Solomon Ansah is a 32-year-old street vendor working in Accra, Ghana. He sells footwear at a spot on the Spintex road known as Flowerpot, a busy street opposite the Palace Shopping Mall, along with many other informal traders.
Solomon is married with three children, with a fourth child on the way. He turned to the informal economy to be able to support his family. He has been working as a street vendor for four years, along with his wife, Janet Ansah, who also sells “fried donuts” called “Bof-loat” close to his husband’s vending space.
Facing harassment on a daily basis
Street vending is, therefore, the livelihood of Solomon’s family. However, they are constantly harassed by the police. The authorities came and demanded that street vendors move away from their selling spaces for a new road to be constructed there, without providing a place where they can relocate. This has led street vendors to return every day to their stretch of road opposite the Palace Shopping Mall, and often they end up having to flee with their merchandise to keep it safe.
Eventually, Solomon and other vendors united and spoke to city officials asking for a place to work. The city officials told him they could stay by the side of where the new road will be constructed, without providing any assurances they would be safe. As vendors saw that the construction work was approaching them, they shifted to another side, off the road . where they kept their stalls and vending spaces.
In the area where they are selling now, there is no official market, but there are many street vendors earning a living. Whenever the authorities arrive, they are accompanied by a task force who harasses them and treats them violently. The hostilities escalated dramatically on July 15, 2021, when Solomon was severely beaten and injured.
A vicious episode of police brutality
On that day, Solomon, as he does every morning, went to his selling space opposite the Palace Shopping Mall. Because of the sun, he left briefly to fetch an umbrella. “By the time I returned,” he says “they [the police] had come to break down everything, put down every structure”. Street vendors were outraged, there was violence and hostility. “That is when one of the police officers said they would call for reinforcements and that we should wait and see what would happen to us”, recalls Solomon.
The reinforcements arrived on top of pick-up trucks. They started giving warning shots. But they were not alone – two local mayors were with them, including the one Solomon and other vendors had tried to negotiate with before. Solomon and other vendors tried arguing with him “In case we put down our items, what do you want us to do with them?” they pleaded.
Then one of the officers pointed to Solomon and said “He is the one who is resisting!”.
That is when police officers put handcuffs on Solomon and started beating him, trying to force him to board a pick-up. He kept resisting and asking “What have I done for you to do this to me?”. Still, the officers did not stop and started to use the handle of their guns to hit his head, his back, his whole body – resulting in bruises and cuts, until they eventually broke his finger. Only then, when they saw him hurt and semi-conscious, did one of the city officials ask the police to stop beating him. Seeing the state of Solomon, other vendors there pleaded with He the officers to put him in their car and send him to the hospital, but they said no, the vendors could attack them.
Eventually, they left him to his fate and departed in their cars.
The struggle to pay medical bills and a false promise
The vendors around Solomon came together to get him a taxi and lend him the money required to get to the hospital. Solomon had had, back, nose injuries, plus a more severe hand injury that would require surgery. He was told to return in a few days for the surgery.
In the meantime, Mr. Solomon Kotey-Nikoi, the then Municipal Chief Executive of La-Dadekotopon Municipal Assembly (recently changed), Accra, discovered that Solomon had been severely injured. According to Solomon, he told him in front of his wife and another female street vendors present that he would reimburse Solomon for his medical bills, particularly the expensive surgery and gave him his contact. Solomon then went to look for a loan to cover the costs of surgery and medications, with the expectation that he would soon be reimbursed. Luckily, he got an interest-free loan of 2,500 GH₵ (around 413 USD) from his local church and managed to pay for the surgery.
Solomon was admitted to the hospital on Friday, had the surgery and was released on Sunday. He was told he needed to come back every two weeks to the hospital to monitor his recovery. Solomon again called Mr. Kotey-Nikoi, who directed him to his office. According to Solomon, he said, “I will take care of it, send me your contact and I will transfer you the money”. After some weeks, Mr. Kotey-Nikoi sent him GH₵ 1000, but not the full amount.
He consulted with friends and family, who advised him to file a police report. Solomon has been reluctant to do so, because he was a victim of police officers themselves. Still, he tried to file the report. However, the doctor demanded an extra fee of GH₵ 500 to attest to his injuries.
Now, Solomon is not sure of what to do or who to turn to. He came back to the same place where he was attacked and continues to work as a street vendor there because “otherwise, we cannot afford to eat”. His wife is close to delivering the baby and was supposed to be resting, but due to Solomon’s hand injury, she must work alongside him to assist him.
Meanwhile, the medical bills keep piling up. Solomon says that the costs for the regular hospital visits and medical review/monitoring visits are affordable, but he still has to repay the loan he took for surgery. Moreover, whenever he is prescribed medication, he must ask around for additional loans and assistance from friends and family members.
The importance of mobilizing and organizing street vendors to combat violence and harassment
Solomon feels cheated, he is not alone. Every day, street vendors are violently attacked by public authorities across the world. They are harassed and physically assaulted, and are made to deal with the consequences single-handedly, which can cost them their physical and mental health as well as their livelihood, in a context where vendors are not even guaranteed access to social protection and health care.
In Ghana, there is a national health scheme that could provide some assistance for medical costs. However, though not very expensive, the initial registration cost could make those who are financially unstable find it difficult to enroll. Solomon has not registered and, even if he was, the cost of the surgery would still be too high to be covered.
After suffering this police brutality, Solomon, who is currently not a member of any street vendor association, has realized the importance of coming together and approaching the authorities with a united voice. Before then, the thought had not crossed his mind.
The Union of Informal Workers’ Association, StreetNet affiliate in Ghana, has issued the following statement regarding Solomon’s case.
TRIGGER WARNING: The video below is a recording of the attack suffered by Solomon and inflicted by the authorities. It is a graphic video – viewer discretion is advised.