Behind the hawker hustle

It’s thought that more than half of Africa’s GDP comes from the informal sector which accounts for around 80% of the labour force, many of them small traders. So should governments regulate traders? These vendors tell the BBC about their lives:

Beauty Nyandoro by her stall in Harare. Photo: Boldwill Hungwe, BBC AfricaImage copyright
BBC’s Boldwill Hungwe

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Twenty-six-year-old Beauty Nyandoro who sells vegetables, wild fruits and mobile top-up cards in Harare, Zimbabwe. “Competition is tough because I sell close to a supermarket. I earn about $100 (£77) a month and I use that to support a family of three.”

Cameroonian street vendor Peter Nkemashi by his kiosk in Yaounde. Photo: Randy Joe Saah, BBC AfricaImage copyright
BBC’s Randy Joe Saah

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Cameroonian Peter Nkemashi dreamt of becoming a magistrate but his father couldn’t send him to school. He now has a kiosk in the capital, Yaounde. “I don’t really envy very rich people. I have enough for me and my family. That’s what I call a good life,” he told BBC Africa.

No Hawking sign in Accra, Ghana. Photo: Lucy Walker, BBC AfricaImage copyright
BBC’s Lucy Walker

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But in many African countries there are growing calls for the informal sector to be regulated and taxed. Street vendors often find themselves clashing with the authorities, seeking to clear them off the streets, or with shop owners who feel the hawkers undercut their businesses.

Sandra Birabwa selling clothing in central Kampala. Photo: Patience Atuhaire, BBC AfricaImage copyright
BBC’s Patience Atuhaire

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Sandra Birabwa, 24, says people call her “Sandra Leggings” because of the time she spends criss-crossing the streets of Kampala, Uganda, selling clothing. She says she would like to set up her own shop, “but right now the rent is too high.” According to her, it is also very hard to get the licensing to work in the formal sector.

Mohamed El-Hed selling art works in Tunis. Photo: Rana Jawad, BBC AfricaImage copyright
BBC’s Rana Jawad

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Mohamed El-Hed, 63, lives in Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, and makes around $180 (£140) a month selling art and supports a family of five. “I’ve been doing this work for 16 years now, ever since I retired from my factory job. I want my children to find work that suits them.”

Mamadou Saliou Barry selling CDs in Conakry. Photo: Alhassan Sillah, BBC AfricaImage copyright
BBC’s Alhassan Sillah

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Mamadou Saliou Barry sells CDs and DVDs in Conakry, Guinea. “Things are difficult now because some local musicians accuse us of pirating their CDs, so they harass us a lot. But the fact is I don’t sell fakes,” he says.

Comfort Conteh selling bread in Freetown. Photo: Umaru Fofana, BBC AfricaImage copyright
BBC’s Umaru Fofana

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Sierra Leonean Comfort Conteh makes a profit of about $8 a day selling bread in the capital, Freetown, and supports her mother and child. “I used to study catering but I couldn’t afford to continue. I would like to return to it and work in a better place.”

Mohammed, a vendor of mobile phones accessories in Dar es Salaam. Photo: Sammy Awami, BBC AfricaImage copyright
BBC’s Sammy Awami

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Mohammed, 28, sells mobile phone accessories in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He pays for his siblings’ school fees. “I’ve been doing this business for so long that I don’t want to switch to something else. But of course, I’d like to see it expand,” he says.

Liberian Moses Tamba selling mobile phone accessories in the capital, Monrovia. Photo: Jonathan Paye-LaylehImage copyright
BBC’s Jonathan Paye-Layleh

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Moses Tamba also sells accessories for mobile phones but in Monrovia, Liberia. He does so to pay for his studies. He says he lost $300 (£230) in one day when the authorities seized his booth. “Since then I’ve been going to the Central Bank trying to get my money back, but there is no luck,” he told the BBC.

Listen to the BBC Africa Debate on street vendors this Friday at 19:00 GMT on the BBC World Service.

Produced by Natasha Booty and Manuel Toledo

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