Street Vending Must be Legalised, It will be beneficial to both the Government and Street Traders


By David Chishimba Association of Unemployed Youths President

Almost every research which has ever been carried out suggests that street vending should be legalized and factored into the developmental agenda.

It made a very sad reading on Saturday, 23rd October 2021 when Iness Munyeme, a woman in Kitwe was arrested and charged K200 for buying five bananas worth K10 from a street vendor. This implies that only people with a lot of money to afford licenses and own shops have the right to trade. It’s a world apart as we witness the rich getting richer and the poor subjected to conditions that can only make them poorer. Street vending is an entry venture for the poor who are unemployed and sometimes with little or no education. Therefore, outlawing this venture, which is ubiquitous in every developing nation across the globe, is not only abrogating the human right of the freedom to trade and compete openly but also not in tandem with the government’s developmental agenda of not leaving anyone behind. What a way to fight poverty!!

The official unemployment rate in Zambia is 11.4%. Statistics show that 80% of all employed people are in the informal sector and street vendors occupy about 70% of all non-agriculture informal jobs. Street vending is an occupation for the poor as it creates easy access for self-employment as an alternative for the unemployed. Despite their importance to local economies, street traders operate in challenging environments that limit their productivity potential, the decency, and sustainability of their businesses. Governments need to play a central role in improving the quality of work in this sector through policy formulation and implementation, particularly that it constitutes a large proportion of the nation’s workforce, and provides goods and services to so many people.

Regardless, Zambian authorities together with the majority of the population and major policy and law influencers hold the view that street trading is a nuisance because they associate it with chaos, congestion, and insecurity as they share the presupposition that they are disorganized and difficult to regulate.

The general perception is that the conditions in which vendors, for example, those who sell food, operate in make them and their customers prone to an array of sanitation-related diseases such as cholera and dysentery; vending may also lead to various environmental hazards such as flooding due to excess litter in the precincts of the city. Garbage becomes problematic for the local council as well.

Additionally, street vending also interferes with the formal economy by taking away buyers from off-street shops and lowering prices for merchandise. They Sell low-quality products to customers and they offer no warranty for their products to buyers. The congestion created by street vending makes it difficult for both pedestrian and vehicular traffic to navigate around town. Vending can also contribute to street crime as people crowd together. They evade Tax or levy collection And make noise as they sell merchandise.

If the above situation is the case, then why bring up the topic? Clearly people shouldn’t die because it creates employment right? Now here is the case.

Street vending is ubiquitous – meaning, it’s everywhere, not only in Zambia but the whole of Africa and also predominant in other developing countries outside Africa. No matter the number of policies and laws we can put up, it will still be there because street vending is an occupation mainly for the poor and vulnerable. Lack of adequate employment opportunities in the formal sector, a faster rate of urbanization, and high poverty levels in Zambian cities have driven many citizens to seek a livelihood in the informal sector and street vending creates the only easy way of making a living for millions of Zambians. It’s a very important employment opportunity for youths, women, anyone with very few resources, and the least-skilled people. Based on measurement by the absolute moderate poverty line of US$3.10 per capita per day, 95 percent of all workers from poor households are informally employed while 75 percent of informal workers are from poor households.

Street vending is only regarded as a big problem because authorities want to get rid of it as opposed to coordinating and cooperating with stakeholders. If authorities regarded street vending as a solution and a key factor in the micro economy and factored it in national development frameworks, the approach would change. Instead of outlawing street vending, the government should formulate policies aimed at formalizing the venture. This will turn vendors from being enemies of the state into partners and end the long war between vendors and authorities. Compliance levels would increase as street vendors would have the mentality that the government is looking out for their best interests.

Most of the resistance to policy direction and implementation by the government is due to the fact that Street vendors think the government is being hard on them because they are poor and government officials don’t understand what they go through. They think all that government wants to do is to get rid of them, so insecurity and uncertainty crop in because they don’t know what the future holds for them. In Zambia, street traders are usually occasioned by confrontation with local authorities, and in the end they lose their products and money which they had spent months or even years building in a blink of an eye. So they usually buy their freedom by bribing council officials to survive.

Street vending although categorized as part of small and medium scale enterprises, it has never received the legal and policy recognition it deserves. Policies of the informal economy should take into account the nuances and heterogeneity of the sector, in that, governments should come up with more inclusive policies that will accommodate all traders according to their practical needs and not perceived needs such as building formal market infrastructure for all. In any business, accessibility to customers is key, more especially for street traders, that is why this direction has failed to work for many years.

The inclusion of street vendors into the national developmental agenda should begin with the issuance of IDs and the prescription of a uniform. The selling of IDs by the government will raise a lot of revenue for local councils. IDs should contain the name of the vendor, phone number, and address.

Producing such IDs will allow authorities to have an account of all the vendors and hence will reduce criminality and tax evasion because just entering their NRC or ID number would bring all the relevant information about them including tax compliance. This would also increase the confidence levels which customers would have in them because they would know that should they be tricked into buying defective products, the vendors could easily be traced. Having a uniform will make it easy for easy recognition both by authorities and customers as people who are complying with the law and cooperating with government institutions.

Such interventions will also increase confidence levels with financial institutions and will be easier for them to access financial services such as loans. This will also make it easier for the government to provide empowerment such as capital or skills development because they will be dealing with an organized informal sector.

Some people are worried about the congestion of street vendors in pedestrian facilities, street vendors will be free to operate anywhere but not everywhere. They will be operating in designated locations. This system will increase compliance levels and reduce vices like throwing of litter anyhow. It will also reduce theft because only genuine street vendors such as hawkers will attract customers.

Street vendors and shop owners have always coexisted and have always both made profit, in fact a lot of street vendors are agents for shop owners. Besides that, a lot of people still prefer to buy items from shops as opposed to vendors. Having such a system will also be good for street vendors because it will give them the ability to negotiate for better pay as an agent and will be good for shop owners as it will attract customers for their agents.

With high compliance levels, will increase adherence to hygiene and reduce transmission of diseases like cholera or dysentery.

Having such interventions will also cushion vendors against easy vote-buying tactics of fluctuating political rhetoric’ involving periods of tolerance and intolerance when the country’s elections looming around the corner.

This is a major policy turnaround, offering to remove the hardships and lack of freedom of street vendors and to unleash their economic potential.

The challenges which street vendors face are caused by the fact that municipal planning continues to be influenced by western thinking hence they do not provide vending zones for street traders. In countries such as India and Tanzania where street vending is viewed as an asset, a more inclusive urban planning approach is taken, legislation governing street trade is significant and clear in its focus: to reduce poverty, to regulate street vending, and to empower street vendors.

The right to trade and the right to carry on a business is universal and the government cannot abrogate that law by outlawing street vending. Economic liberty stipulates that outlawing street vending violates principles of free and open trade and competing and is tantamount to discrimination and encroachment on individual human rights.

Despite simplification of licensing procedures in recent years, becoming properly registered in accordance with existing business, financial, and tax laws on national and municipal levels remains a tiresome and costly process, making compliance almost impossible for people with small capital such street vendors. This is an area that needs to be looked at as authorities factors in street traders in order to make it easy for them to comply with tax and licence payments.

The Government and relevant stakeholders need to understand holistically the challenges faced by street vendors and develop interventions that will enable street vendors to survive, grow and compete in a dynamic business environment. National and municipal administrations, on the other hand, should reconcile vendors’ needs with formal regulatory frameworks as well as with taxation and urban planning policies.

One sad part is that vendors associations in in Zambia which are present almost in all trading places, however, do not deal with licensing, vending sites and policy advocacy but focus mostly on welfare issues. Had their advocacy been in that direction, we could have seen a more conducive economic environment for street traders. Associations should change their focus and aims to fight for the rights of street vendors.

Legalizing street vending will be beneficial both to the government and street traders.


  1. David , please rethink your objectives and we cannot continue this and contact me for more advise on this matter

    0977531821 as this mistake was made by Chiluba 25years ago

  2. Simply bonkers ,street vending MUST NOT be legalized.Look at Rwanda or any richer well organized country and tell us how they’re getting/got ahead economically? Chaotic ,indisciplined and disorderly societies don’t achieve much.

  3. Nope, i emphatically disagree.Street vending curtails the growth of formal retail ,it makes cities dirty /unsafe and the cholera epidemic we had 2/12yrs ago was caused by unhygienic street vending.Besides they ruin public infrastructure and evade taxes.

  4. Thank you David for a comprehensive analysis of street vending. I would like to entirely agree with you on your approach but as others have said the impact on infrustrature & the sanitation problem are a big consideration on how we can accommodate this informal industry. You correctly compare other regions (Africa & Asia) with similar problems however we can use some examples of excellence in those regions like Rwanda, Singapore, Malaysia etc. As a matter of fact Rwanda is closer to home. What is it that they have done right which we can emulate. We need to get rid of chaos & unhygienic way of doing business.


  6. It’s a quagmire…our predecessors foresaw this and did everything to ensure this didn’t happen. The colonial government never allowed unemployed individuals to leave their villages for urban areas. The Unip government encouraged the BACK TO THE LAND policy and discouraged the building of houses in towns. Now we have this problem exerting massive pressure on authorities. How do we solve it bearing in mind that we are dealing with fellow human beings who are vulnerable.

  7. The answer lies in making small mini markets dotted around CBD’s and also ensuring the markets are all occupied before you can think off mini markets. The disorder that comes with street vending is there for everyone to sea. Cant we for once admire the orderliness in other countries?

  8. Let’s be innovative and stop selling food from the floor. Councils need to put up structures in certain parts of towns and cities and allow vending only in those areas. I understand we need to make a living but cleanliness is something we all have to maintain. It’s the poor people who our frequently in contact with water and airborne diseases.

  9. The writer has a point……….

    If street vendors are registered , trained and regulated, this can have positive effects from a growing problem…….

    In fact registered street vendors can be getting supplies from organised cooperatives thus creating a supply chain of Zambian produce……

    And employment created all the way, from farmer, manufacture to street vendor with GRZ getting some tax……

    The same registered street vendors can be trained in street sanitation and garbage disposal while they work………

    As it stands now , unscrupulous traders are supplying those street vendors with goods without paying any tax……..

  10. Those selling foods from the floor should be banned……..

    However there also , at selected positions that does not hinder traffic, part of the same cooperative can establish selling tables for traders to rent and dismantles them after there is no customer traffic…….

  11. #11 Tarino Orange. I have always wondered why some people are still unemployed when you can easily form an association and start making money.

  12. Look at this mwankole , left alone in the cold supporting street vending. Iwe chi David Chishimba Kambwili ; do u know the description of street vending? Remember that the correct description is either Trading or Vending. Ask yourself why don’t call marketeers as Market vendors.

  13. This article to me reads like unsearched. There are so many pointers to restrict street vending especially in Lusaka. The challenge of ablution facilities faced by so many vendors cannot be overemphasized forcing some of them resorting to using the most unhygienic plastics and tetra packs for convenience. Lusaka has got no open spaces, not even for very important parks, where vendors can conveniently be located to apart from the existing markets. Our culture of throwing litter everywhere and anyhow doesn’t help matters in as far as hygiene and prevention of diseases is concerned. Navigating movement in CBD in Lusaka is a nightmare and chances of and thoughts of spilling merchandise spread along these street corridors are disturbing but a sad reality.

  14. Surely it should be a crime to sell food in these conditions in 2021 especially for normal thinking people who have been independent for 5 decades for goodness sake:-

    1) On the floor – You will start creating strange variants of cholera;

    2) Uncovered food in plastics – with covid around people coughing etc.

    3) Not in a regulated place.

    That is why there is no innovation, everyone wants the easier, cheaper way out – STREET VENDING.

  15. Political expediency has contributed to this scourge. There was time the then ruling government made an arrangement with the street vendors where they (the vendors) would be allowed to operate in the evening after normal business has closed. Then last as we neared elections, the opposition started to make pronouncements such as THE GOVERNMENT MUST FIRST FIND A TRADING PLACE FOR THESE PEOPLE BEFORE THEY CAN BE REMOVED. Yet they knew very well that markets were lying empty because people want to follow the customer where he’s found.

  16. This article is nonsensical! Even to go to heaven you need a minimum standard of qualification. Some tell us that if you haven’t been baptized then you can’t be admitted, should the priests baptize every jack even those that don’t believe just so to save them from hellfire? NO! People must trade in designated places and formerly. KCC must not go back on their resolve to end street vending. Next they should go for beggars. Now we’re being harassed by beggars. We can’t eat in peace because the moment your food is served then the beggar walks in from nowhere to ask for alms and if you don’t give them they’ll accuse you of all sorts of things? Come on, there must be a limit to everything. Whoever did that research is out of his mind

  17. Street vending MUST BE stopped.Why do these people don’t even have toilets & places to wash off germs then they sell you foods?

  18. All very well, but there must be clear demarcations between trading & non trading areas. We cannot have sellers trading stuff everywhere. The whole place looks like a market place – not nice nor healthy! Are there toilets nearby for them to use? Not conducive at all – they must be moved to designated areas.

  19. I visited Zambia in 2018/19 and ventured into Cairo Road. To my shock, there were street vendors right outside Indian shops! How do the poor Indians – who must pay premium trading rates for being on Cairo Road, get business through the door! Their customers have to negotiate a jungle of traders crowding their shop entrances! It’s unacceptable! Where is the city council? You couldn’t do it in Oxford Street, W1! Lusaka is not a delightful city to be in. Cairo Road is a car contested, Street trader & parking hustler filled; I felt accosted and overwhelmed! Am sorry, but Lusaka is a dump!

  20. So we should not build markets? We must look for money to destroy the current markets? We know it is difficult to remove people feeding on chaos because they dont want to pay for a market stall.
    When African governments fail in keeping order they concoct fake research to justify the status quo. Articles like this one are cowardly and refuse to tell the truth. Rwanda doesn’t have street vendors. Why?

  21. Gotta love the fact that 99% of comments disagree with this article and actually even more “thumbs up” affirmations roundly condemn this toxic backward thinking. CONGRATULATIONS folks.

  22. I for one do not agree with the author. Let there be law and order.
    If I want to go to a shop, let me go to a shop freely. Why do I have to be pushed around by vendors.

    If I want to go to a market, let me go to a market freely. Period.

    Coming to think about it, it is unfair on the shopkeeper who pays rent and alot of other levies and fees to suffer vendors in his own verandah selling things against him.

    Let is have a civilised country.
    Let government provide trading areas for vendors. No one should trade outside of those places. Once that is implemented then the consumer will have to go in the market.
    The problem starts when few vendors are allowed so those in the markets feel they are loosing business to those who are outside the markets.

    If you go and check the markets…

  23. This is sadistic article indeed.

    I for one do not agree with the author. Let there be law and order.
    If I want to go to a shop, let me go to a shop freely. Why do I have to be pushed around by vendors.

    If I want to go to a market, let me go to a market freely. Period.

    Coming to think about it, it is unfair on the shopkeeper who pays rent and alot of other levies and fees to suffer vendors in his own verandah selling things against him.

    Let is have a civilised country.
    Let government provide trading areas for vendors. No one should trade outside of those places. Once that is implemented then the consumer will have to go in the market.
    The problem starts when few vendors are allowed so those in the markets feel they are loosing business to those who are outside the markets…

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