Street Trading in the New Dispensation
Street trading in the capital Freetown and in many parts of the provinces was almost becoming a viable option for self-employment in the absence of adequate structures to accommodate the growing number of Sierra Leoneans now going into petty trading as a dependable source of livelihood.
There is no available statistics that will indicate the number of Sierra Leoneans employed in this commercial sector but as their number kept increasing by the day, so their strength to an extent that they have become a force to reckon with in terms of decision making. They can create a political block, hence cause an electoral upset as we have seen in past elections.
Thus, their impact has been felt in recent parts, which has seen politicians wishing to contest for leadership of this country regarding them as a political platform. In the last two general elections (2007 and 2012), we saw how the marriage of convenience between them and the APC party helped President Ernest Bai Koroma to be where he is today. But for the latter to win their favour he too has to forfeit the comfort and safety of pedestrians and motorists alike to the traders by allowing them to occupy major streets of Freetown and other regional headquarter towns to sell their wares freely.
Streets like Sani Abacha, Malama Thomas, Lumley, Wilberforce, Short Street, Siaka Stevens and a host of other streets in the capital were transformed into trading sites by the traders. Before the 2012 elections it has been difficult for motorists to drive along these routes not to mention pedestrians who suffered molestations in the hands of unruly traders.
Invariably, President Koroma succeeded in enjoying the support of the traders for two main reasons. Firstly, in assuming office in 2007, he declared that while in office he will transform this country into a business centre. True to his words, President Koroma turned a blind eye during his first five years while people from nowhere littered the major cities in this country with all kinds of products, ranging from consumables to non-consumable items, much to the dismay of visitors from other countries.
Secondly, since majority of the traders are of northern origin it was a matter of convenience for them to throw their weight behind President Koroma, himself a northerner who had earlier opened the floodgate for the rampant street trading in the country.
Now, like the President himself said during his inaugural statement following his victory after November 17 elections, politics is over. At first, the traders did not comprehend the depth of this statement until when the mayor of the Freetown City Council launched Operation WID. Now, the traders would be asking themselves whether that was what they bargained for with President Koroma when they were shouting ‘four-four-four’ as they cast their ballots in November 17.
Some observers might view President Koroma’s silence while the traders were being chased out of the streets as an act of betrayal. But what would one expect of a president who is enjoying his final term in office? Of course, by his action, President Koroma is saying in silence that he is not just president of traders but for all Sierra Leoneans and therefore the lawlessness accompanying street trading must be put under control.
In fact, many Freetown residents are happy that street trading is beginning to be put under control with the corresponding benefit of making the free flow of traffic in the capital a possibility.
The traders will no doubt feel betrayed, but that is what politics is all about – give and take. If President had given so much leverage to the traders whose uncoordinated activities brought so much filth in our cities and made travelling difficult for commuters, it was time the president made a U-turn and listened to the other side. Hence, many Sierra Leoneans would be happy with the new development. Let sanity prevail, they will surely say. Let our streets be wholesome again, let’s breathe a sigh of relief. This will help the decongestion of the capital, at least, they will joyfully say.
Let’s hope the effort will sustain!
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