Police crack down on street vendors in DR Congo

Authorities in Kinshasa have launched a crackdown on street vendors who sell their wares along the capital’s avenues. Though this was presented as a "pedagogical" operation, police ended up destroying and burning stalls on Wednesday morning. One of our Observers filmed them in action.

Launched on December 11, this operation is part of a citywide cleanup effort meant to make the capital more attractive. The goal is to get rid of all the street markets where unlicensed vendors have set up shop. The authorities have said that they plan to replace these markets with green spaces.

According to Radio Okapi, a day before the operation began, the local police chief announced that "unlicensed street vendors and car mechanics will be asked to take their vehicles and merchandise to places reserved [for these activities]."

"I don’t think municipal authorities can claim they are ‘cleaning the city’ by using methods that are unclean"

On Wednesday morning, John Kilunga (not his real name) was walking along a busy avenue in Kinshasa’s city centre, near the campus of the Kinshasa Communications University. Many street vendors were selling supplies targeted at university students.

"I heard screaming, and saw a huge fire blazing down the street. When I got closer, I saw several policemen turn over stalls and tear apart bags of flour, rice, and other food items. Others were stomping on the merchants’ wares. An elderly woman was clinging to a wooden table in order to stop them from throwing it into the fire, while a policeman was pushing her violently.

General Kanyama, the police chief for the district, was there [several local newspapers confirmed his presence during the operation]. Police officers even took crates of sardines and put them in one of their vehicles.

I know some of these vendors well. They told me, they have already been harassed by city employees who asked them to pay bribes in order to keep selling their wares. It’s impossible to know whether these were really city employees, but in any case the vendors were certainly tolerated – some of them had been working like this for a decade without running into any problems!

I don’t think municipal authorities can claim they are ‘cleaning the city’ by using methods that are unclean. This violence doesn’t achieve anything, since the vendors just come back later. I’m sure there must be better ways to deal with this problem."

FRANCE 24 contacted Kinshasa’s police spokesperson, Colonel Pierrot Rombaut Mwanamputu, who confirmed that the goal of the operation was to "instill good habits in street merchants by inviting them to free up roadsides". However, he also said that the police officers "did not have the mandate to destroy merchandise". He told FRANCE 24 that he had not heard about police destroying merchandise on Wednesday, and that he would show the video to the Kinshasa police chief who would then decide whether or not to launch an investigation.

Since 2010, city authorities have carried out several crackdowns on Kinshasa’s street markets, which tend to grow in size as the holidays approach. Back then, local journalists had already criticised the violent methods employed by police.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron).

Videos of this story can be viewed on this link – http://observers.france24.com/content/20131220-police-street-merchants-congo-vendors

Article sourced from www.observers.france24.com