From 9th to 11th May, 2022 StreetNet International’s affiliates representatives from West and Central Africa gathered in Dakar for the first in-person meeting since before the pandemic. The occasion was the regional workshop, a unique occasion for reflecting on the current and future challenges of the region and building international ties among people and trade unions.
The participants represented eighteen affiliates and fourteen countries. The organisations present were: UNIWA (Ghana), UGSEIN (Niger), SYNAVFL (Burkina Faso), SYNAVAMAB-UNSTB (Benin), SNVC (DRC), SLeTu (Sierra Leone), LDFC (DRC), FIWON (Nigeria), FETTEI-CI (Cote d’Ivoire), FEPTIWUL (Liberia), FAINATRASTI (Togo), CSA Bénin, CNTS (Senegal), CNTG (Guinea) , ASSOVACO (DRC), USYNVEPID (Benin), SYVEBU (Burundi), SYTRIECI (Rwanda).
The working sessions were opened by Mr. Papa Amadou Ndiaye, senegalese Minister for the Artisanship and the transformation of the Informal sector. Mr. Ndiaye reminded the importance of the informal economy for the country and acknowledged the efforts of StreetNet and its affiliates for a fair and sustainable transition towards formalization. In Senegal, the informal economy makes up for over 95% of the overall employment.
StreetNet had the pleasure to host its international president, Lorraine Sibanda, who, in her opening speech, recognised the role of the West and Central African countries in bringing forward many of the issues at the heart of StreetNet: informal cross border trade, women leadership and gender equality and the fight for decent work. The majority of the participants and the leaders present at the meeting were women: this was one of the main points brought forward during the organizational phase of the workshop, as StreetNet is always committed to empowering its women leaders and give them space and equal opportunities for expression.
The meeting was hosted by StreetNet’s affiliate in Senegal, the Confederation of Workers in Senegal (CNTS) who went to great lengths to organize every bit and detail of the meeting. CNTS was represented by Annie Diouf, chairperson responsible for the informal economy and Mody Giuro, Secretary General. Representing Streetnet was Mme. Evelyn Benjamin – Sampson, regional organizer for western and central Africa. Affiliates expressed particular gratitude towards Ms. Sampson and the organizing effort she has been pursuing since she joined StreetNet two years ago, particularly thanks to her bilingual knowledge of English and French.
The challenges of the COVID period
The afternoon of the first day was devoted to addressing the main challenges of the region. Particularly, affiliates discussed how they have been coping with the COVID pandemic situation and aftermath. “During the crisis we really understood the importance of solidarity” said Marcelline Adopo, of FETTEI-CI Côte d’Ivoire, one of the participants to the meeting. “We have fought and negotiated with authorities for universal illness coverage. Moreover, we have sensitized many workers about their health conditions in their workplaces”.
“The lockdown affected the supply chain of food” explained Frances Onokope, from FIWON, Nigeria. “This was only one of the many problems encountered by the market vendors during the COVID period, together with harassment, evictions and violence.” FIWON has implemented social solidarity schemes to support its members during the lockdown period.
“The SYTRIECI Union worked actively during this period especially in communicating to the local authorities the list of members who needed help and approaching SYTRIECI members through teleconferences.” explained Jeannette Nyiramasengesho, president of SYTRIECI Rwanda. “In order to help these informal economy workers cope with the consequences and constraints of COVID-19, SYTRIECI developed a fundraising campaign to help vulnerable members.”
Participants engaged in discussion about informal cross-border trade, a prominent activity in the region. A new report, featuring all the case studies emerged from the recent project (link) coordinated by StreetNet will be published soon, along with audiovisual material.
The future StreetNet strategy
Another plenary session was dedicated to presenting the new objectives of StreetNet for the region, especially in anticipation of the Congress that will be held in 2023. Evelyn Benjamin Sampson laid out the four main objectives for 2022. The first objective highlighted is to ensure legal recognition of informal economy workers at every level, fostering a fairer approach to taxation and promoting social solidarity economy. Social solidarity economy plays an important role in the mobilization of informal economy workers worldwide and it will be among the main themes of the International Labor Conference of June 2022. The second objective is related to the right of access to the city and to the urban space: when formal employment is lacking, street vendors and market vendors should have a right to earn a livelihood in the place where they live. Another objective – and this is very specific and fundamental to the region of West and Central Africa, is the implementation of the simplified trade regimes. The last objective concerns the strengthening of the voice of StreetNet, both internally and in external forums, improve organizational capacity and democratic internal values, as well as recruiting more affiliates and improving advocacy work.
Building solidarity and overcoming challenges together
Overall, the meeting in Dakar was an incredible experience of cross country solidarity and unity. The delegation had the opportunity to visit the HLM market (where mostly clothing is sold) and have a direct witnessing of the conditions of work of the workers. Despite the heat and the crowd, especially after the difficulties that must have hit the market during the past two years, the vendors of clothing are continuing to be present in the streets, offering quality products to their customers.
The affiliates expressed their gratitude to StreetNet and its organizers for being able to meet in person, after two years of pandemic and relative isolation from the global movement.
“The decision to meet in person has been particularly critical both for evaluating the activities and planning the future strategy of StreetNet, especially in view of the Congress’ ‘ said Komi Kessouagni, regional focal point for the region.
See a video summary of the meeting below: