Monrovia – Petit traders and the city government of Monrovia, clash over access to the city center, where official of City authority want to bar unlicensed vendors from operating.
“This is a cause for concern because we are viewed as second-class citizens, yet it’s the informal businesses that have become the backbone of our depressed economy” – Comfort Doryen, Chairperson, Petty Traders Union
Vendors say the President raids can be violent, and their chairlady say vendors are viewed as a “nuisance” despite their importance in a struggling economy.
Petit traders are selling every product imaginable in Monrovia, despite warnings from city President and raids that clear their stalls out and damaging their goods in the process.
Doris Fahn, a 37-year-old single mother of three, has sold cellphone scratch cards, sweets and plantain chips at Ashmun and Randall Streets intersection for more than a decade, but she was recently caught off guard when a municipal officer grabbed one of her trays.
Her daughter, 16-year-old Abigail Togar, initially thought the officer was a thief, so she tried to fight him off.
“He then twisted my arm and I quickly let go of the tray when I felt severe pain,” Abigail said.
Such harsh treatment is common, vendors say. City President Officers push through the market areas at random times, conducting raids in such a way that it is difficult to confirm how many have occurred.
But city officials argue that it’s imperative to clear out illegal vendors to keep the city orderly and ensure that vendors abide by the law.
The total cost of a vending license varies depending on what one sells, with different rates for selling recharge cards, sweets and produce.
But the market has now expanded to include vendors selling all types of items, from compact discs to fresh meat and clothes, on almost every street corner in the city center.
Vendors along the Vai Town market in Monrovia continue business despite lack of suitable place to sell. All they need is a little space.
City officials could not confirm the total number of licensed vendors operating in Monrovia.
“We can’t go far from here because the money is here,” says Massa, a shoe vendor.
The continued clash between the city President and vendors has led to the rise of an organization that works to promote and protect the rights of petit traders.
Ciapha received assistance through National Petit Traders Union, after his daughter’s dispute with an officer.
The organization also helped him get a business registration.
Comfort Doryen, chairperson of the Union says there’s a lack of clear guidelines for petit traders as the Mayor of the Monrovia City Corporation Clara Doe Mvogo has refused to sign an MOU with the union.
“This is a cause for concern because we are viewed as second-class citizens, yet it’s the informal businesses that have become the backbone of our depressed economy,” she says.
“Vendors are perceived as a nuisance,” she adds.
The city council is adamant about limiting vendors to designated trading spaces within the Central Business area in an effort to “clean” the city.
Petit traders, however, say the allocated zones are traffic-free and they cannot make much money there.
Therefore, they flood the illegal spaces, and some trade without business registration.
The traders often accuse the President of brutality.
Responding to the allegation, the Director of City President, Col. Kenneth Harris said there are areas designated for selling and not all parts of the streets are meant for selling.
He said: “The manner and form in which they randomly sell, you think the city will be peaceful?
We cannot run the country like the way they want it; and we can say they will always sell in the exemptible area which they will have to accept.”
On the MOU between NAPETUL and the MCC, he alleged that the union refused to abide by the regulations and rules stated in the MOU.