Today, this Saturday, is Africa Road Safety Day 2020. Professor Dr Abiti Joyce Befu, MEGA-1, Alhajj Jean-Philippe LePoisson, SC (RTD) and the rest of us in the delegation have travelled all the way from Bengazi where we were monitoring the parliamentary by-election to listen to and watch displays on road safety here at Liwonde Community Ground, Republic of Machinga. The minister of Transport and Public Works, Md Sidik Mia is scheduled to be guest of honour.
According to a media release from the Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services, this year’s message or theme is Stop Roadside Vending, Save Lives. As long as something is about saving lives, we are game and we don’t wait for an invitation to participate.
You know. Don’t you? Roadside vending has claimed hundreds or thousands of lives in the past 10 years. We will not give examples in deference to the departed souls. It is our hope that the Minister of Transport and Public Works and his team did some serious research and soul searching about why people sell their goods on the roadsides, and sometimes, in the roads themselves as is the case in Nkhotakota, Salima, Nkhata Bay, Karonga, Ntcheu, Kasungu and Lilongwe.
Our experience as we drive along the roads of Malawi is that in some localities, market infrastructure cannot accommodate every vendor. New and bigger open markets need to be designated and built. Ample parking space should be provided. Where do you expect new traders to sell their goods in places like Kampepuza if not on the roadside? The market there was built by Kamuzu Banda to cater for a few people. Our population has doubled since 1992. Logically, all infrastructure including markets ought to also double to accommodate more people.
Even if there were space in the markets, market leaders feud for political domination. At Lunzu market, for instance, DPP and Tonse Alliance rivals recently fought deadly battles over who should control the market. We hear the Tonse Alliance supporters wanted the DPP-UDF market committee to cede power to the Tonse Alliance since the Alliance had won the state presidential election of June 2020. The DPP-UDF could not give in and give up their lucrative responsibilities in the market. Hence the bloody fight.
When market leaders fight, common vendors migrate to the roadside and other undesignated places to sell their goods. The politicisation of markets must stop to save lives. All the party flags flying in markets must be uprooted. If vendors love flags, give them the national flag.
Our other experience has been that some drivers are too pompous to properly park their vehicles and walk into markets to buy what they want. Because they call vendors to the roadside, vendors get used and display their goods along the roadside.
For vendors to stop getting to the roadside, drivers should stop purchasing from such vendors. Instead, all drivers should park their vehicles safely away from the market. Get into markets and purchase the goods they want. In some areas, such as along the Salima-Mvera-Lilongwe highway, this has worked.
Imagine Lizulu with all vendors in the market and drivers parked properly! Imagine Ngara in Karonga and Ngala in Nkhota Kota with all drivers properly parked in designated areas and purchasing goods in markets.
So, instead of asking only vendors to stop selling their goods along roadsides, drivers and others must also stop attracting vendors to the roadside. Both the vendor and the purchaser need to change concomitantly because their livelihoods are symbiotic.
From today on, a fine or jail term should be prescribed for drivers who deliberately park along the road and attract vendors to the roadside. They not only risk their own lives, but also those of the vendors. Some stop right inside the road. For example? At Golomoti.
Are we the only regular road users who have heard some vendors claiming that they are within their rights as Malawian citizens to display their goods anywhere they like? Human rights ‘empowerors’ have a huge task ahead.