Street Vendors Criticise ‘Operation Clear Public Roads’

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By Nelson Manneh

Vendors, who sell along public roads, are critical of the government’s “Operation Clear Public Roads,” which they say is depriving them of their only sources of income.

The Government of the Gambia in October 2023 directed the Gambia Police Force to lead an operation called “special security operation on illegal encroachment’’ along the main roads. The operation targets permanent and temporary structures, and installations that are in breach of the laws governing road safety and public order.

The taskforce which comprised the Gambia Police Force and the National Roads Authority among others, have been demolishing structures along highways including canteens and kiosk owned by street vendors.

The street vendors and other petty traders offer easy access to wide range of goods including food stuff while others offer services such as mobile repairs and sale of accessories.

The exercise, according to the police, seeks to ensure all objects obstructing the free flow of traffic most especially during rush hours are cleared off the roads.

In the statement, the police said Physical planning, one of its partners in the operation, verifies boundaries of shops along the highways and anyone found to have encroached into the road, will be removed with immediate effect.

As a result, the authority indicated that all illegally parked vehicles, derelict vehicles, car tyres, vendors, stalls, building rubbles and other materials along the sides of the highways and roads, whether for private or commercial purposes, as well as shops encroaching into the highways and roads must be removed by owners or the authorities.

In March 2024, the second phase of the Operation Clear Public Roads and Highways focused on monitoring and enforcing regulations, which has commenced in Coastal Road, Yundum market, and surrounding areas with full force.

This phase, according to the police, aims to ensure compliance with regulations and maintain the areas that have been cleared of temporary and permanent structures, as well as vendors occupying public spaces.

Mariatou Jammeh, a vendor at the Serrekunda Market, said she is a widow that single-handedly takes care of her children.

“I have no other source of income, in the morning, I come to the market to sell some vegetables and when I am going home in the afternoon I use the profit to buy what I am supposed to cook for my children on that day,” she said.

Madam Jammeh claimed that the government wants to turn her to a beggar to provide for her family as her children are too young to scavenge daily bread for themselves.

Haddy Gibba, another vendor who sells fish at the entrance of Serrekunda market, said the government should have first expanded the Serrekunda market and created more spaces for vendors before they commenced the operation.

“Some of us sell in the streets not because we want to do so, but because we don’t have any space inside the market and we need to provide for our families,” she said.

Mrs Gibba said Serrekunda Market cannot cater for all the vendors who sell within the area.

“If the authorities want us to vacate the streets, they have to come up with other alternatives by establishing or expanding the markets,” she added.

Mr Bakary Manneh, the Road Safety Engineer at the National Road Authority, said the operation is meant to provide safety and decongestion of traffic on public roads.

“We are not depriving anybody of his or her economic activity; all the temporal structures we removed were established unlawfully. We will not remove any structure that is lawfully established,” he said.   

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