The Law of the Road

One of my first posts was about the vendors on the streets of Accra. As I am writing this, the streets of Accra are no longer littered with vendors wending their way between cars selling everything under the sun. The government began enforcing the ban on street vending, successfully clearing the streets of hawkers. They have left a considerable void and it is significant enough an event that I will interrupt my discussion on Tanzania to discuss it.

Despite my complaints about the vendors, I miss them. One of the reasons is frivolous. The vendors were entertaining; something to do while sitting in traffic. I watched the sales progress, wondered about prices of items, which items moved most quickly and which items were most profitable. I would watch a vendor racing up the street to catch a potential client and I would make bets with myself on whether they would catch the car. I would think about what a difficult and dangerous life they lead. All of this wondering kept me busy and off of my mobile phone!

Another reason I miss the vendors is the convenience. A friend of mine visiting from Trinidad said to me, “I really wouldn’t mind being able to buy a phone card, onions or some toilet paper on the way home from work.”

Jokes aside, I believe that the crackdown, while controversial, was the right thing. Vending in the traffic was a dangerous practice. They would get in the way of cars trying to change lanes, reducing drivers’ visibility with large maps of Ghana outstretched in their arms. They would crowd into the street at a traffic light and just barely scuttle out of the way when the light turned green and then race down the middle of the lanes to close the sale. They endangered their lives, caused congestion and accidents.

When the crackdown first occurred, the streets were empty, but as the days went by, the bravest of the brave returned to the streets. Why? The policy was single-pronged. They expelled the hawkers, but do not seem to have provided viable alternatives for these people to earn a living, for example, a well-placed market to vend their wares. The police are on the lookout though and today I witnessed three map sellers being chased through the traffic. I saw one get caught, the policeman wrestling the wares from his hands in a short tug of war …. entertainment once more!

Police wrestling with a peddler over his wares

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