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Street Hawking; Menace or Blessing?

“Exactly six years after the laws came into force, the number of street hawkers has more than doubled –pavements along the streets have not been spared; pedestrians are compelled to compete with motorists for space as squatters and hawkers have taken over.”

From the threshold of human existence when man’s survival depended on gathering fruits for “daily bread” till date, our lives as human beings have revolved around the pivot of an unending aggression of rigorous labour.

This, we subserviently bow to, in our anxiety to satisfy the three basic needs of life; food, clothing and shelter.

Across all societies, cultures, traditions and the totality of human fraternity, idleness is not only abhorred, but attracts a high degree of stigmatization and public ridicule, the reason why people who are considered ‘lazy’ in the society are given contemptible treatment.

Youth unemployment in the world today is not only considered an economic challenge but a security threat as well. Assuming such sophisticated character, nations across the globe have been compelled to adopt such tact and aptitude to nib this phenomenon in the bud.

However, we seem to be dancing around this intricate puzzle whilst the challenge stirs us up in the face unabated. Every policy direction targeted at subduing this challenge by successive governments seems to have gone down the drain.

With specific reference to Sub-Saharan Africa, thousands of our teeming youth journey across the Sahara Desert even at the peril of their fragile lives just to satisfy the burning desire of not only seeking the proverbial greener pastures, but make a simple decent living.

THE STREET HAWKER

Wiggling their way through a fleet of different models of vehicles every hour of the day, they are not only exposed to the danger of being run over by reckless drivers, but are also prone to the heavy ultra-violet rays of the noon-day sun that adorn our firmament throughout the day.

The street is their place of abode; they never get weary of being up-and-doing along every stretch of the city.

With a sense of hopelessness written all over their faces, the street does not only  guarantee a safe haven of providing a livelihood, but, characteristically, it offers a model of pride to the already deterioting effect of being left out of the race of life and its totality.

Under such treacherous conditions, their sense of alertness is still impeccably high; a composure they must maintain not only to be spotted, but attract the attention of passengers on board a fast moving vehicle or one caught up in traffic.

This is the story of the street hawker.

GLARING STATISTICS

Dubbed, “The Landscape of Jobs in Ghana”, the latest World Bank report makes a staggering revelation that about 48% of Ghanaian youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are unemployed.

According to the report if successive governments would make any feracious  attempts at bridging this unemployment gap, it would require an imperative creation of 300,000 jobs every year for 10 years.

Incidentally, about 70% of street hawkers fall within the age brackets captured in the World Bank report under discussion.

The report also reveals that, “In Ghana, youth are less likely than adults to be working: in 2012, about 52% of youth between the ages of 15 and 24 were employed compared to 90% for 25-64 year group.”

Young women in the same age group are particularly disadvantaged and have much higher inactivity rates than men: 17% of young females are inactive as opposed to 11% of males, the report said.

This is supported by a survey conducted by the Ghana Living Standards for the year 2012/2013 which states that unemployment rate in Ghana is marginally higher for females (2.0%) than males (1.6%).

Again, unemployment rates in urban centers are higher (3.5%} than rural areas (0.8%).

The survey estimates that 250,000 young men and women enter the Ghanaian labour market every year with only 2% absorbed in the formal sector whilst the 98% seek employment in the informal sector or remain unemployed.

More than one million Ghanaians, constituting about 12 per cent  of the labour force, are unemployed, a study conducted by the Ghana Statistical Service(GSS) in 2015 has revealed.

Out of the number, more than 700,000, constituting about 12.5 per cent, are females while 500,00 representing 11.5 per cent, are males, indicating that more females are likely to be unemployed than males.

Under a micro economic environment where the basic economic fundamentals cannot support private sector investment ( the biggest employer ), can we be said to be suspiciously pessimistic about our ability to creating 300,000 jobs annually for our teeming youth?

The above question sends a reminder to the title of this piece; should we consider street hawking a menace or blessing in the light of our inability to create jobs for our youthful population?

AMA FAILED TO ENFORCE BYE-LAWS

Well, one state agency that has over the years frowned on this phenomenon is the Accra Metropolitan Accra ( AMA ).

The AMA from April 1, 2011, began arresting anyone who engaged in street hawking as well as those patronize the wares of any street hawker.

The directive was contained in some new bye-laws approved then by the Assembly and the Local Government Ministry.

“From April 1, we will enforce these bye-laws such as hawking activity in front of Flagstaff House,37, Mallam, Lapaz amongst others, and all of these things will be a thing of the past. We will hold drivers, passengers and hawkers responsible”.

Above is a statement coined from an enchanting speech made by a high-spirited former Mayor of Accra, Dr. Alfred Oko Vanderpuije at a brief encounter with the press to announce the ban on street hawking in the metropolis.

In strict accordance with these bye-laws, no one is allowed to sell any merchandise to a driver of a vehicle or a passenger whilst a vehicle is caught up in a traffic jam.

Again, the laws also stipulate that a person shall not buy from a street hawker unless the street is designated for that purpose.

Per these bye-laws, anyone found culpable  of committing any of the above offenses will be liable on summary conviction  to a fine or in default to a term of imprisonment  not exceeding three months or committed to perform communal labour.

When some authorities of the AMA together with media personnel from the various media houses visited some of the streets in Accra on the first day the bye-laws took effect ( 1st April, 2011 }, it was observed that hawkers were not on the streets.

Areas visited included, the Accra High Street, Mallam Junction, Kwashieman, Lapaz, 37 etc. These major streets in the metropolis were empty of street hawkers, including the various intersections and pavements.

The PRO of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, Numo Blafo, speaking to the media after the exercise, indicated that the Assembly had trained some hundred personnel from the various  security metros to patrol the streets in its quest to ensure that the hawkers do not return to the streets.

Exactly six years after the laws came into force, the number of street hawkers has more than doubled –pavements along the streets have not been spared; pedestrians are compelled to compete with motorists for space as squatters and hawkers have taken over.

On a fact-finding mission to some of the major streets in the metropolis, including 37, Mallam, Achimota, Lapaz, Kwashieman, Kaneshie and others revealed a worse situation than before.

In an exclusive interview with some of the hawkers, their general contention is not to flout the laws of the land neither are they advertently showing gross contempt to the AMA and its by-laws as being perceived by a section of the public.

However, they contended that the harsh economic situation confronting the country has been a compelling force that keeps pushing them back to the streets even if it was against their wish.

According to them, as school drop-outs , most of them do not posses any form specialization nor have ever been involved in any employable skills training which would fit them into the already choked job market, hence the streets provide the only alternative for their survival.

They believe the solution to the street hawking saga is not about driving them from the streets but there should be some concerted efforts by successive governments aimed at creating enough jobs and also offering them skills training to make them employable.

When the PRO of the AMA was contacted, he conceded that the assembly had failed in its attempts to rid the streets of the hawkers, however, he lamented that the various directives undertaken by the assembly to curtail this phenomenon, have received major setbacks as groups which described themselves as human rights activists consistently lambasted the assembly, accusing it of “trampling down on the basic human rights of the innocent traders”.

He also revealed that due to some budgetary constraints, the assembly is unable to recruit many more security personnel to patrol the streets.

Mohammed Adjei Sowah, the newly appointed Mayor of Accra, received a hundred per cent overwhelming approval to his nomination by members of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA).

At a short ceremony after he was sworn into office, Hon. Adjei Sowah strongly advocated his intentions not to use what he described as “crude tactics” in dealing with hawkers in the city.

Successive governments have come under severe attacks for not attaching “human face” in dealing with hawkers and squatters in the metropolis.

The Mayor’s address is captured within the precincts of the “Red Line” policy introduced by the AMA. In December last year, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly in collaboration with the various hawker groups introduced this policy to streamline their activities which had impeded the movement of pedestrians and motorists.

The “Red Line” policy involves demarcating pavements along the major streets in the metropolis between hawkers and pedestrians. This will allow hawkers some space to do business whilst pedestrians need not compete with motorists for space on the roads, as some allocation has been made for them on the pavements.

In a statement signed by the PRO, Numo Blafo, the Assembly concedes that the policy contravenes the Bye-Laws of 2011 and article 117(Section 1A-F) of the road traffic regulation.

The statement therefore cautions all hawkers to stay within the boundaries of the demarcations since it will be in their own interest.

NPP GOVERNMENT’S INTERVENTION

Using agriculture as a springboard to propagate the ‘One District, One Factory’ industrial revolution policy, the government of the New Patriotic Party, seeks to absorb majority of the unemployed youth into full employment in the agric sector.

It is against this background that the Minister of Food and Agriculture, Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto , recently  inaugurated the, “Planting for Food and Jobs” mantra. This policy, cast in the mood of the “Operation Feed Yourself” campaign initiated under the Kutu Acheampong regime in 1979, is not only intended to ensure food sufficiency among the populace, but also serve as an out-grower points for feeding the purported factories to be constructed in the various districts.

Under this project, over 750,000 idle hands will find permanent work whilst 250,000 farmers across the regions will kick start this enviable project. It is also envisaged that the number of recruited farmers will increase to 1.5 million in subsequent years.

The policy which is expected to commence in the coming crop season involves the supply of high yielding and improved seedlings to selected farmers from the regions .This will engage the services of over 1000 unemployed graduates from the five Agric Colleges across the country.

Again, the Akufo-Addo led administration has announced the removal of about eight different “nuisance” taxes and reduction of four others. This was captured in the 2017 Budget Statement presented to Parliament by the Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, on March 2, 2017.

Some financial and economic pundits have questioned whether this fiscal policy makes any economic sense at all, especially when this government would have to fund the implementation of the capital intensive Free Senior High School and other flagship projects in their manifesto .

In his presentation, the Finance Minister indicated government’s recognition of the revenue shortfalls that may occur pursuant to this policy. However, he was quick to assert that prudent measures had already been adopted to make up for this, which includes widening the tax net and encouraging compliance among others.

He assured that tax incentives would not only ease some burden on private investors but will also promote a stable micro-economic environment for expansion of businesses and job creation to alleviate the plight of our teeming unemployed youth.

Furthermore, the number of street hawkers who had their education cut off at the Junior High School level (which constitute about 70% of the total number} would now have a choice to take advantage of the Free Senior High School policy about to be rolled out in the September , 2017 academic year.

At this stage, having grossed over the need to find some decent sustainable employment for these hawkers, it is also fair that we appreciate the state of hopelessness and the pathetic conditions under which they trade their daily livelihoods.

Bright Steve Oppong

brightoppong2002@yahoo.com

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