By Feston Malekezo, Thomas Kachere & Mathews Kasanda:
Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Lingson Belekanyama says government has come up with measures to remove vendors from the cities’ streets.
In an interview with The Daily Times Belekanyama said the government does not want the vendors back in the streets.
Drawn to give his ministry’s stand on vendors who are still plying their trade in the streets, Belekanyama said: “All what we need is to engage them.”
He said space will be allocated for vendors where they can be operating from so that there is sanity in the streets.
Successive governments have paid a blind eye to the call from various stakeholders that vendors who ply their trade along the country’s streets in Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Blantyre should be removed not only because their acts make the streets look untidy but because it is also against the law.
And when Lilongwe City Council (LCC) reached the politically unpopular decision to remove the traders from streets within its jurisdiction, the general feeling was that finally the government was moving in to address a longstanding problem.
Today, most of these traders are back where they were chased from—mostly in the evening, doing their business as they desire.
Residents of the city hailed the council’s decision to drive the vendors out of the streets, saying it brought sanity despite that the outlook does not fit the description of a capital city “but the vendors were making things worse”.
“What is required is that the government should find enough space where the vendors can operate from,” said Rose Banda, a resident of Lilongwe.
In Mzuzu, the booming taxi business (cars, motorcycles and bicycles) has resulted in terrible congestion, especially along two busy roads, the M1 and the M5.
Opposite Mzuzu main market, for example, there is a taxi rank that swells with vehicles which practically reduce the road to a single-lane one, causing dreary traffic jams.
With the increase in the number of vehicles in the city, the problem becomes even more complex.
Residents wonder why Mzuzu City Council (MCC) is failing to act on the taxi operators who choke roads and make things worse in a place already struggling with the problem of narrow roads.
“The city council has bylaws which obviously regulate where someone can do their business from. In fact, parking taxis along roads to the point of making them almost impassable should be outright illegal,” Fred Chirwa, a resident of the Northern Region city, says.
In a separate interview, MCC spokesperson Macdonald Gondwe admitted that the council is aware of the problem but that plans are there to have the M1 Road expanded to be a dual carriageway.
“Of course, it is not within our mandate to construct roads in the city’s Central Business District. We can only recommend… Apparently, there is an allocation of K1 billion for upgrading roads in cities. This will ease congestion,” Gondwe said.
He could not come out clear on why the council is allowing taxi operators to choke roads in the city.
Additionally, MCC seems to have been failing to handle vendors who operate in undesignated areas.
They do not pay market fees and cost the council about K150 million every year.
On Monday last week, MCC with support from Malawi Police Service and other stakeholders moved in to drive the vendors out of the undesignated places. On daily basis, the police and city rangers are seen in places which the vendors were illegally operating from.
Gondwe said as of last week, over 600 small-scale business operators were allocated space to do business at Mzuzu Flea Market which can accommodate over 800 vendors. There is no guarantee, however, that they will not return to the streets.
In Blantyre, the problem of street vending has reached crisis levels. Along roads in the city’s Central Business District, traders freely present their merchandise for sale.
Motorists and pedestrians have to scramble for the little space that is left after the traders and taxi operators occupy what is not their space.
The problems of congestion in the country’s cities necessitated by vending in undesignated places and operating taxis along roads could easily be solved if authorities just became strict and enforced bylaws formulated to help in keeping the cities tidy.
But the reality seems to be that government is not willing to fully deal with the problems once and for all. Politics has always come into play when driving vendors out of the streets is about to be done. Will things be different this time?