With the closure of arcades and other business centers on 20th March 2020 to contain the spread of COVID19, many shop owners in these arcades have now stepped out of their comfort zone to take their businesses on the streets of Kampala, in the attempt to escape the anticipated extreme poverty wave. Many of these former shop owners are now operating as vendors on street pavements, arcade verandahs as well as the boots of their vehicles.
These vendors are yet to become a quintessential part of Uganda’s economy should the lockdown of the arcades become persistent. These vendors are now providing a wide range of goods to the urban populace, from fresh vegetables and prepared food stuffs, to garments and consumer electronics at reasonable prices.
This kind of business like any other is full of uncertainties. These vendors’ goods are occasionally being confiscated which entails heavy fines for recovery as well as being forcefully evicted off street pavements by KCCA (Kampala Capital City Authority), because street vending is deemed illegal in Uganda. A KCCA raid is like a cat and mouse game with KCCA officers chasing these vendors around the city especially downtown.
However, amidst COVID19, stiff government policies and the recession the country is experiencing, these vendors have been such a great contribution to the Ugandan economy in the following ways;
- Street vending has been a great source of employment in the informal sector for an estimated number of 10,000 people, 80% of which are the youth minimizing the impact of social exclusion in the country.
This employment has also been a source of livelihood for this group of people especially during such a critical time when the country is experiencing a recession, making them have the ability to afford the basic necessities of life such as food. The Ugandan population in general is mostly comprised of middle and low income earners, who will always opt for lowly priced goods. Because there is a high demand for these goods the vendors offer, their market is overwhelming ready. Such a ready market attracts more and more entrepreneurs (vendors) to join the cycle thus employment. Employment of a population reduces on idleness and redundancy among the people thus a low crime rate in the long run.
Street vending also employs the goods’ suppliers to these vendors indirectly. Farmers and wholesale traders especially those in kikuubo have been the biggest beneficiaries because these vendors buy from them wholesomely and take the goods to the streets to the final consumers.
- Street vendors provide relatively low priced goods. Because they do not pay rent for the pavements on which they vend their goods, the prices are inevitably low. For this reason, they provide basic necessities particularly for low income groups who cannot afford buying goods from formal shops. In a sense, street vendors avail goods to those with scarce resources for example; a kilogram of sugar on the streets goes for UGX3,000 while the same kilogram in a well distinct shop or supermarket goes for UGX3,500/=. The difference in price can make a huge difference in one person’s life making them have the ability to purchase another commodity using the price difference (UGX500).
- Street vending has provided a competitive market atmosphere which in the long run forces market players to avail better commodities at affordable prices. When market players compete with each other, consumers get the best possible prices, quality and quantity of goods and services.Because these vendors are availing goods at low prices, the other market players such as supermarkets and formal shops are forced to lower their prices as well if they want a portion of the market. Competition in the long run can boost innovativeness in any economy thus a drive towards economic growth and better standards of living of the population. A second hand blouse from a street vendor on William Street, Kampala can go for as low as UGX 5,000 but yet the same blouse will go for UGX7, 000 in a shop at Park Enkadde mall.The price is very competitive with a difference of just UGX 2,000 but of course the shop owner at Park Enkadde mall will have consider rent and other operational costs before he rules out the final price of the good.
- Street vending has been such a great contribution to the socio-economic development of the poorer segment of Kampala and its outskirts. Because this kind of commerce has been a great source of employment to many people, their social and economic status has been able to positively change inevitably. The average daily profit made by a street vendor ranges between UGX10, 000 to UGX 20,000. Cumulatively, such an amount can make one be in position to afford a decent house in the outskirts of Kampala, put a decent meal on his table for his family as well as take his children to a government aided school and cater for the other scholastic materials.in the long run, this provides a health economic ecosystem.
In conclusion, street vending should not be dismissed completely but co-opted as one form of promoting socio-economic welfare. Hat is essential is to understand the needs , motivations and risks faced by street vendors, with an intention to make street vending more functional, to the immediate, short-term, long-term developmental needs and aspirations of the individual street vendors and possibly the country at large.
An exploration of street vending’s contribution towards Botswana’s vision of prosperity for all by 2016.
The author Maclean Atuhaire can be reached at [email protected]