If hawkers are embracing change, why aren't we all?

On Saturday I was invited by Nyarugenge District to attend the official launch of a new modern market in Nyabugogo. Unfortunately I was not able to attend the opening and this saddened me.

On Saturday I was invited by Nyarugenge District to attend the official launch of a new modern market in Nyabugogo. Unfortunately I was not able to attend the opening and this saddened me.

Why? Simply because, in my opinion, the market project had the potential to not only change the way we perceived street hawking, but also how we defined urban living.

 

The new Nyabugogo market is now the trading base for over 2,000 former hawkers, many of whom are women. Whereas previously they were in a constant cat-and-mouse contest with the Police as well as local community security outfits (I saw plenty of high speed chases between hawkers and security forces that almost culminated in horrendous collisions with cars), what I saw on the news that night were smiling women happily tending to their wares and working in the confines of the law for probably the first time in their lives.

 

Nyabugogo Market, along with Nzove, Inkundamahoro and the quirkily-named Marathon market are among the five markets in Nyarugenge District that will be home to up to 3,791 traders.

 

That makes it close to 4,000 hawkers who have been moved off the street in only in one Kigali district. I’m confident that Kicukiro and Gasabo District will follow Nyarugenge’s lead.

If they do so, Kigali might actually be able to eradicate what one foreign journalist recently called the “hallmark of sprawling African cities”, hawkers.

I can still remember when the first discussions about the hawker issue started years ago; it seemed that no one was in support of removing them from the streets. Not the hawkers, who saw little point in leaving the street where their clients were, nor their clients, who enjoyed the fact that they could easily buy fresh fruits and vegetables on their way home from work.

What I found most interesting is that today the two parties have gotten used to the new way of doing things and, in fact, embraced the new way of doing things.

This push and pull between Kigali traders, local authorities and customers is something that I believe is rooted in what they we define as ‘normal city life’.

For too long, we have been taught to believe that dirt and grime, hawking, traffic jams, blaring music from bar and church speakers, unplanned urban sprawl and slums were the hallmark of a ‘normal’ African city.

Which is why I think there has been constant push-back against almost every single innovation that Kigali City has sought to bring, whether it was the Car-Free Zone, the once a month Car-Free Sundays, the relocation of Gakijiro from downtown to Gisozi or the enforcement of the noise pollution law.

It is my opinion that we often suffer from low expectations for ourselves and this manifests in the way we react to any kind of modernising change.

There are things that are meant for ‘Africans’ and others that are meant for ‘abazungu’ (Caucasians) and god help whoever tried mixing the two. Clean streets? That’s for abazungu. Hawking? That’s for us Africans.

Brand new clothes? That’s for abazungu. Chaguwa (second hand clothes)? That’s good enough for us Africans. Livable housing conditions? That’s for abazungu. Huts, that’s good enough for us.

Think I’m lying? Who remembers the brouhaha that ensued when the Bye Bye Nyakatsi programme started? Media, human rights organisations and other civil society organizations, along with abaturage were up in arms.

Today, if you travel around the countryside it is like there were never any thatched huts dotted around the country.

It is my hope that we will become less and less reactionary as we progress. It is my wish that we become a people that embraces change. I mean, what do we have to lose? The old ways of doing things haven’t been that great for us, have they?

Unmarked police cars? That’s tricky

Recently, traffic police announced its latest solution to the scourge of reckless driving – unmarked police vehicles with police officers in plainclothes. Which seemed to me like a good idea, especially with the fact that upcountry drivers had devised elaborate hand signals to warn each other of traffic police presence.

However, a young lady brought it to my attention that instead of being pleased with Police’s latest innovation, she was in fact fearful. She was worried that people with bad intentions (whether sexual predators or robbers) would pose as policemen and women and waylay drivers who innocently stopped, thinking it was a legitimate police stop.

So, my question to our Police leadership is, how shall we be able to know the difference between a legitimate stop and a dangerous situation?

Don’t tell us that police will have ID’s. By the time a driver is stopped and then approached by someone pretending to be a police officer in the middle of the night on a dark road somewhere in Eastern Province, it will be too late.

We need to know how we shall know the real from the fake.

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