Let’s talk about eviction of vendors

Mr Eric Namungalu

What you need to know:

  • During the lockdown, street vendors were unable to earn any decent income to keep their families going because there were no people on the city streets.
  • Government has yet to present any master plan on how these vendors will be accommodated.

On  January 17, Kampala Capital City Authorities and the Resident City Commissioner started effecting the eviction of street vendors.  
When the government closed several sectors of the economy in March 2020, several business persons were adversely affected and street vendors were no exception. 
During the  lockdown, street vendors were unable to earn any decent income to keep their families going because there were no people on the city streets.  The partial reopening of the economy provided some respite, but like other business owners, they found money hard to come by because of the recession that followed.

 Authorities should acknowledge that like other business persons, street vendors have had their income streams disrupted and should be given an opportunity to recover. 
Whereas several small to medium sized enterprises have been able to lobby for and receive relief packages in form of loans and grants from the government, restructuring of commercial bank loans and relief on some taxes, street vendors have had no such luck. 

At this point it is easy to argue that street vendors are in fact not legal or regularised businesses and should, therefore, expect no such accommodations from the government. 
In reality, street vendors are business entrepreneurs who like several others including those involved in agriculture take advantage of a poorly regulated sector to earn a living instead of begging. They are also citizens who pay several indirect taxes and deserve the opportunity to enjoy their right to livelihood.

Further still, government has yet to present any master plan on how these vendors will be accommodated in case their livelihoods are taken away. It is also not feasible that the already struggling small and medium sized enterprises can absorb these vendors and provide them with living wages.
It is also true that many of the challenges faced by street vendors today are not of their making but are a result of corruption and patronage in the redevelopment and management of Kampala markets which have left many with no option but the  street as a means of livelihood.

This whole episode is, therefore, unlikely to yield any tangible results other than exacerbating the already high rates of poverty and crime. The government will predictably respond through higher taxation on the already small pool of tax payers to cater for handouts to the unemployed for political expediency.
 Security agencies will call for increased restrictions on movement akin to those of the pandemic-like curfews that have endured despite having lost persuasiveness. They will mount more roadblocks and carryout more devastating raids to root out urban crime. All this could lead to more economic, social and political instability which could mean we never recover from the effects of the pandemic.

The government should, therefore, balance its need to create order in the city, protect off-street renters and raise revenue with its duty to ensure security, prosperity and the enjoyment of rights by considering some of the following options: a moratorium on the eviction of street vendors for at least a year in recognition of the economic slowdown that was caused by the pandemic. 
A medium-term identification and licensing regime for street vendors with nominal revenue for the State, redirecting funds to the subsidisation of market rent/levies for low income entrepreneurs and better access to seed money through savings and credit cooperatives. 

KCCA and the government should remain cognizant of tensions between street vendors and off-street renters by regulating the streets on which vending can be done, the kind of goods that are acceptable and the quantity that is acceptable. 
KCCA should reconsider the Kampala Capital City (Regulation of Street Trade Ordinance) 2019 with the objective of regulating, protecting and ultimately phasing out street vending. 
The government should focus on empowering enterprising citizens to join the monitory economy as opposed to herding them into destitution and crime. This country cannot afford to put more people out of work but should trust that the majority of street vendors can come good and eventually contribute to the expansion of the tax base and development of the country.

 The authorMr Eric Namungalu is an Advocate of Court and a social commentator
[email protected]