21 August 2017

Uganda: Vendors Vow to Stay On Streets As KCCA Redeploys Enforcers

Hellen Baku is not bothered by the afternoon drizzle. Instead, it provides the chance for her and other street vendors operating along Kampala's Ben Kiwanuka street to work unhindered, since law enforcers don't work during the rain.

"After the rains, they [KCCA law enforcers] will come out from wherever they are and arrest any vendor in sight. This is the only chance I have to make some few sales," says Baku, as she calls on passersby to buy her garlic and ginger.

Last week, KCCA resolved to return its law enforcement officers to the streets after a break following the death of a vendor Olivia Basemera, who drowned in Nakivubo channel as she escaped arrest.

The enforcers came back tougher and Baku is worried more vendors will end up like Basemera, since they can't afford the hefty fines. She is defiant, though, that she is going nowhere.

Iddi Mpagi, who vends secondhand jackets on Allen Street, has survived being apprehended twice by jumping across Nakivubo channel since the law enforcers returned to the streets.

Mpagi explains that previously, the city authority had allowed them to start operations at 5pm until late in the night, but that no longer happens.

"They are now very tough and won't even allow us to work. We are left with Sundays but despite the fact that there are a few clients on that day, they charge us Shs 15,000 in taxes," says Mpagi, who says his stock is only Shs 20,000. "There are no [customers] in the markets where they are sending us to."

OPEN MARKETS

According to the KCCA guidelines, vendors are expected to use weekend open markets to sell their merchandise. They are also expected to pay Shs 10,000 in taxes for a stall in the open market which measures 2.5 metres by three metres.

The markets operate on Saturdays and Sundays, plus public holidays. Open markets are supposed to be open from 9am to 4pm and vendors are expected to be out of the open markets by 5pm. KCCA reserves the right to suspend the market anytime.

"There are many empty markets around and the affected people and vendors can relocate to those places," Kampala minister Beti Kamya told journalists recently. "We want buyers to look for sellers in one place, not the other way round where sellers look for buyers."

But vendors say malls are expensive and not meant for poor people like them, and wonder how they would survive in a mall with a business whose capital is less than Shs 60,000.

Baku breaks into laughter when asked whether she ever hopes to own a stall in one of the many malls and markets. She says her stock of garlic and ginger is less than Shs 10,000 and she sometimes goes home without selling all of it.

She cannot even think of going to other markets like Usafi near Katwe, since even those operating there wouldn't resist the opportunity of working on the streets.

Stalls in the KCCA-owned market cost a monthly Shs 100,000 in rent but agents sublet them and double the price despite the fact that the authority prohibits it.

"We had started working properly with Musisi [KCCA executive director] until Kamya came. How do you expect me to pay one million [shillings] in rent yet I have failed to pay Shs 50,000 house rent?" inquires one Nyakaana.

Rent for malls around downtown Kampala cost between Shs 1.5m and Shs 3m, which many vendors can't afford yet they would love to operate in the busy areas.

KCCA patrols are not rampant on other streets like they are in lower Kampala. Vendors around Kafumbe Mukasa road operate without much interference. The same applies to streets like Nkrumah, sections of Kampala road and Jinja road.

WIN-WIN STRATEGY

The lord mayor of Kampala, Erias Lukwago, has argued government needs to provide lasting solutions for street vendors and needs not to treat them like they are aliens.

President Museveni said in a July 22 letter addressed to the prime minister and copied to the ministers of Kampala and Local Government that daily levies charged on informal business operators like market vendors, gonja (roasted plantain) sellers, and maize sellers as well as taxis be stopped.

He asked that annual licences be paid by these groups so that they operate without daily hindrances.

"... these operators buy an annual license of, maybe, Shs 50,000. That should be all. Nobody should charge them daily fees of, for instance, Shs 1,000. There should be no fees for Kampala and fees for the up-country vendors. It should be one consolidated fee," wrote the president.

The vendors welcome the president's move and say that they can pay the annual fees since it makes the authority responsible, unlike now where they don't want anything to do with street vendors.

Currently, unlike other business groups like taxis, the vendors are charged no fee to operate in Kampala, apart from the weekend open markets where they are required to pay Shs 15,000 daily.

The city authority maintains that it wants the vendors out of the central business district because they disrupt trade order.

However, vendors like Musah Kibirige say they will remain on the streets by hook or crook since they have nowhere else to go. The alternative, according to Kibirige, is for KCCA to come up with a better, win-win strategy.

"We are willing to pay that Shs 50,000 even if they tell us to begin working at 5pm. We have no problem with that, but all we ask is they recognise us legally as Ugandans," he explained. "We get what to eat from these streets and we won't leave even if they shoot at us."

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