Monday, September 19, 2011


Last week Kampala City Council Authority came through on a promise to get vendors off the streets of the capital.

This was always going to be a political issue more than a straight forward administrative action. And so it turned out as Mayor Erias Lukwago threatened to variously resign or seek interpretation from the constitutional court of his role in running the city.

There are concerns about what the vendors will do now that their livelihood has been taken away from them. There is even the suggestion that this previous bread winners will turn to a life of crime to make ends meet. The political tacticians are off course looking to see how to take advantage of this new disgruntlement or harness this for more support.

Aloof from all the hoolabalooh, seemingly above it all – as she should be, is the KCCA Chief Executive Jennifer Musisi. The way she is going about her job will be a test case for whether we, as a society, can still recognise professionalism, laud it, support it and most importantly, get out of its way as it goes about its business.

She will provide a home grown test case for another theory – The Broken Windows theory. The theory first introduced in 1982 suggested that that monitoring and maintaining urban environments in a well-ordered condition may prevent further vandalism as well as an escalation into more serious crime.

Further popularized by author Malcom Gladwell in his bestselling “Tipping Point”, he used the theory it to explain the dramatic fall in New York’s crime rates in the 1980s.

The vendors are one of the manifest signs of a city out of control. So are the portholes. So is our kamikaze driving.

According to the theory if you are in a neighbourhood and there is one broken window, if it is not fixed will tempt criminals to break a few more windows and if they are not fixed more vandalism will occur escalating into full scale robbery and eventually murder.

New York City went about fixing neighbourhoods – cleaning them up, fixing street lighting and painting over graffiti, to eliminate any incentive for an escalation of antisocial behavior.

Drawing parallels to the Kampala’s vendors. The law says they should not be on the street. By allowing them to establish themselves over the years we have abetted criminal behavior to the point where vendors were normal and this week Kampala road seemed rather dull. Who knows how many other more serious criminal behavior started to take root under our very noses? We could say that the vendors eviction is a process that will not stop there but will continue to filling portholes, painting buildings, regularizing traffic and maybe finally eliminate jay walking – crossing the road without the green man blinking.

The headache for the planners is what to do with these able youth who have been displaced and essentially deprived of a livelihood? Actually any planner worth his salt would just be as pissed as the vendors for this turn of events. Because it would be their problem to get them jobs. But then again if they were not kicked off the street the planners would probably continue with business as usual, leaving the vendors to eke a living off the streets with no real security of tenure. Now someone has to think. Or will they?

Thinking is what we need more of.

The vendors were proving more than an inconvenience. They were unfair competition for shop owners who are saddled with rent, payrolls and taxes. In fact it became so bad that in a classic case of “If you can’t beat them join them” shop owners had resorted to giving their stock to vendors to sell on their behalf.

If we are to get more and more of our businessmen into the formal sector this is clearly not the way to go.

Maybe the price of getting these vendors off the street will be to train them in vocational and entrepreneurial skills, that way they can become not only better businessmen but also learn a skill that they can sell. Or see an escalation of crime in the city as the vendors try to find their feet.

Regardless of which way this goes it does not negate the underlying principle of doing it. That the situation was allowed to deteriorate to this level is not KCCA’s problem the backlash though, may affect all subsequent programs of the authority.

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