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In Uganda, Street Vendors, Predominantly Women, Are Being Displaced to Build 'Smart Cities'

By Sophia Nabbosa

With the assistance of the Uganda Police, street vendors, who are predominantly women, are being pushed off the streets to pave way for a smart city. (Photo: Southern Voice)

Last year, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), a member of the Africa Smart Towns Network (ASToN), hurriedly implemented the concept of smart cities, contrary to the core smart city value of inclusiveness.

With the assistance of the Uganda Police Force and military, KCCA pushed street vendors, who are predominantly women, off the streets to pave way for a smart city; ergo, street vendors were arrested, detained, tortured, and lost access to public space for their families.

When push came to shove, KCCA took a fit-all approach, relocating street vendors to markets. This did not go well with the majority of street vendors, who were not consulted by the authority. The cities of Lira and Fort Portal learned bad manners and followed suit.

Relatedly, across the continent, the smart city craze continued. Informal workers were evicted from the Port Harcourt informal settlement in Nigeria that housed over 15,000 families, and in Mauritius, "squatters", in three regions, were violently evicted during the Covid-19 lockdown.

These ordeals, though gruesome, are not a shock because several studies have indicated that smart technology, whether employed ignorantly, indiscriminately, invertedly, or out of excitement, in cities can exacerbate social inequality.

Today, women street vendors are back on the streets, and their daily contestation for public space with KCCA and city dwellers has not stopped. The brutal arrests by law enforcement have continued and gone unchecked.

But harnessed in the right way, the concept of smart cities holds great potential to contribute to informal workers' welfare and livelihoods and resolve the impasse between KCCA and female street vendors.

Cities, governments, and other stakeholders should walk the walk of inclusive development; they should include street vendors in the initial stages of city planning. Often, the inclusion of street vendors has been an afterthought, and yet their participation is a prerequisite for a successful smart city.

To achieve this, KCCA and authorities in other cities should first consider conducting surveys in their respective cities in order to prepare any plan or strategy for female street vendors. The uniqueness of street vending has informed its trade patterns and demand for specific places of operation.

These include capital, culture, traffic, population, and gender. For example, when you stroll on the streets of Kampala, you will realize that most of them are dotted with female street vendors that are either selling fruits or other merchandise whose value, in most cases, does not exceed two dollars.

To dictate that such street vendors should take up expensive stalls in markets is counterproductive. However, with smart inclusive planning and gender-sensitive approaches that are informed by the views, needs, and challenges of street vendors can be adopted.

These may include themed-based organization, sustainable street vendor zoning, intuitive improvisation, and others. These approaches address both the problem of access to space for informal workers and serve as a source of revenue for local authorities.

For brevity, I am restricting myself to sustainable street vendor zoning and intuitive improvision. With sustainable street vending zoning, women street vendors are assigned to particular streets, specific hours of the day, and public holidays, among others, to carry out their trade.

On the other hand, intuitive improvisation is an approach that requires urban planners, based on prevailing circumstances, to think unconventionally and improvise street vendors' access to public places.

In Kampala, for instance, KCCA can capitalize on the seasons synonymous with nsenene, an African edible bush cricket, a delicacy that both the affluent and the downtrodden have munched with happiness, courtesy of the women street vendors, to create seasoned-based markets.

Finally street vendors are not dirty as projected by those who alienate them. Instead, we have to embrace them in our urban planning as it is always projected.

Along the Nile, in the city of Cairo, is a great story of the waste pickers, or zabbaleen, as they are referred to. For long, they had been overlooked, but later authorities recognized that they were better placed to run waste management activities than companies. Since their integration into waste management, Cairo has never looked back.

The author is the executive director at Jua Kali Initiative, an organization that advocates for rights of informal workers

Source: Observer


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