With inadequate jobs resulting in the growing unemployment rate in the nation, school dropouts and the unemployed contribute to the increasing number of street hawkers on the major streets of most urban areas in Africa, research has shown.
A 2011 study by Clara Osei-Boateng and Edward Ampratwum on the “Informal Sector in Ghana” found that “80 percent of the Ghanaian workforce is employed in the informal sector, which is characterized by underemployment, bad working conditions, uncertain work relationships and low wages and the majority of people are living with high income insecurity.”
Meanwhile, another study carried out in 2013 by Lucy Bosompem Boadu on “The Hazards Of Street Hawking: A Case Study Of The Bread And Turkey Tail Business In The Nsawam- Adoagyiri Municipality” states that, “the informal employment represents over 90 percent of total employment, in Ghana” with street hawking or street vending assuming significant proportion of this informal sector.
The study concludes that many youth, women and children are driven by poverty to the streets to sell, leaving them without education, healthcare and employable skills.
Over the years, several research studies have been conducted all over the world especially developing countries like Africa. They tried to understand why street hawking occurs as well as why some citizens in a country would want to risk their lives by exposing themselves to danger like motor accidents and health issues while hawking on the street. Also, they wanted to understand why street hawkers persist to stay on the streets even when their city authority has tried to stop them with hash treatment.
Some of their findings reveal that hawkers enter into the business due to its low capital requirement, due to poverty and loss of breadwinners. Meanwhile, others are forced to contribute to support the family and others join willingly due to the high profits accrued.
With this background in mind and encouraged by my News Editor, I set out with an objective to experience the world of these ‘famous’ business of street hawking for a day. My curiosity was prompted to understand the daily chores of street hawking, the fears and challenges involved in street hawking.
I should state here and now that street hawking can be ranked amongst the most dangerous jobs in the world. The risk of running in between stationary and moving vehicles as well as fighting over the small space at the sidewalk with pedestrians is insanely marveling.
Here are my experiences on my day as a street hawker.
THE 4 August 2016 – MY LOCATION & MENTOR
Aside from my perception, the idea of selling in vehicles under the traffic was totally insane and outrageous. This made me so stressed and restless but with some inspirations and ‘technical’ advice from close friends, I embarked on the perilous journey into the world of vehicular risk. For this day, my new work place would be between and betwixt vehicles converging at the busy traffic intersection of First Light on the principal route linking Kaneshie Market to Kasoa, Kaneshie to Russia, Mataheko and Bubuashie.
I was fortunate to be introduced into the business by Mrs. Yaa, a veteran street hawker with 4 years working and hawking experience under her belt.
Yaa, a mother of two from Akyem, is one incredible and pleasant business person, blessed with the agility to run in and out of vehicles at random. She deals in two popular products on high demand by passengers. Pure water and Snappy a.k.a “Nkati3 Boga”. Even though she hardly makes enough profit for the day, like the others she is happy with her earnings. Yaa also dreams! The dream, like most good Ghanaian business persons to become a versatile entrepreneur someday.
ON THE 5th – WHAT TO SELL
At 8 am sharp the next day, I arrive at the shop with Mrs. Yaa to prepare for the start of the day’s work.
Yaa, took her time to lecture me on how to sell under the traffic without getting scared. She gave me useful tips, techniques and vehicle dodging tactics about the business also. Truth be told, I still felt nervous and tensed yet Yaa’s humble and bubble energized me into action. The nagging question of whether I will be able to sell at all in this chaos dominated my thought. Yaa introduce me to her family of street hawkers and they happily welcomed me with teases and laughter. All of them encouraged me not to be scared but be active aside from that I will go home with nothing and that I will be ok as the day and time pass by. We set off to sell at 9 0clock.
At the traffic light, I was shocked to immobility to see what was in front of me. It was like the jungle out there, everything was chaos. At one point, when the traffic turned red, all was peaceful and tranquil as in the cemetery. At the turn of the green light all hell broke loose. Hawkers walk to and fro bellowing out the names of their wares and items for sale. Pure Water! Pure Water! Nkatie Borga!, Yes Ice! Yes Yoghurt! Went to the continuous ring of male –female voices till the next red light came on for a momentary respite.
My fright was abated by Abu and Christian when they challenged me to face my fear and follow them into the traffic anytime the light turns red. Holding my hand like a kid, they took me out into the traffic at the turn of the red and when the light turned green, Christian was once again beside me to shepherd me onto the safety of the pavement. These awesome young men guided me twice more till I found my feet and learnt their language and technique of street hawking by myself.
Watch Video of my hawking below:
My colleagues for the day sold all manner of items from Adinkra pie, Ayigbe biscuit, ice-cream of all sorts – fan ice, yoghurt, fan choco and Tampico, energy drinks and soft drinks like – rush, 5star,beta malt, choco malt, coke and fanta. For road users interested in car accessories, you can buy your dusters, MP3 gadget, seat covers, steering covers, battery chargers and jumpers, car mats and many more. Do not forget you can also shop for napkins, gums, local snacks, foreign toy and children’s books including inspirational and Biblical literature.
Within hours, I became almost a pro now running between cars and to shops selling my water. The fear and shyness all disappeared and I was now part of the family. I made sure to utilize my free time with them by getting to know them one by one as well as some of their challenges.
MY COLLEAGUES – RUTH AND CHRISTIAN
Ruth, an 18-year-old JHS graduate from the Central Region, travelled to Accra to seek for greener pasture but ended up selling sachet water to save up some money to assist her family pay for her SHS education. She stays with her sister at Mataheko. Ruth dreams to be a fine soldier some day after her SHS education. The innocent beautiful young teenage girl is in the meantime very content with her profit of 2 Ghana cedis per one bag of pure water sold. She may sell 4-6 bags a day. This is about two US dollars for a day’s work but to her, “no condition is permanent”.
Then there is Christian. A vibrant young man on the street, hawking yoghurt for a profit of 10 pesewas on each yoghurt he sells. He hails from the Central Region and he came to Accra after he decided to quit following his father’s dream to be a footballer. He disclosed that he was saving up to further his education and has hopes of becoming an Auto Mechanic. To Christian, fear and failure are for cowards and lazy people. The word impossible does not exist in Christian’s life philosophy.
Click to watch video of Christian
For a novice like me and to my own surprise, I had managed to sell four bags of Pure Water at the end of my 9-5 work schedule. My entire days profit was 8 GHC and some residual pesewas, making about 2 Dollars exactly the approved National Minimum Daily Wage.
I spent 5 GHC on Waakye and water for lunch leaving only three (3) cedis as my profit. Actually, I looked like a Zombie at the end of the hard day’s work.
One interesting thing about my experience was that even though I run a deficit at the end of the day, like Yaw, a hawker, who also almost spent all his money, we were extremely happy. I felt content and delighted with my earning. This feeling was so great and powerful that, when I woke up the next day, I wanted to go back to the street again to sell, even though my entire body felt wrecked with pain. The euphoria of selling and seeing these happy people again made my heart merry that I have decided to try and visit the happiest people within the society, once in a while, so that we can sell as well as create more everlasting memories filled with fun together.
Even though it might be fun to hawk along the street, it is highly dangerous in terms of safety precautions since vehicles at times try to either beat traffic or over take other vehicle while hawkers sell. There are also health issues as a result of fumes from exhaust pipes as hawkers carry all these loads, moving to and fro till evening. This is because I woke up the next with a cold, headache and a serious body pain.
MEETING THE BOSSES
I discovered that most of the hawkers do not own what they sell. They have bosses especially traders and shop owners in the market who negotiate on “I help you, you help me basis”. That is, they give you their items for you to sell, take your profit and return their money back to them. Most of them either live with a relative, husband or a friend. Majority of these hawkers are not registered on the National Health Insurance policy.
The weather was another important factor in the business activities of street hawking. During the raining seasons and in times of cold, most items like sachet water, yogurt and soft drinks experience low patronage from passengers. The smart business option is to shift to selling items like Snappy, known as Nkwatie Boga.
Typical of all sectors of Ghanaian society female hawkers consistently experience sexually harassment particularly from male drivers. I wasn’t left out of these experiences. I received my fair share of sexual advances and marriage proposals from improbable drivers.
I was worst off when I discovered the unhygienic state of the wash rooms and toilets used by my colleagues. I manage to go the whole without relieving myself.
So what lessons have I learnt from my day of street hawking?
My lessons are summarized with these three inspiring quotations:
Ralph Waldo Emerson “Life is a journey not a destination”,
Marcel Pro: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
“Just because my path is different doesn’t mean I am lost”. (Anon)
While street hawking is a growing nuisance to most people, it has become a viable way of absorbing large portions of Ghanaian youth from the growing list of unemployed.
However, it is time governments throughout the Third World, develop innovative interventions to regulate their activities.
Edited by Kodwo Jonas Anson Boateng
By: Awuah Faustina.