Academic journal article Theoretical and Empirical Researches in Urban Management

Political Transitions and Vulnerability of Street Vending in Malawi

Academic journal article Theoretical and Empirical Researches in Urban Management

Political Transitions and Vulnerability of Street Vending in Malawi

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Based on a ten year research on street vending, Cross (2000) concludes "street vending should, by all logical criteria, eventually disappear"; despite this logical criteria Cross adds "what we found, however, is that street vending, despite some problems and frequent attacks, is a thriving and growing phenomenon". Interestingly, in the analysis of urban street vending in Malawi, Jimu (2006) agrees with Cross's conclusion when he asks the question "can the resilience of street vendors to urban authorities and the government's drive to relocate them from streets be a reflection of their power or powerlessness against marginalisation and underdevelopment of their livelihood strategies?" (emphasis added). This is a very good question but in relation to recent developments in the informal sector of Malawi, it is largely outdated. Currently, there is nothing like "resilience" of the street vendor because since 19th April 2006, all street vendors in urban centres were effectively removed from their 'business premises' and relocated to the newly built flea markets. Probably the second part of Jimu's question is more relevant; that is to say: Is this relocation a sign of the vendor's "powerlessness against marginalisation and underdevelopment of their livelihood strategies?". This is a question worthy pursuing so as to help answer the mystery surrounding the present government's 'success' to relocate the vendors after the past successive governments had failed. This relocation also puts into question Cross's decade observation that despite attacks from authorities, street vending "is a thriving and growing phenomenon". Even with the apparent demise of street vending in Malawi, people could not fully accept that it had indeed happened. The forced relocation of street vendors in Malawi, though not entirely unique in contemporary Africa, has had a significant impact on the informal sector activities as well as livelihood of many other Malawians who depended on it for their every day survival. An analysis of the impact of this relocation exercise, especially on livelihood of the vendors is also an aspect of interest in this paper.

The paper mainly focuses on the city of Zomba in Malawi. Located in the southern region of Malawi, Zomba is the former capital city of the country. Despite the fact that it is one of the highly urbanized areas of Malawi, amongst the few studies that have ever been conducted relating to street vending, almost none focused on the city itself. The paper relies on empirical and secondary data. Empirical data was obtained from interviews with the former street vendors (currently operating in Zomba's flea market-also known as the Vendor's Market and Matawale market); former executive members of the Zomba Street Vendors Association; local municipal assembly authorities; and finally some members of the general public within Zomba. Secondary data was obtained from newspapers (especially the country's popular Nation newspaper), government documents as well as a general review of the literature on street vending.

Taking into consideration that "street vending is possibly the most visible and significant aspect and manifestation" (Jimu, 2006) of the urban informal sector, the paper starts by giving a theoretical framework of the informal sector itself. The paper explores the relevance of the informal sector to contemporary third world economies. The paper then proceeds to discuss the peculiar features of street vending as compared to the informal sector in general. Lastly, the paper discusses in greater detail the status of street vending in Malawi after giving a brief background to the informal sector in the country.

2. The Informal Sector: A Problem or Solution to Third Word Economies?

There are various definitions describing the informal sector however, it is not the purpose of this paper to fully discuss or evaluate these various definitions (1). What is significant in the conceptualization of the term "informal sector" is that since its first usage by ILO in the Kenya and Ghana study of 1970s, it has been changing. …

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