Wednesday, October 13, 2010

what happens when you destroy a thriving street market

The headline on the Agence France Presse story tells half the story: Angola shantytown struggles after market bulldozed.

The other half: The market is struggling, too, after being moved 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) out of town.

Roque Santeiro, which some had called Africa's biggest market, was a chaotic sprawl on the shores of Luanda Bay in the Angolan capital. The market was torn down on September 5th as part of a supposed urban renewal plan.

The result: the surrounding neighborhood has been plagued by unemployment and crime. The new market is failing, in part because it costs an astounding 1,000 kwanzas, or $11, to go there and back from downtown. As a result, the country's biggest microcredit lending outfit is no longer giving loans to the merchants.

And for the final piece of the tragedy, the city has yet to announce any plans for the old downtown site.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

the dream that failed

There's been violence between hawkers and Nairobi authorities after a nighttime demolition at Muthurwa Market in downtown Nairobi, Capital FM reports.

The hawkers lit bonfires and barricaded sections of the roads to protest eviction from the market by city council police.
The tragedy of this is that Muthurwa was built four years ago as a new and promising innovation for street hawkers. The creation of a planned market was supposed to be better for the hawkers and for people downtown. Instead, as The Standard reported last year, the dream failed. "The plan included a 24-hour market with basic facilities like water, restrooms, lighting, a hospital, a police station, multi-storied stalls, a banking hall, and an administrative office," at a price of 700 million shillings ($8.6 million), The Standard noted. But. "Sixteen months down the line, Murhurwa has become the epitome of chaos. The 12-hectare complex has degenerated into a den of muggers where hawkers and matatu [shared van] operators jostle for space."The newspaper enumerated some of the problems: "Burst sewers, dusty if not muddy roads, congestion, pickpockets, and lack of water."
The sad fact: the hawkers and the cops are fighting over a total failure of public policy.


Hundreds of unlicensed vendors will be competing to sell Papal merchandise as the Pope visits Edinburgh and Glasgow this week, the Daily Record reports.

The newspaper reports that only seven traders applied for a street sales permit in Glasgow, and only one received a permit. Yet more than 100,000 people are expected to turn out to see Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday.

The Pontiff-related stuff expected to be for sale includes "Pope-on-a-rope soaps, action figures, coasters, clocks, fridge magnets, keyrings and car air fresheners." The Catholic Church is trying to seize some of the street vendors' business by selling Pope-themed products online.

The Pope is often viewed as a voice for social justice, but that doesn't mean that local officials will be lenient with unlicensed vendors. As a Glasgow City Council spokesman told the paper: "Trading standards officers will be targeting unlicensed street traders on the day and will, if necessary, seize goods."

Monday, August 30, 2010

African markets in Spain

African manteros (literally blanket people, but with the connotation of curbside hawkers) dominate many of the vibrant street markets in Spain, the Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports.

Some municipalities have tried to liberalize hawking laws, but apparently backed down due to opposition from retailers and tourist agencies.

'We do not steal or sell drugs,' a mantero named Abdou told the news agency. 'Whom do we harm?'

Police are due to start raids again in September.

hawking on Moscow's trains

Hawkers offer a bewildering variety of goods on the trains from Moscow's Yaroslavsky Station to the monastery at Sergiev Posad. The business, an analyst tells The Canadian Press, is worth millions of dollars a year.

making do

Making Do, a new book by Steve Daniels, highlights the power of the Jua Kali (hot sun) industries in Kenya. Here's an excerpt, from The Atlantic.

The book debuted at Maker Faire Africa 2010 in Nairobi, a festival of informal know-how curated by my esteemed friend and colleague and all-around good guy Emeka Okafor.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Arresting teenagers for hawking

Authorities in Calabar, the capital of Nigeria's Cross River State, recently arrested 100 young street hawkers for selling legal goods in unauthorized places, Next newspaper reports.

The products they were selling: food items such as eggs, plantain chips, peanuts, potatoes, sachets of water, vegetables, garri (toasted, ground cassava), beverages, plus desirable consumer goods like mobile phone recharge cards and clothing.

Authorities contended, without offering any evidence, that some of those arrested were violent criminals.

But a parent of one of the kids arrested insisted that they were just trying to help their families make some money in a traditionally acceptable way. "How can a government stop street hawking when our tradition encourages it?"

the cost of electricity during Ramadan

Street hawkers in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, are apparently making under-the-table deals for illegal connections to public electrical lines, bdnews24 reports. The hawkers are apparently using the juice so they can run small light bulbs in order to sell their wares at night.

Authorities told bdnews24 that the number of street hawkers rises during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. The amount of power pilfered by the city's estimated 100,000 hawkers could amount to 10MW per day--in a city that is stressed for adequate power.

One hawker confirmed that he paid an unauthorized 'lineman' 1,000 taka ($14 US) for the hookup and 50 per day (or about 75 cents) for the power. Another said he paid twice as much.

According to the Dhaka Electric Supply Company, legal electricity for commercial use can be had for a flat rate of 5.58 taka (about 8 cents) per unit of use. So the hawkers are likely being ripped off, perhaps by as much as 800 percent.

The obvious solution: instead of hunting down the law-breaking hawkers, crack down on the fake utility workers and provide the hawkers with safe, legal hookups where they will pay the official rate.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

up with street vendors

An essayist in The Hindu, perhaps India's most prestigious English-language paper, blasts the disingenuous arguments used to demonize hawkers and roadside merchants.

Money quote: "If lakhs [tens of thousands] of jobless people decide to be masters and mistresses of their own fate, should we call them a nuisance or salute their spirit of enterprise? The answer, I think, is evident."

Friday, May 28, 2010

the street is better

Hawkers in Singapore say the street was better for business than the temporary mall in which they operate now. Channel News Asia offers a bare bones story.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

the key to growth

The bulk of Kenya's job growth last year was due to the informal economy, The Standard newspaper reports.
According to the Economic Survey released by the Planning Ministry, the country’s employment rate improved in private and public sector from 1.9 per cent in 2008 to 3.1 per cent and 2.4 per cent last year. Total employment excluding those in the rural small-scale agriculture and pastoralist activities went up by 4.5 per cent to 10.4 million last year. However, the informal sector, continued to lead the way by creating 390,400 jobs.
Though that is an impressive figure, the number of jobs produced by the informal sector actually declined from 2008, when informal employers accounted for 440,000 jobs.

Even as the informal economy still seems robust, it would be interesting to know why that decline in growth occurred.

Monday, April 26, 2010

smashing the stalls

Hundreds of vendors in the central Sri Lankan city of Kandy lost their stalls and livelihoods after an eviction enforced by the army. The Daily Mirror has a brief account of what was called an effort "to clean up the Kandy city."

Friday, April 23, 2010

someone in Nairobi gets it

A great blog post courtesy of Ratio Magazine, shows how informal businesses lose out to supposed innovations in city planning.

Money quotes:
1. In this city, in my neighbourhood, a man associated with one of Kenya’s largest scams, is free to run for MP whilst small kiosks are being torn down in the name of ‘beautification’ and ‘security’.

2. in a fantastic example of customer service matched by few formal businesses in this town, one of the local newspaper men [displaced by the government demolition drive] not only delivers the papers to my house, but has also granted me account facilities for both newspapers and airtime, and all I have to do is text him for a top up.

3. we can probably save a lot of cash spent on programmes, workshops and related four-wheel drives for ‘small enterprise promotion’ and actually let small enterprises grow if the city infrastructure were made more functional.

the right to do business on the pavement

The progressive city government in Calcutta is now initiating a program to legalize street hawkers. The Telegraph newspaper has the details. In a further analysis, the paper quotes a municipal official on the pragmatic reasons for working with street sellers: "The ground realities in the city are such that hawkers can neither be easily evicted nor restricted to specific zones. Try forcing a vendor doing roaring business on a Gariahat pavement for years to shift to another location and you will know what I mean.”

Though the Telegraph harumphs that "you, the pedestrian, will ultimately forfeit the right to your pavement," the reality is that there are 325,000 street hawkers in the city. If they weren't important and desirable, people wouldn't be buying from them and building and store-owners wouldn't allow them to operate right outside their doors.

The government promises to keep some areas of town free from street sellers, while limiting hawking in other areas and allowing it full-force in other sections of town. This is a sensible, pragmatic proposal.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bahrain goes after street vendors

In the first three months of this year 460 street traders have been prosecuted in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, the Gulf Daily News reports. The government also arrested 204 undocumented foreign workers -- the newspaper calls them 'runaway expatriate labourers' -- in the same time period.

Given that the capital, according to Wikipedia, has an estimated population of 155,000, almost half of one percent of the city's population has been caught up in these prosecutions.

900 years of market culture

Bananas on the Breadboard is a new documentary that chronicles the 900-year history of Dublin's vibrant street markets. The Irish Times previews the film.

Monday, April 5, 2010

1,000 pounds

That's how much the Liverpool City Council wants to charge for permits to sell food at night in the center of town. It's a 300 percent increase over the current license fee. The Liverpool Echo has the details.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Project Hawk Eye

Police in Vadodara, a city in the Indian state of Gujarat, have started a community policing project in partnership with local street vendors, the Times of India reports.

"Hawkers are good source of information and they can also help us in detecting crime and preventing it too. In fact, just few days back a hawker nabbed a vehicle thief and handed him over to the police," police commissioner Rakesh Asthaana told the paper.

Officials in the city of 3 million have dubbed the plan 'Hawk Eye.' It has the potential to create a much more productive civic relationship between government and street merchants. Vendors are, after all, eyes and ears on the street. They are not criminals. They are a legitimate part of society.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Computer Village attacked

The Lagos State Government has attacked the street traders at Computer Village, Next reports.

There's no allegation that the street sellers at the market are unscrupulous or criminal. Only the Governor's uncompromising devotion to wiping out street selling.

This puts merchants in a serious bind. They have lost their investment -- often given to them on credit by more-established businesses in the market -- but are so desperate for work that they will probably return to the street despite the risk. "The things they took away were given to me to start market, and they have seized everything," one vendor told the paper. "And government did not create employment for us, so people will start looking for job again." As a mobile phone salesman put it, "We cannot steal so we’ve been trying to earn a honest living, but it’s been made difficult by the government."

Lagos Governor Babatunde Fashola is doing nothing about the real corruption, which involves the area boys -- a cadre of strong-arming thugs who are in league with the officials of the local government (a community political structure) -- who are extorting money from the street traders. But he has turned the hopeful street entrepreneurs at Computer Village into criminals.

What is the sense of that?

Monday, March 22, 2010

After the earthquake, the stealth economy

The New York Times offers a view of the post-earthquake encampment set up in the PĂ©tionville Club, the 9-hole golf course in Port-au-Prince.

What's significant: With 44,000 residents living under tarps, this new neighborhood has "a quasi-mayor, a ragtag security force, a marketplace, two movie theaters, three nightly prayer services, rival barber shops and even a plastic-sheeted salon offering manicures and pedicures." The article goes on to highlight the commercial success of these refugees in their own city.

"Everything is for sale, like hair extensions in baggies and padlocks for the wooden doors that many have installed in their tarp-covered shelters. Inside a United States Agency for International Development tent outfitted with freshly made benches and a flat-screen television, one entrepreneur charges about 12 cents for screenings of a “Terminator” movie and the Malaysian kung fu film “Kinta.” Another young businessman rents out his Playstation in one of the designated 'child safe' areas, a green netting atop four poles. A woman runs a bar atop a crate."

But the article concludes that international agencies want to move these self-sufficient and entrepreneurial people out of the city: "Moving families from encampments like the PĂ©tionville Club entails finding and preparing some 1,500 acres of land — one relocation site recently opened and another is being prepared — and then persuading people to move outside the metropolitan area, international groups say."

This neighborhood is functioning and, compared to many other encampments, relatively healthy. Why break it up? Why send it out of the city? These are the very people who ought to be at the center of the renaissance of the Haitian capital.
Swindon, a city of perhaps 200,000 people west of London, is pushing to redevelop its town center by getting rid of street traders, many of whom have been working there for better than 25 years. The Swindon Advertiser reports.

Why do political authorities always see those who sell flowers and donuts from carts on the street to be blight? The truth is that street sellers make the urban experience more vital and charming and boost business for everyone. That's why pushcarts have re-appeared, in a highly planned form, in malls and shopping centers. That's, in part, why street fairs and farmers markets are popular.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

death of a teenage hawker

The Guardian offers a moving account of the death of Fabienne Cherisma, who was shot by Haitian police.

Nice lede: "Fabienne Cherisma spent her life assessing margins."

In addition to highlighting the personal tragedy of a bright 15-year-old's life cut short, it brings up the question: what is looting?

No one suggests that looting for profit is a great thing. And on a mass scale, looting can turn into rioting. But, after the earthquake that killed more than 100,000, people in Port-au-Prince are simply trying to survive. In the context of the massive devastation, and the unconscionably high rates now being charged by air cargo companies to bring supplies into Haiti (a much worse form of looting), why is taking two folding chairs and three paintings a capital crime?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

after the earthquake

As the Haitian people recover from the tragedy of last week, System D--the informal economy--is playing its part.

Government officials and businessmen tell Reuters that street markets and street hawkers are back in operation in Port-au-Prince. That's hugely good news. As usual, the informal economy is back up and running before the banks and the rest of the formal economy.