Street Vending is the Largest Employer; Why We All Need to Pay More Attention

Street Vendors in Lusaka

MACROMANAGEMENT of a country can be likened to a micro unit level with application of management principles of a single unit family household such as basic needs such as the food, clothing and shelter. Once the basics are available and met, the needs evolve and grow to host of other more sophisticated needs such as security, recreation, leisure and right at the top, self-actualization and respect for the most accomplished members of society.

The recent Cholera outbreak has indeed exposed that fact that Zambia as a nation had a non-functional or rather dysfunctional Local government system. The system had broken down after the historical decisions mostly to centralize operations of the country into the administrative capital of Lusaka. The centralization cause in itself is not a bad idea, buts it is the levels of how decisions making and power is centralized, distributed and delegated that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

The recent ban of street vending in Lusaka has indeed been an eye opener not only for the need to have a working and properly functioning Local government system, but also the significance of the street vending/trading as an employer in Lusaka and Zambia in general. The Minister of Local government, Vincent Mwale who came under fire for the Broken down system has henceforth pledged to fix the system and fully implement the decentralization policy.

The Minister of Local government put out 22,000 as the total number of street vendors or traders that need to be provided with sanitable and structured trading places meeting public health laid down standards. This directly translates to 22, 000 jobs providing a livelihood to over 121,000 individuals taking the average household size of 5.5 in Zambia. Let’s put this number as reflecting only for those to be relocated, so if you add the ones already occupying licensed and designated markets and trading places, you could not be further from the truth if you projected that we have over 30,000 people employed as street vendors in Lusaka only affecting the lives of over 165,000 dependants.

A quick look at the existing companies and government employee statistical records in Zambia, it will show that it can only be the civil service as an employer that can come close to comparing to the numbers that are informally trading on the streets. This shows that this is not a matter that needs a casual approach, but a comprehensive and well researched approach on how best to formalize and indeed economically leverage this sector.

There is need for the highest office in Zambia, the presidency to take this matter up and ensure that its solved in the most workable and less destructive way. Solutions for Lusaka can then be extended to other nine regions or provinces of Zambia. The local authorities will need to do extensive studies on how many licenses and stands should be given to how many traders to ensure that our people operate in a regulated market. This requires strong leadership that is able to follow through and take corrective measures as different solutions are implemented. There is no silver bullet for resolving the street vending conundrum in the absence of proper economic diversification and delivery of employment alternatives to Zambians.

Another revelation supporting the significance of retail trade from the Central Statistics Office – CSO report for quarter 3, 2017 cumulative Gross Domestic Production – GDP numbers regarding industry contribution shows that ‘formal’ Wholesale and Retail trade industry accounted for about 18.4%, followed by Mining and quarrying at 13.7%. Agriculture and Fisheries accounted for 12.8%, Construction industry for 8% while manufacturing completed the top 5 list with an industry contribution of 7.2%

With the rapid urbanization that has not been matched with equal development and availability of low and medium cost housing across the major cities and towns in Zambia, it has led to the mushrooming of ‘informal settlements’ popularly called shanty compounds. These settlements have grown and today house the majority of the population settled in the major cities and town in Zambia.

Some policy makers have proposed plans to raze down these unplanned settlements, but the initiated know that this method is a non-starter. You cannot take away shelter from people before you provide alternative and better facilities to get buy in from the informal settlements dwellers. The more feasible action is formalizing and informal settlement.

Formalizing an informal settlement is perhaps the best option and has proved worldwide and even at industry level that it takes care of the interest of both parties, the affected individuals who will enjoy better facilities in terms of provision of utilities such as water, energy and waste disposal methods while the government will improve the standards of living for its citizens, an ultimate aim for any government or political objective worth its salt.

Some services like electricity services provisions by the Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation – ZESCO have relatively done better. The state regulator, the Energy Regulations Board – ERB has been at the forefront of supporting policies for increased electricity coverage, lifeline tariff negotiations as well as making the requirements for getting an electricity connection more attainable for the majority of users to qualify. The rural electrification project is the other element, though its success rate remains questionable as electricity coverage in the vast country of Zambia has a long way to go.

Coming to the Water & Sewerage services provision and regulation across Zambia, the National Water and Sewerage Council – NWASCO has been dismally performing. The results and statistics on the ground show that both clean and treated water provision, sewerages services coverage have largely remained stagnant with little movement. They are the regulator that are charged with responsibilities for pricing, for lifeline tariff provisions as well as ensuring reach of clean and treated water as well as human waste disposal facilities are delivered to the majority of Zambians. We are not agitating for free services here, but a well-balanced and calculated regulatory water and sanitation supply regime and market based policies that can support the delivery of these life supporting facilities to the majority of Zambians.

It is also time for the local authorities countrywide to work up from their slumber and stop complaining about historical challenges. They need to start to demonstrate that they can manage their affairs professionally and competently. Even as the decentralization policy is being implemented, we need to see the local city and town municipalities take charge of parking spaces, licensing and regulation of local bus and taxi transport services, licensing and ensuring healthy trading and business practices in their areas of jurisdiction. They also need to win trust by having equitable distribution when allocation of plots and various other services such as garbage collection, land rates collections for them to win the trust of being delegated more responsibility and funds control.