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Ghana wants hawkers off the streets

Street peddlers clog traffic, but they are earning a living.

ACCRA, Ghana — Opportunity knocks every minute for Napoleon Musah and his fellow street hawkers in Ghana’s capital city.

When the traffic light turns red, Musah hurries off the sidewalk, flashing his pocket-sized notebook to taxi drivers, minibus passengers and other overheated commuters, as he briskly walks down the white line dividing two highway lanes.

The honking horns tell the hawkers — peddling Dollar Store-type items like key chains, tissues and chewing gum — that it’s time to hustle between bumpers and back to the sidewalk.

And that’s just where government officials want to keep them — off the street. Hawkers endanger themselves and motorists, clog traffic in an already crowded city and don’t pick up after themselves, officials say.

Vendors like Musah say they’ll have no other means of earning money if kicked off the streets, especially during global financial problems.

“The profit is for all the family,” said the 29-year-old married father of two young girls. “I’m from a small village. I send some small money weekly or monthly.”

Musah buys his apparently Chinese-produced notebooks — two pages are devoted to dialing codes for cities in China — for the equivalent of 80 cents each. He sells them for $1, and on average his daily net profit is $5, much better than the one-quarter of Ghanaians living below the poverty line of $1 per day.

There are risks, of course, like when a friend was struck by a motorcycle and suffered a broken leg here on Airport Road a few weeks ago.

“It’s very dangerous, I cannot lie,” he said, adding that it’s still more lucrative and less stressful than his construction job of a year ago. “Construction, the work is very difficult, physically.”

But government officials say enough is enough. The incoming minister for the Greater Accra Region told Parliament last month that hawkers are hurting the economy because commuters are losing work hours while struck in traffic.

And the capital’s equivalent to a city council, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, is preparing the carry out the initiative. A similar effort failed a few years ago despite the AMA’s construction of a pedestrian shopping mall to give 20,000-plus hawkers an alternative sales site.

“They went, and then came back to the streets,” said Frank Asante, the AMA’s public relations director. “They have refused to go there. When we take action we will ask them to go back.”

No deadline has been set, he said, but the problem is spreading.

“It used to be at the main commercial area but as it is now they’ve taken almost every part of the city,” Asante said. “The general consensus is that they are more or less a nuisance to the people in the city.”