World street vendors to rally for protection at congress in Kigali

Fatouma Mukamugenzi, a vendor in Kigali. Courtesy Photo

Leaders of over 150 informal economy worker organisations, activists and street vendor representatives from across Africa and their global counterparts will convene in Kigali next month (May 1-6) to voice concerns over prevailing lack of recognition and protection facing their members.

The conference is happening at a time street vendors continue to decry various forms of discrimination and harassment in their work spaces, alongside criminalization, all threatening their livelihoods and survival.

Many are yet to recover from the shock suffered as a result of the coronavirus pandemic-induced market closures and lockdowns over the past couple of years, which left a big number of street vendors and informal sector workers in many places hanging by a thread in absence of any form of social protection.

Their issues rarely get attention in existing collective negotiation frameworks.

Streetnet International, a global alliance of street vendors and informal traders that organized the upcoming event indicates the conference will serve as a platform to voice concerns of informal street and market vendors in across countries and cities while advocating for their rights and all types of protection.

“Workers in the informal economy are as legitimate as their counterparts in the formal economy. Their recognition is critical for the growth of any country,” said of StreetNet President, Lorraine Sibanda, adding that the condition in not met in many countries.


Rwanda, for instance, banned hawkers on all streets in the Central Business District and in neighborhoods. Anyone found vending or buying goods on the streets faces Rwf10,000 [$9] fine.

The rules were amended in December last year to also penalize owners of petrol stations, schools, supermarkets, restaurant and bars who allow street vendors at their facilities and in their proximity.

They face up to Rwf100,000 ($90) fine for ‘abetting’ sale of goods on the streets.

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The above and other issues worry street vendor lobby organisations, and will feature on the agenda of the upcoming conference which organisers also indicated will be an opportunity to mark International Workers’ Day on May 1st.

The lobby groups maintain despite informal economy workers great contribution to the economy of countries, they are often excluded and neglected in labor rights negotiations, hence their issues and challenges never come to the fore to inform national strategies on formalization processes and the extension of social protection.

They seek to use the upcoming congress to “set the pace and the agenda to continue the development of our global alliance in the next four years. We will continue our fight for recognition and demand for our rights.”

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