, and curbing  poverty. The reason for this could be that it does not require a big capital to start, plus it is flexible as they decide what they take to the market even if it is a risky one

Street vendors also make available necessary products with affordable price for those with low income. As they continue they also make streets safe as there will be many passersby on the streets and those unemployed youth who would have been criminals are busy selling stuff. Moreover, streets become cleaner as ownership of the street grows as the street is the working place of the vendors. But still others argue that street vendors are bad for an economy and argue that vendors create unfair competition as they do not pay tax and the like, reduce the value of goods, and create congestion of pedestrians’ walks. But despite these arguments, vendors have kept giving their service for years all around the world as there is a demand for their presence in the economy despite the presence of the formal business.

Currently, illegal vendors are part of the urban economy with both its positive role and negative impact it is said to have. Thus, I think street vendors need to be given a structure as it provides job opportunities and reduces poverty in the city. One way could be setting a day in a week for street market and close some small roads in the different sub-cities of Addis Ababa for this purpose. It can even be a source of entertainment for residents of Addis Ababa and more income for entrepreneurs who will come up with new business ideas making the markets more attractive and vibrant.

Hence, a shift in paradigm in managing the street vendors is vital. Instead of using force against them, they need to be made part of the formal economy by recognizing the benefits that they have brought so far.

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