The publishing of Street Vendors Bill, commonly referred to as Hawkers Bill, is a welcome and timely move by the Senate. Hawkers can be classified as itinerant traders, or more appropriately self-employed people, who sell their wares in the open air rather than in a closed shop or store.
Street vendors usually sell their wares on stands, pushcarts, baskets or simply on tarpaulin sheets, gunias laid out on the road or footpath.
They can be both stationary and mobile, based on whether they stay at one place throughout their working hours or move from one locality to another depending on the time of the day.
Street vendors form a vital cohort in Kenyas economy. They are largest informal sector offering a means of livelihood to the urban poor. Since our independence, the sector has faced insurmountable challenges, which have never been addressed conclusively.
The prejudice, hate and legitimacy issues surrounding hawking especially from the societal elites and local officials who take advantage of the situation due to absence of legal framework covering hawkers, is a knife’ no one wants to face.
This bill seeks to address this issue with the gravity, consciousness and the spirit of empowerment and rights that it deserves.
Demonization of an economic activity that feeds millions of mouths is against the spirit of our Constitution. Section 23 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says; “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”
The Bellagio International Declaration of Street Vendors, signed in 1999 at the inaugural meeting of the International Alliance of Street Vendors Bellagio, Italy was a landmark development in the vendors movement at the global level. It was a declaration petitioning Governments to frame consolidated laws and policies for street vending and formulate national policies that included hawkers within the realm of urban development policies.
The Bellagio International Declaration of street vendors had among its components recognized that;
In the fast growing urban sector, there is a proliferation of poor hawkers and vendors, including those who are children.
Because of poverty and unemployment, despite the useful service they render to society, they are looked upon as a hindrance to the planned development of cities both by the elite urbanities and the planners alike.
Hawkers and vendors are subjected to constant mental and physical torture by the local officials and are harassed in many other ways which at times lead to riotous situations, loss of property rights, or monetary loss.
There is hardly any public policy consistent with the needs of street vendors in many parts of the world.
The declaration urged Governments to form a National Policy for hawkers and vendors by making them a part of the broader policies aimed at improving their standards of living, by having regard to the following:
Give vendors legal status by issuing licenses, enacting laws and providing appropriate hawking zones in urban plans.
Provide legal access to the use of appropriate and available space in urban areas, protect and expand vendors’ existing livelihood.
Make street vendors a special component of the plans for urban development by treating them as an integral part of the urban distribution system.
Issue guidelines for supportive services at local levels.
Enforce regulations and promote self-governance.
Set up appropriate, participative, non -formal mechanisms with representation by street vendors and hawkers, NGOs, local authorities, the police and others.
Provide street vendors with meaningful access to credit and financial services.
Provide street vendors with relief measures in situations of disasters and natural calamities.
Take measures for promoting a better future for child vendors and persons with disabilities.
Furthermore, using the principles generated in the 1985 India, a commonwealth jurisdiction, Bombay Hawkers Union and Others. vs Bombay Municipal Corporation case, the Court reiterated the need to cooperate and formulate a policy to regulate street vending. A significant breakthrough was in 1989 in the Sodan Singh & Others. v. New Municipal Committee & Others, where the Apex Court had to ascertain the nature of the right to engage in street vending.
From these cases:
The court held street trading to be a fundamental right of the citizens subject to reasonable restrictions
The State is responsible to safeguard the street vendors right to carry out their trade by allotting places for them to conduct their trade as well as by enacting laws on the same.
The court also held that the state could designate streets and mark places where hawker trade could be practiced.
Thus, it is against this legal backdrop that there is a need for a comprehensive legislation addressing the rights and interests of street vendors. In 2002, StreetNet, an international alliance of street vendors was founded in Durban further supporting the street hawkers rights.
The Bill marks a culmination of the efforts to legitimize the livelihood rights of hawkers, in a way acknowledging their importance in the urban economy. The bill seeks to address two primary aspects of hawking;
That, hawking is and can be harnessed to be a major source of employment and poverty alleviation.
That, hawking isnt an illegitimate encroachment of public spaces but rather a productive way to earn livelihood and mitigate on age old imbalances.
The realization of the fact that unemployment is a major cause of concern is a legitimate reason to think of progressive ways to tackle unemployment. As a country, we must rethink our approach to informality. There is a mischaracterization that has programmed our society to disregard the role of the informal sector. We live in a utopian bliss whilst actually we are powered by the ordinary hawkers in the streets. It is worth noting that the print media industry is basically reliant on street vendors. The cab hailing industry is just hawking that has gone virtual i.e. drivers armed with a smartphone and a car selling a service.
Why then discriminate on the other forms of hawking? Confrontations with street vendors date from pre-colonial days and we must outlive that. Economic shrinkage, political upheavals and uncertainties and sabotage of key sectors of our economy by cartels, has led to most of our youths to seek alternative avenues of livelihoods. The formal sector cant absorb our growing population of the educated. Rural urban migration as well as high rates of urbanization has further complicated issues. The peasants economies have crumbled literally. This has created a huge cess pool of households whose only social security safety net is hawking. How then do we discard a lifeline rather than rethink it!