This is what is left of the fruit stall, the spring roll stall, the sandwich stall, the coffee stall and a whole lot of other outlets that were razed to the ground in February this year. This is now the corner of my street.
The razing to the ground was met with almost universal approval. You will be hard-pressed to find anyone disagreeing with this action. In fact you will hear one dissenting voice: mine. And my simple verdict after four months is this:
REMOVING THESE STALLS AND KIOSKS HAS BEEN AN ACT OF MONUMENTAL STUPIDITY.
Quite apart from the fact that the vendors on my street corner actually were in nobody’s way, paid taxes into the coffers of their local municipality – call that a kind of officially sanctioned protection racket if you will – they also brought another valuable quality to the street.
A modicum of security.
It was busy; too many people around to get to up all manner of mischief. Mischief there was but we know that in busy market places punishment can be harsh, public and immediate.
A colleague of mine was recently at the mythical Sandaga Market in downtown Dakar. ‘There’s nothing left,’ he reported, ‘it’s like a Sunday out there.’ So what has happened to everyone working there? Read on.
If you find that vendors are clogging up your streets, there are intelligent ways of going about regulating this – and stupid ways. Knocking them down is the stupid way. Monumentally so. I have no evidence that the intelligent way has been tried but this would involve…
One: building an alternative before you start knocking stuff down (and yes, you can do that with the World Bank money that was reportedly available for this operation)
Two: making a distinction between those who really are blocking roads, pavements et cetera – and those who aren’t
Three: engaging with the vendors to be affected and point out the alternatives and only then: move the recalcitrant elements out by force.
Like most local authorities the world over, they got it backwards.
And the upshot of this? Permanent unemployment for tens of thousand of people, more begging, less economic activity – or more economic activity but of the wrong kind. I cannot be the only one who is noticing a link between the authorities creating mass-unemployment and insecurity and the crime wave that is hitting my neighbourhood like never before. My own burglary to begin with. But I am far from being the only one. In practical day-to-day terms…
I am among an increasingly large group of professionals who walk around with all my valuables because I cannot leave them at home.
It is now a common occurrence that you get attacked by some youth on a scooter…within hours of you arriving here. In Yoff!
Add to this another ticking time bomb. The little boys who were – and are – being mercilessly exploited by so-called marabouts (condoned if not actively encouraged by the previous government), well, guess what? They grow up. They have no skills, have learned nothing and are already becoming noticeably more aggressive.
In short: street gangs in the making. This government made noises about banning child begging and then climbed down. I cannot prove this but it is my hunch that the president was leaned upon by folks high up the religious hierarchy to back off.
So I am joining a crowd that is not waiting for the next wave of excrement to hit the fan. A growing group that is expressing a desire to leave. Not necessarily the country – but this town?
Nope. Something is going dreadfully wrong here.