Street Vendors Deserve Dignity Too

Jul 30 , 2022
By Kidist Yidnekachew

I was getting off the taxi a week ago when I saw two law-enforcement officers holding what appeared to be a small box for charger cables and ID holders. In front of them was a street vendor pleading with them. He looked sad.

Why would he not be?

Imagine grinding all day looking to make a sale only to be stopped in one's tracks by the authorities. More officers followed from behind. Something told me this was not the first time the man got busted. Taxis and street vendors have that in common; they will never stop their mischief (the crime of selling trinkets and electronics without a license) even if they get caught. It is 'get rich or die trying.'

There is no harm in informal street vendors, except they block the road in busy areas and sometimes get hurt in the process of running away from law enforcement officers. It would be better to be formalised but the cost of renting a shop is prohibitive, especially for those on the low-income spectrum. There have been efforts by the Addis Abeba City Administration to give them space but this has not always been in parts of the city where there is foot traffic.

The formal business environment is simply not suitable for vendors who want to sell their products with a small profit margin to earn a living. Maybe after years of saving, they might come around. If one was to follow the regulations, then they might as well wait for another decade to make something of themselves. This is of course for those people with bare minimum capital. The process can be disheartening.

I had many business ideas that I wanted to start but the whole idea of renting an office, on top of other costs in promoting and developing the product, is discouraging. Business is all about taking risks, but how much? If that risk requires years of saving and there is a chance I could fail, then I might not take the risk. But if the risk is minimal and the profit margin is large, most people would go for it.

The struggle reminds me of a little girl selling tissue paper – the small ones on the street. She is often asking passersby to buy from her, even begging them. Her mother sits somewhere near, keeping an eye.

I once bought tissue paper from her, which looked very cheap. I told her she could keep the money and keep her merchandise. To my surprise, she refused and threw it at my feet.

“No, I don’t want your money. I just want you to buy soft from me and you did,” she said firmly.

Most people in her situation would have taken the money and sold the tissue paper, not the little girl. Another time, I found her eating leftover potato chips from the floor. Feeling bad, I gave her 10 Br. She refused to take the money and instead insisted that I could buy tissue paper from her for 10 Br.

I insisted that I did not need one; instead, I just wanted to buy her chips. She followed me and gave me the paper. I could not stop admiring her mother, who taught her integrity and honesty at such a young age. The small girl only wants what she earns.

She came to my mind while watching the street vendor begging the law enforcement officers to give him a pass.

Two men behind him were arguing whether or not the officers should let him go or not. The older man said the street vendor should learn the lesson of not complying with the law.

"His kind usually has been through the process before so many times that they know nothing will happen to them and after few days you will see them on the streets again," the old man made his argument.

The other guy did not think taking the guy's belongings was fair, although what he did was wrong.

"It probably took him many years to save money to buy the items and start the business. If his belongings are taken from him now, then he won’t have anything to do," the other guy retorted.

He thought it was better the street vendor was working and not going around stealing stuff. I happen to agree with the latter’s perspective. Until our living conditions are better, it would not be the end of the world to put up with struggling people who are a little derailed.

PUBLISHED ON Jul 30,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1161]

Kidist Yidnekachew is interested in art, human nature and behaviour. She has studied psychology, journalism and communications and can be reached at (

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