From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

Operation What Next?
By Abdul Fonti
Jun 10, 2009, 17:16

The menace of street trading is yet to be solved. The major streets of the capital city of Freetown and its environs continue to witness an unabated influx in the number of these street hawkers. Day in, day out, traders continue spreading their tentacles of street trading, to the detriment of the beauty of the city. This occurrence has also significantly contributed to disrupting the free flow of both vehicular and human traffic, as almost all of the major streets, including Sani Abacha Street, Goderich Street, Guard Street, Kissy Road, Garrison Street and Fourah Bay Road, have been overthrown by traders.

The main streets in which vehicles ply are not spared by these traders, not to mention the supposed footpaths. One needs to be physically and verbally charged to take a work at the short distance between PZ Roundabout, for example, and the Eastend Police Station, where the nauseating Clock Tower is situated. Physically charge means that the tendency for one to collapse as a result of the squeezing, pushing and pick pocketing that has overcome the areas in question, is imminent. These traders are also always prepared to throw unprintable invectives on anyone who attempts steeping near their wares that are displayed on the streets, thus the need for one to be verbally prepared for such confrontations, before attempting to leave the PZ Roundabout, heading for Eastend Police, via Abacha Street.

Without attempting being political, it is of significance to note that the erstwhile Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) led regime had instituted strides to end the street trading menace once and for all. In the midst of uncountable sensitizations on the need for the traders to quit the streets, they (traders) were reluctant to learn and take corrective measures. This situation by then, forced the SLPP Government to launch an operation code named "Free Flow". The launch of the aforementioned operation was primarily aimed at using the radical approach of getting the traders off the streets. The Sierra Leone Police (SLP), as an enforcement agency, was in charge of implementing the Operation. Traders were arrested and their wares seized. This was such a laudable move by the then regime, as it was internationally lauded as a step in the right direction to ease the free flow of vehicular and human traffic and the beautification of the city.

Unfortunately however, and in the thirst for selfish political gains, the ‘Operation Free Flow’, was used as one of the propaganda machinery of the then opposition All People’s Congress (APC) to oust the SLPP from the citadel of governance. In the campaign trail, the APC propagandists fooled the citizenry of the country into believing that getting the traders off the streets was a step in the wrong direction. The street traders were encouraged to vote the APC to power, so that they maintain their trade in the streets of the country. The unsuspected traders overwhelmingly voted the APC in.

Now that the APC has assumed power, the traders are now more than ever confidence to continue street trading unabated. The traders of, for example Sani Abacha Street, even dubbed themselves as "Ernest Koroma Babies", and are known for defending the APC administration with passion, even amidst the worse occurrence of situations since the APC assumed power.

But as the fact remains that street trading is no ideal option for the country, the APC government is now seemingly confused as to how to tackle this menace which they have encouraged since day one. They are simply confused because it was originally the idea of the SLPP to curb this occurrence, but was unfortunately used to campaign against them (SLPP) in the 2007 Presidential and Parliamentary elections. The traders of this country are now of the full believe that Street Trading is acceptable, as that was what they were told during the campaign period. They are now scared that attempting to remove these street traders would result to it being used by the now opposition SLPP to throw them out of power come 2012.

The scenario is clear that the then opposition APC thought they were digging a pit for the then ruling SLPP to fall in, whilst forgetting that they were more vulnerable to fall into that pit. Yes, street trading was acceptable, that was what the APC told the traders, in order for them to be voted into power. So removing them from the streets now that the APC is in power will clearly demonstrate that they were being used and abused. And what pay does one expect from someone who is being used and dumped, especially when that individual has the ways and means of reducing his/her abuser to the position the latter was?

As a result of this confusion, the APC’s Freetown City Council started off with an obvious failing move, SENSITIZATION. Why did the Freetown City Council have to waste our resources to sensitize street traders, when they know it won’t work? At least it was experimented by the SLPP, and the result was negative.

The confused sensitization attempt by the Freetown City Council obviously failed as it was meant to be. Noticing that precious resources and energy have been wasted on sensitization, the Freetown City Council took an about-face-turn from it and started launching ‘operations’.

They started with an operation code named "Push Back". Operation Push Back, according to Council was to let the traders step backwards in order to ease vehicular traffic. This operation only succeeded in causing more congestion in the streets. The operation push back actually succeeded in partly moving the traders backwards to occupy the entire footpaths and parts of the streets. As a result of this, the passers-bye were left with no option other than that of storming the main streets to be used as footpaths, thus making no difference in the congestion of the streets.

Spotting the failure of Operation Push Back, the Freetown City Council has now replicated the then Operation Free Flow, to be known and called "Operation Sweep Clean". This operation was recently launched to get the traders off the street in a more robust manner than what the SLPP did. It is more robust because the SLPP’s Free Flow was only enforced by the Police, whilst the APC’s Sweep Clean is jointly undertaken by personnel of the Sierra Leone Police and the Metropolitan Police.

The operation commenced at the West End of the City, notably Lumley and Wilberforce and has come right on to Krootown Road.

But the question now is; Will Operation Sweep Clean reach Abacha, Guard, Goderich and Garrison Streets? Anyway, we wait and watch to see the powers of Operation Sweep Clean to move these traders at the aforesaid streets, when the fact remains that these traders will vote the APC out of power come 2012, should this operation succeeds.

Yesterday it was Operation Push Back, today it is Operation Sweep Clean, and tomorrow will be operation what? Operation come back to the streets and vote us to power?

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.