Renting pavements to earn a living

2 Sep

A street vendor stands in the yard of the General Peddlers Union and Markets, a safe place for his wheel barrow. In the yard, the 1,200 vendors registered with the union store their wheel barrows or vegetable boxes at night. They collect them again in the morning and set off to earn an uncertain living. YT photo by Malak Shaher

Malak Shaher



Filled with hope, street vendors call out for people to buy from them above the street’s car horns.

During a Ramadan night on Jamal Street, a popular shopping street in central Sana’a, street vendors display their goods and clutter the already busy sidewalk. They know that they cause a lot of trouble, but they have no other way to earn a living.

To support their families, street vendors sell whatever they can put in a wheel barrow, including vegetables, fruit, quilts, cosmetics, flashlights, books, home appliances, and toys.

But selling on the streets is against the law according to the municipality, so there is always a possibility that its employees will confiscate their goods and detain them for a day or two before fining them YR 2,000 or more to release them.

“It is their only way to earn a living, there is no article in the law that allows them to sell in the sidewalks of the street,” said Ameen Jum’an, the deputy of General Secretary of Sana’a. “We try as hard as we can to give them the chance to sell during seasons like Ramadan and Eid without confiscating their goods or taking fines.”

The deputy added that since 2006, the municipality has not taken “rent” from the street vendors as it used to do in the past. But they do fine them if they are brought to the municipality. In this case, they are given a receipt.

However, Mohammad Abdulmalek, who has no other option for earning a living other than selling girls’ hair decorations on Jamal Street had another story to tell.

“Besides the money I pay, which is YR 1,500 as rent for the one meter you see, the municipality employees sometimes take fines from us, they wait for us to give them more money or else they may arrest us and confiscate our goods,” he added.

“I pay YR 3,000 for each meter I occupy. This is my place, and the police do take fines from me as I pay an extra symbolic amount of money for the municipality employees,” said Jameel Muthana, a quilt vendor on Hael Street.

Apparently, street vendors realize that they have to pay a bribe to the municipality employees in exchange for the latter not reporting them to the Municipality. But they complain that the municipality employees sometimes come with no prior notice and confiscate their goods before they are given the chance to pay money.

Not only found on Jamal Street and Hael Street, street vendors all over Yemen still have to pay fines without receipts, according to Fateh-Arahman Al-Jassaf, Director of General Union for Peddlers and Market.  

He said that just in Sana’a, there are no less than 17,000 street vendors, 1,200 of which are registered in the union.  

When employees from the municipality confiscate their goods, vendors lose their perishable goods, such as fruits and vegetables, according to Al-Jassaf.

The General Peddlers Union and Markets was established in May 2008 and joined the Yemeni Labor’s Union in December 2009, with the aim to protect street vendors all over Yemen from the attacks of municipality officers.

The head of the union said that vendors only pay fees for the place they occupy on the sidewalk during peak seasons like Eid and Ramadan.

According to Al-Jassaf, the employees of the municipality approach the street venders randomly, and come in a police car without permission from the municipality to take money from vendors.

“Sometimes, some municipality employees go to the street where there are a lot of vendors and take YR 100 or 200 from each one so to allow them to stay without reporting them. If someone does not pay, he reports him to the municipality, as it is illegal to sell things in the street.”

Adel Al-Sana’ani, the Director of the Tahreer district, a popular sales point for street vendors, said the municipality has no knowledge of the bribes the street vendors pay to the municipality employees.

“Taking money from street vendors is illegal as they take no receipts for the money they pay. If the vendors report the employees that take money from them, the employees will be tried,” he said.

Al-Sana’ani said that four years ago, the municipality used to take fines from the vendors during Ramadan and Eid in their offices and give them receipts in return. This was because they are not allowed to sell in the street, because there is an article in the law that prohibits anyone from disturbing the movement of cars or pedestrians.

“Some municipality employees are said to take money from the vendors in the street, which is illegal,” Al-Sana’ani explained.  “We face a real problem, as some of the shop owners also ‘rent’ the space in front of their shop.”

But street vendors cannot complain because selling in the street is against the law. Reporting the bribes they pay to the municipality officers would only serve to make them pay more fines for breaking the law.

Street vendors are not only men selling to support their families, but also women and little children supporting themselves for different reasons.

On another night during Ramadan, a ten year-old boy, who took up a small space on the sidewalk on Jamal Street selling toys, looked around hoping a child would see him and insist that his parents buy him a toy.

Unlike street vendors who sometimes pay YR 3,000 for each meter they occupy on the sidewalk, the boy said he pays YR 500 per meter.

“The goods we sell determine the amount of money we have to pay,” he explained. “The more expensive the goods, the more money that is taken

Of the 17,000 street vendors, there are around 3,000 children working as street vendors.

“Last year, 30 street vendors were arrested and their goods were thrown in a garbage container in Asser, Sana’a,” head of the union Al-Jassaf told the Yemen Times.  

“The place they were detained lacked basic facilities. There is no water and there is no door for the bathroom. These prisons were one day demanded to be closed by Former General Secretary of Sana’a Ali Al-Shu’aibi,” said Ahmad Mohammad, a street vendor on Al-Daeri Street, Sana’a.

“They are against the law and create a crowd in the streets,” said Muttahar Al-Haimi, the General Secretary of the municipality at Al-Wahda district. “Each time they do not pay the rent fees, we arrest them for two or three days but release them after they pay a fine of YR 2,000 maximum.”

The peddler’s union is working on helping street vendors to find shops instead to sell from. It aims at least to find them a market in which to sell their goods.

Nevertheless, Al-Jassaf said that in spite of the fact the street vendors create a mess in the street. The municipality has found no real solution until now to solve their problem.

He accused them of procrastinating in finding a solution for them so that they can collect money from the vendors who will pay in order not to be arrested


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