I was born in Monrovia, and I have lived here for most of my life and so, I am uniquely qualified to speak about the situation unfolding in this city. Monrovia, once upon a time, was a very beautiful city. The streets were clean, the stores had their goods displayed inside storefronts where a customer could walk in and view the wares on offer.
Eunice Dahn, [email protected], Contributing Writer
The sidewalks were places where people could walk unhindered and unobstructed. This was the pre -war scenario but today is a different story. Today, 20 years since the end of the civil war in Liberia, every single street with a sidewalk and even those without sidewalks have been taken over by store owners and street sellers trying to make a living. From the heart of Monrovia City to its end, EVERY SINGLE street is occupied by sellers; store owners display their wares outside of their stores on to the sidewalks on every street. Market sellers have taken over the sidewalks.
Fish sellers have turned the sidewalk at the end of the Gabriel Tucker Bridger into a fish market and dump their dirty fish water unto the streets. There is filth everywhere due to sellers leaving the trash that accumulates because of their business. And do not get me started on the traffic!!! Street selling is one of the major causes of heavy traffic across Monrovia.
From broad street strewn with clothes and shoes and goods of every kind, to Randall street, where people are cooking on the sidewalk to mamba point that used to be the most refined and beautiful areas in the city, from red light to Duala, the capitols of stench and filth and Brewerville, from rehab to Tubman boulevard to Sinkor and every street in between, there is a street seller occupying space that should be used by pedestrians for walking.
The Sidewalk… hmmm… the sidewalk has been completely taken over by the sellers so that there is no more sidewalk for pedestrians to walk on. In addition to the sellers taking over the sidewalks, there are broken sections of the sidewalk and open sewers and drainages where sidewalks should be. Monrovia city’s sidewalk is in such a state of disrepair that it is a miracle we do not have more accidents of people falling through these holes and cracks. As a person with all my physical abilities intact, I struggle daily to walk the streets of Monrovia.
So, I can only imagine how difficult it is for our physically challenged brothers and sisters. I pity the blind person trying to walk the streets of Monrovia alone. They face the possibility of death or grave injury every single time they step out of their homes unto the streets of Monrovia. As for those who are wheelchair bound, they are forced to ride their wheelchairs on the road, which is very unsafe for them, or just stay at home. Now please DO NOT misunderstand me. I am not against anyone who is struggling to make a living in these harsh economic times. In a country where even a college graduate cannot find a job, I respect the hustle of people who are simply trying to get by. It is true that unemployment is rife in Liberia and because of that, the informal sector is booming as many Liberians have chosen not to be beggars in their own country.
My issue is the way it is being done and what it is doing to our once beautiful city. To be clear, Monrovia is not a market hall. It is our capital city. Street selling unchecked, is chaos. Chaos is complete disorder and confusion hence, the absence of rules/laws or the failure to adhere to or enforce existing rules/laws is chaos and chaos leads to anarchy. Imagine a city where pedestrian accidents were a usual occurrence because people were jaywalking on the roads instead of the sidewalk or a city where fights broke out between pedestrians and sellers because pedestrians accidentally spilled the goods of sellers while walking on a sidewalk filled with goods?
These scenarios may appear far-fetched, but they are highly likely. I am not suggesting that street sellers be taken off the streets without addressing the immediate key issue (since employment opportunities and access to finance are off the table for now), which is the lack of market spaces in our communities. There is a need to communicate, sensitize, and relocate sellers before enforcing a ban on street selling. This is a social problem that demands a social response.
This issue cuts across various sectors of the government and requires a multisector approach to addressing it. It requires public land in various communities to be identified (MLME), it requires the building of market halls/stalls in various communities and repairing the broken sidewalks and open drainages (Public Works and Ministry of Finance), it requires partnering with the seller themselves to find innovative solutions to the street selling problem, thus ensuring their buy-in, it requires the Marketing Association to sensitize and communicate with the sellers, and the establishment of a database of sellers and finally, it requires the City Corporation to do its job and enforce the city ordinance that makes street selling an offence and keep the streets clean. I can assure you that if no one is selling on the streets, the buyers will go to where the sellers are. The proliferation of street selling needs to be curtailed and our sidewalks need to be rehabilitated and reclaimed for pedestrians only.
This doesn’t mean that people should not be allowed to make a living. This only means that one person’s right to make a living, should not abuse or trample on another person’s right to walk on the streets safely. Also, we need to make our streets safe and accessible to/for disabled people. They are citizens too and have the same rights as able bodied citizens. They should not have to suffer not being able to move around freely because the sidewalks are damaged or occupied by street sellers. Let me close by saying that this is not a politically motivated article so please DO NOT COME FOR ME! I am speaking as a concerned PRIVATE citizen. Someone has to say what most of us are thinking. I am calling on the Mayor of the Monrovia City Corporation, the Minister of Public Works, the Minister of Lands Mines and Energy, the head of the Liberia Marketing Association, and even the Liberia National Police.
PLEASE DO YOUR JOBS. We cannot afford for this city to fall further than it already has because to climb back out of that pit of uncheck chaos will be very difficult if not impossible. Remember Peace Island? What at first were temporary squatters on government land, have now they become permanent home/landowners that the government cannot afford to remove. To our President, and members of the Legislature, this should not be about keeping the sellers on the street so that they vote for you. If you do right by your people, they will not need to sell on the streets, and you certainly would not need to turn a blind eye to a decrepit city. I can assure you Mr. President, that MIAMI, USA, DOES NOT LOOK LIKE THIS.