- Street traders in Accra control an amazing multi-billion cedi business
A North African Journalist once described Accra as one bustling supermarket. He was not talking about parks and shops, Makola market or even the other regular market places. He was rather talking about the street traders. They are everywhere in the commercial city. Take a ride from Circle to Achimota or any other part of the city and you will be amazed at the proliferation of this multi-billion cedi trade. Street trading is a micro-economic activity borne out of a desperate desire to survive, but it generates an estimated GH¢3 billion cedis in Accra yearly.
The government says it is illegal and a menace to the society, but the operators, who are making huge sums of money from it, say it is means of livelihood. Welcome to the world of street trading. In years gone by, street trading was a way of offering services to long distant travelers. In those days, travelers had the opportunity of buying items like bread and peanuts while in transit. But today, virtually every item can be hawked on the streets. Sundry items like GSM cards, telephone accessories, perfumes, soft drinks, bottled water, fruits and fruit drinks, electronics, clothes and even pets like dogs, have been added to the street to the street traders stock. The trade has recently been redefined to serve as mobile branch offices of shop owners who have come to see street trading as critical to increase sales.
The rush for the “Golden Fleece” is what drives the trade. Often school leavers leave their hometowns and head to the big cities where opportunities are thought to be boundless. But they are often faced with the harsh realities of life, joblessness and high cost of living. In order to make ends meet, they join thousands of young men thrown unto the streets to fend for themselves through trading. Street trading is becoming more attractive by the day because of the high cost of shop acquisition in the cities and start up capital. Operators need not pay tax, according to Francis a trader who hawks GSM recharge cards along the Motorway, “Unlike those trading in shops where millions of cedis is paid yearly to the local assembly, all one needs is his or her wares, and the strength to run after motorists”, he says. Speaking on the reason why street trading has become big business in Ghana the president of Small Shops Association at Circle Odawna. Mr. Akoto Apau said it is the need to capture the market, and do merchandising. Confirming this assertion, Gifty Ohenewaah who sells bottled water and fruit juice in Achimota, said “people are reluctant to visit shops because it is not convenient, so we make the items readily available as they go to work or as they return from work”.
The increasing traffic congestions encourage the trade as weary road users purchase items while stuck in traffic. Last year, Accra city experienced servere flooding believed to have been caused by blockage of channels. Reports gathered from the Ministry of Environment, pointed accusing fingers at street traders whose activities they say encourage dumping of waste almost at everywhere. There is no gainsaying that street trading is a menace to the society. In fact, it is a danger to the operators who often get knocked down by vehicles. Some major roads in Accra have been made narrow by traders who display their wares by the side of roads to create visibility. Traders are alleged to have been creating potholes at night to slow down traffic. Slow traffic is therefore good news for them. While motorists and commuters are grumbling, street traders are cleaning out. Reacting to the economic implication of the trade, Mr. Akoto said it reduces the economic growth of the nation because the productive sector that is supposed to engage in meaningful employment that can generate money for the economy is idly yoked to a debated trade. “That is why we have problems with railway, educational system, roads, hospital, etc”, noted Akoto who said there is a serious constraint on resources through the free-for-all activities of street trading. Another major economic implication is the hung loss of revenue to the government. Street traders do not pay taxes to the government, but use its facilities to enhance their trade. The roads are littered with waste and left to be cleared at government expense, noted George Owusu, marketing expect.
Another sour point is that most people buy fake items while in traffic. This is an ugly development Mr. Akoto says adverse marketing implications, because professionally, a seller owes his buyer an obligation to sell genuine goods. Inspite of the above, curbing the activities of street trading has been a big problem. During NDC administration, the police arrested scores of hawkers on daily basis but they often returned to their posts a few hours later. Section 1, sub-section 3 of the 1994 street trading and illegal markets prohibited law states that; “no person shall sell or hawk or expose for sale any goods, wares, article or thing, or offer services whether or not from a stationery position in any place or street specified in the first scheduled to this law or within the vicinity of a public building in the city” A 1996 edict also stated that no occupants of ships mentioned in the first schedule to the edict shall extend shop into the walk ways, ‘no persons shall use the pedestrian overhead bridge as an open day or night market’, stating that as punishment for first offender, the law stipulates a fine of ₵1,000.000 or nine months imprisonment with hard labour, while a third shall be fined ₵1.500.000 or one year imprisonment with hard labour. However, in the face of this apparent stiff legislation, the trade thrives and very few are ever arrested.
Checks by Business Journal on this illegal trading in Accra revealed that even the big multinationals are involved in the trade and therefore culpable in this offence. No doubt street trading has helped to build Brands in the Ghanaian market by creating constant Brand presence and visibility. Products like electronics, yoghurt, banana, bread, soft drinks, lemon etc and recently GSM service providers are the beneficiaries of this marketing tactics. The Small Shops president Mr Akoto said it is a competitive market.