The economics of (unlicensed) urban vendors

via The economics of (unlicensed) urban vendors – NewsDay Zimbabwe July 15, 2015

“FOLLOW the leader”, is the name of the Zimbabwe political game. “And make sure that the blinkers are firmly attached”, is the war cry!

Independent thinking may have dangerous consequences if the outcome exposes the leadership to scrutiny. Expulsion from the party may follow as a different opinion is factionalism. The philosophy, if this aberration can be called that, cuts across Zimbabwean political parties.

And so it was with MDC-T councillors when the issue of re-locating unlicensed vendors from Harare’s central business district (CBD) was removed from a council meeting’s agenda. The party leader, if the State media is to be believed, had ordered the councillors to ignore the subject.

I hope he was misquoted. Debate would have enlightened council and the outcome could even have assisted the central government on correct policy formulation and on other urgent corrective measures.

Showing the light and removing blinkers from a panic-stricken ruling party is the constitutional obligation of a loyal opposition.

Debate or a contest of ideas, in a democracy, should never bee stifled. It is democracy itself. Had council debated the issue of unwanted hordes of hawkers and vendors in the CBD, some role clarity could have emerged.

It is common cause that it is council’s responsibility to ensure good town planning based on sound scientific principles and to ensure the city’s by-laws are enforced. It is, however, also common cause that central government must ensure good public governance, especially as regards the rule of law, regulatory frameworks, government effectiveness and combating corruption, besides sound fiscal and monetary policies if the economy is to grow in a sustainable way for job creation.

By all scientific analyses, be they results-based or evidence-based, or indeed otherwise, central government has struggled to discharge its obligations. Its policies undermine local government and need urgent root-and-branch overhaul to make the country an attractive investment destination.

Vendors, who according to official utterances, are to be classified as small to medium enterprises (SMEs), but are really just informal traders, reportedly told the State media that “they were willing to move from the CBD to the designated sites, but there was no infrastructure and ablution facilities”.

That statement is true, but whose duty is it to provide the infrastructure beyond what town planners would have provided for? A council debate should have answered the question.

Council should provide the land preferably serviced, and entrepreneurs and/or business entities can buy or lease this land to erect the necessary infrastructure for their desired enterprises. It is council’s duty to ensure the structures meet the requirements of the city’s by-laws.

The vendors, should they so wish, may constitute themselves into co-operatives. With or without the help of the parent ministry of SMEs, they may then buy or lease land from council, or buy or lease one of the numerous now empty factories, warehouses or buildings/shops in the former industrial areas or indeed in the CBD itself, and construct infrastructure, be it on Greenfield or Brownfield sites, to the satisfaction of council.

It is not council’s responsibility to depart from its budgets and waste ratepayers’ money, at so- called designated sites, that may turn out to be white elephants. Let the vendors do their feasibility studies, produce their bankable business plans, mobilise the necessary capital and go into business the conventional way. That for the short term should have been council’s resolution and suggestion to their parent ministry after an informed debate.

The problem, and therefore the opportunity, as council would have noted, “is transforming the job market from one that has kept people in small informal jobs and on farms — often for little or no pay — to one that offers more opportunities in the manufacturing and service sectors, where there is more income security.”

For a contemporary perspective of their mutual problem and its probable solutions, both local government and central government must go over Finance and Development – F and D, (March 2015) quoted above. The periodical’s theme is “the future of work in a global economy”. According to the issue, in the long term “three solutions are commonly advocated for the challenge of finding jobs for all: education, migration and re-distribution”. How to harness these three options for the medium to long term should engage both local and central government minds; both the ruling party and the loyal opposition.

In his introduction, aptly titled “Down but not out”, — which could very well describe the Zimbabwean economy — the editor reveals that his team’s aim with the painted cover of the issue “is to pay tribute to the workers of our era (vendors, I am sure, included) – many still struggling to find jobs in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008.”

The presence of hordes of vendors and hawkers in the CBD is but a symptom of two things: Lack of jobs and desperation. It is a duty for city councils and central government to work synergistically to create decent jobs for citizens. Cities and towns offer a cost- competitive platform for the creation of jobs.

Council therefore was within its rights, given that substantial taxes are collected in the city to be misused elsewhere, to ask central government to assist or fund the construction of the infrastructure it (central government) was proposing to house the CBD vendors.

The city and central government would also have taken the opportunity to remind each other, not only of their profligacy and bloated institutions, but also of the city’s revenue streams they, individually or as a duo, diverted or divert to corruption, other government agencies, and to misuse through inadequate execution of fiduciary responsibility.

 Tapiwa Nyandoro can be contacted on or