On pavements, crossroads, sidewalks, major arteries, strategic points and in the traffic lights of Africa’s big cities, it is common to see them, present with their articles. They are the street vendors or street sellers. They offer all kinds of items to passers-by and at very good prices. A business, a job, a means of survival; the hope of a whole family.
Whether you are in Cotonou, Lomé, Dakar, Lagos or Abidjan…, the observation is the same. As soon as the traffic lights turn red, motorcyclists, taximan… all are invaded by sellers who present them various items. (Appetizers, household appliances, cosmetics, bags, thrift stores etc.) The few minutes of downtime are real moment of exchange between sellers and buyers. Indeed, with over 80% of jobs in urban areas, the informal sector is the main employer and the keystone of economic activity in African cities. Thus, the vitality of the informal sector is obvious in the continent’s metropolises. Street vendors are essential links in food security processes. These salesmen carry out their trade in these places not necessarily by lack of place in the markets or by lack of means to rent a store but by concern to quickly sell many goods and consequently to make a good turnover. They defy danger all day long by walking in front of or between the rows of different vehicles and motorcycles in order to offer their goods to passers-by.
Causes of the phenomenon
Most of them are school dropouts, students in need of funds, women with children to feed or young people who have left the villages in search of a better life in the city. Unfortunately, many of them are hanging out on the streets selling their wares in African cities. This is due to the strong demographic pressure on the continent and the galloping unemployment rate. While this demographic dynamism is beneficial to the continent’s economic growth, it must be said that the urban formal wage sector is not creating enough jobs to absorb new entrants to the labor market and those migrating from rural areas to the cities. Thus, young people of working age have found no other way out than to resort to the informal sector, i.e. street vending. Hence the expansion of a booming market. The demography and the lack of employment are the first factors that incite these young people to start street vending.
From another point of view, the lack of education, poverty, tax burdens, unfavorable business environment, and corruption are all factors that justify street vending in African capitals. With a very low school enrollment rate and a younger population, Africa is not always in a position to ensure these young people relevant knowledge and skills for their future work.
A business, at what cost?
At the cost of one’s life. Of course, we are aware of the risks to which these young people expose themselves when they engage in street vending. They themselves are aware of it. The scorching sun under which you have to spend the whole day welcoming passers-by, potential buyers, the risk of accidents, the risk of diseases linked to air pollution, etc. are all prices to pay in order to survive.
Moreover, since the law prohibits this form of trade, the repression they face in case the police catch them is not the least. They are all aware that their lives are in constant danger and that they are violating the relevant legal provisions. But between what the texts recommend, the societal norms and the daily reality they live, can they do anything else? However, does life really have a price? Shouldn’t we first live before fighting and facing any eventuality? It is then appropriate to remember that the conditions are not favorable but life must always be preserved. While waiting for a definitive solution in African capitals, these street vendors continue to survive with their families thanks to the income from this activity.