My experience in Uganda has taught me that whenever my government passionately implements something, there’s always a political puzzle or a money making scheme in the offing.
The rate of road construction has been so high in Uganda for the last decade but corruption allegations against institutions and individuals involved have been equally high. I may not be well acquainted with the road construction processes from procurement to practical construction but I suppose that it’s somewhat easier and safer to perpetrate corruption during a road construction processes.
Now, Smart City — a combination of absolute hooligans, KCCA officials, military police and anti-riot police — has persistently and vigorously chased street vendors away from streets in CBD and uprooted kiosks from the same.
The vigour with which government has approached the issue of street vendors is telling given that we’ve just emerged from an election cycle which was characterised by passionate protests and blood shed.
I’ve, therefore, been compelled to put on my political spectacles to discern the political puzzle in the efforts to mercilessly and unreservedly rid Kampala streets of street vendors, hawkers and boda boda guys.
In event of political tensions and riots, I’ve observed that it’s street vendors, hawkers and boda boda men that participate — not tenants in arcades. Such people usually find it easier than folks in city arcades to riot. A street vendor, hawker or boda guy may not have a specific address and that makes it hard to track them down. Even for those that have addresses, there’s always little at stake.
A street vendor may have merchandise of about 200,000/= on their mat, tarpaulin or polythene sheet. When a strike gets initiated, the vendor may only have to tie up their Ug shs 200,000-worth-merchandise in whatever sheet it’s spread upon, store it at the friendly tenant’s shop on the nearest arcade and join the strike. And even in the unfortunate event that the merchandise gets destroyed or lost, it’s easier to start over again the following day.
Boda boda guys usually strike while on their bikes and usually, it’s practically hard for police to net them because of their high mobility. A hawker with a bucket of two or three trays of eggs or with a basket of fried groundnuts worth at most 100,000/=, can find it very tempting and easy to join a strike.
On another hand, tenants in arcades are very hesitant to join strikes. Most of them have physical addresses which they’ve spent years establishing, and it’s therefore easier to track them down. The vast majority of them have stock that’s worth more than Ugshs 10 million. Some actually have merchandise that is worth Ugshs 200M- Ugshs 600M. A political riot can get one evicted from a shop and imprisoned.
Surely, for them, a lot is at stake and in some cases, riots only serve as distractions to them. They can’t find direct positive impacts of most riots to their businesses. Riots are of interest to them only when they are addressing high taxes on imported merchandise and high rent fees.
Although there could be a motivation to create a “smart city”, my supposition is that the most driving motive now is the desire to rid Kampala of potential rioters in case of political controversies.
One may argue that Museveni and his surrogates could have been compromised by the fact that street vendors, hawkers and boda bodas are potential NRM voters, but it seems, Museveni has become convinced beyond doubt that those urbanites can no longer vote for him however gently he may caress them. It’s an irreversible situation for his administration.