Saturday, July 9, 2011

Morocco Struggles with Surge in Street Vendors

Here is an article from on the apparent problem of informal street vendors threatening small shop owners in Moroccan cities.
Morocco struggles with surge in street vendors

After reviewing an alarming new government report, Moroccan officials are working to integrate cart operators into the formal sector.

By Hassan Benmehdi and Siham Ali for Magharebia in Casablanca - 08/07/11

A street vendor may have launched the Arab Spring, but the proliferation of roadside carts in Morocco is straining residents' nerves.

After unemployed Tunisian graduate turned vegetable vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself afire, igniting a democratic revolution that spread from Sidi Bouzid to Tahrir Square and beyond, Maghreb police became wary of cracking down on illegal carts.

Law-enforcement officers once confiscated street vendors' wares and forbade them from occupying public spaces. With the threat of arrest and loss of goods now gone, however, merchants have pushed their barrows into the busiest spots.

In Morocco, the situation is becoming critical.

"These traders have installed themselves along the alleyway beside the mosque, preventing motorists and pedestrians from passing," says Moussa, who lives in Casablanca's Oum Rabia I.

"After the vegetable sellers with their carts, the kitchen utensil sellers appeared on the square, and they were followed by the live chicken sellers, who even dare to slit their throats and pluck them on the spot, causing inconvenience for the neighbourhood," he tells Magharebia.

The informal traders are also having an impact on local businesses. Si Arroube, a public-sector worker, says that ever since street vendors in Casablanca's Belvedere and Roches Noires districts began offering items at rock-bottom prices, some small shops have been forced to close.

"These mobile traders don't pay rent or municipal tax," he explains. "The small retailers can't survive the competition."

Ahmed Ktiri, an economist, agrees that the phenomenon of street vending is having negative repercussions on the formal sector, due to illegal competitive practices.

"The youngest people should be offered training, and at the same time, jobs offering acceptable and viable conditions should be found for them," he suggests.

It is more than just price wars. Hassan, who lives in the city centre of Casablanca, says that the streets are no longer as clean as they used to be. "The goods are inexpensive, but these carts are a nuisance," he tells Magharebia.

For unemployed young Moroccans, however, they provide an income.

Informal trading is becoming a way of life for many young Moroccans.

"I have a family to take care of and if I don't sell anything, I risk ending up on the streets with my children and wife," says Aziz, a young street vendor of fish.

The government recognises the urgent need for a solution. "We must accept that we now need a new approach to integrate these people better into the formal sector," Trade Minister Ahmed Reda Chami told legislators in May.

"We need to create and set up new markets and spaces, but we also need to involve other departments, such as the interior ministry, and local authorities," Chami said.

Economic Affairs Minister Nizar Baraka said that the Moroccan government is paying particular attention to the issue and that help is on the horizon: "The main thing is to bring about a transition from the informal to the formal sector, that's what needs to happen."

A recent study commissioned by the Ministry of Trade revealed that Morocco now has 238,000 street vendors, 90% of whom are men. And since some 70% of them never went beyond the primary level in school, their employment options are limited.

The government report's recommendations will be implemented soon, Trade Minister Chami said in June. The aim, he said, is to integrate street vendors into the formal sector in order to improve their standard of living.

Absorption and integration of the informal sector would reduce poverty and exclusion, agrees Abdeljalil Cherkaoui, the president of REMESS (the Moroccan Network for Solidarity and Social Economy).

The informal traders, meanwhile, are in desperate straits.

Charaf Hamdani is a 35-year-old father of three who holds the baccalaureate. For the last five years, he has worked as a street vendor selling fruit. His decision to take up this vocation came after several years of unemployment, during which his wife supported the family. He hopes to have his own shop one day.

"I've suffered a lot," he tells Magharebia. "You can't afford to be sick. No one protects us. On the contrary, our activity is regarded as unofficial. I'd really like to switch, but I don't have the money for that."

His average monthly wage is between 2,000 and 2,500 dirhams.

Mhamed Daouli, who is 47, has been a street vendor for more than 15 years. He has sold fish, clothes, furniture and vegetables. At the moment, he is selling underwear. He does not believe the government's promises and feels that officials are merely trying to get rid of street vendors by sending some of them to markets far away from town centres.

"They need to find solutions within cities," he says.

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