Liberia

FEPTIWUL (Federation Petty Traders & Informal Workers’ Union of Liberia) (Liberia)

The Federation of Petty Traders and Informal Workers Union of Liberia, advocates and negotiates for the rights of Liberian street vendors to earn a livelihood with freedom from unrelenting police harassment, extortion, and violence. It also seeks to train its leaders in negotiations, collective bargaining, advanced negotiations, and strategy development.

Precious Chesson (FEPTIWUL – Liberia) (Liberia)

Although she is only 46, Precious Chesson has the gravitas of someone much older. Maybe her poise comes from her consummately professional appearance—she takes care to dress in fine and well-cared-for dresses. Maybe it comes from how she sits perfectly straight and still in conversation, focusing all of her attention on the speaker. Or maybe it is the authoritative way in which she presides over her shop in the Duala Market in Monrovia, Liberia.

The shop is a large one with a backroom, a large indoor area, and an outdoor space sheltered from the sun by a tin roof. Set on a main road a short distance from the trading centre, the shop is awash in the sounds of market vendors calling out their goods above passing traffic. Inside, every inch of the shop overflows with colourful small dishes, wash basins, buckets, crates, pots, and baskets.

Building a Business

These goods come from Liberia and further afield—once a month Precious journeys to Guinea or Cote D’Ivoire to purchase them. Running such a large shop with this variety of merchandise requires grit, but grit and perseverance are qualities that Precious, as her story makes clear, has always possessed.

Precious needed to be tough to build her business. As a young adult, she lived through two civil wars, the latter of which brought heavy shelling, death, and displacement to the city. “The war time was not easy,” Precious says. She and her mother grew their own food and sewed their own clothes out of old material, at times struggling to make ends meet. “I had two skirts,” Precious recalls, “One black, one red. I washed one today to wear tomorrow.”

For Precious, wartime stress was intensified by the pressure of supporting a growing family—just before the first war, Precious gave birth to her first child, and her family would eventually grow to six children. She needed a way to support and educate them, which can be especially difficult for Liberian women, who have less access than men to education, financial services, and property.

So, when she was a 22-year-old mother with a 4-year-old child, Precious began street vending with ten Liberian dollars in her pocket.

In her first business, she sold black pepper, which she says she acquired by “running behind cars.” She explains: vendors would gather at a road junction early in the morning. By 4 a.m., a car would come from out of town, its roof piled high with goods. The vendors would run behind the car and throw their lapas, or cloths, on top of the pile. Whatever a vendor’s lapa touched was what the vendor could claim as hers to sell for the day—if she could negotiate a price for the goods with the driver.

It was, Precious says, “a highly stressful business” that carried much risk and did not bring much profit.

Still, over 11 years, Precious continued to vend pepper, to grow her business, and to save with a single-minded focus, all of which allowed her to open her own plastic-goods shop in 2006.

Her determination has also helped her educate each of her children, who are currently in varying stages of schooling; her eldest daughter has just received a Bachelor of Science while the youngest is in sixth grade. “All of this,” Precious says, “from ten dollars. I pushed ahead. I did not want to go back.”

But pushing ahead as a street vendor in Monrovia is certainly not easy. Like street vendors around the world, these informal workers face the daily realities of insecure incomes and trading sites, poor sanitation conditions, and, especially in Liberia, brutal police harassment, extortion, and violence.

In Monrovia, city ordinances prevent selling food on the street, and police, taking a liberal view of these ordinances, harass vendors regardless of what they are selling. Yet, street vending is the only option many workers have to support their families, so they must take this risk.

Street Vending in Monrovia

As Precious recounts, police in her market used to “take your goods and chuck it in the water. They want money. They were terrible, very, very terrible. At that time, you can’t even do any other thing except to sit in your stall all day because each time you leave your market, they take your stuff and chuck it.” The violence can reach catastrophic proportions: Precious’ own brother, a street vendor, was killed by police in a market incident.

Police harassment and violence can also have terrible financial consequences for street vendors and their families. This is especially true for women vendors, who often provide for large extended families of parents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and other orphaned children. Precious’ own household totals 19 people, including her husband who, because of a debilitating stroke, has been unable to work since 2011.

As Comfort Doryen, National Chairperson of the Federation of Petty Traders and Informal Workers Union of Liberia (FEPTIWUL), says, informal workers “are struggling on their own to make ends meet. To support themselves. It’s a lot of pressure for the women…they are working, they are taking care of their families. They are paying rent, they are sending their children to school all from trading. Just from trading.”

So, when police confiscate goods, the entire family’s well-being in terms of food, clothing, school, and housing is jeopardized—and the street vendor often has no power to prevent it.

The Right to Earn a Livelihood with Peace and Security

But in 2009, a group of street vendors responded to this struggle to earn a livelihood with freedom from unrelenting police harassment, extortion, and violence. This group marched to Monrovia’s City Hall to help focus attention on vendors’ plight and to gain support for forming an organization that could negotiate with the city around the right to trade.

Out of this march, FEPTIWUL was born. FEPTIWUL secured promises from the Mayor’s office to provide vendors with formal licenses that would help mitigate police action.

Yet licenses were never issued, and FEPTIWUL’s early attempts at negotiation with the city and the Liberian National Police were ignored and rebuffed. The fledging organization struggled under the monumental task of engaging with an often-unwilling city and holding it accountable to its commitments.

Building Leadership and Capacity

However, in 2011, FEPTIWUL joined StreetNet International, a global network that helps its affiliates address barriers, including insecure and unsafe workplaces and harassment from police and other government authorities. The same year, StreetNet began providing ongoing, regular, remote mentorship meetings to FEPTIWUL’s National Executive Committee. With the organization Cities Alliance, StreetNet also offered four capacity-building workshops for over 100 FEPTIWUL leaders in negotiations, collective bargaining, advanced negotiations, and strategy development.

Leaders gained the knowledge and confidence to demand their rights with authorities, to learn about and so to bargain more effectively with their negotiating partners, to effectively use negotiation techniques, and to develop FEPTIWUL’s own internal structures and relationships. With StreetNet’s support, FEPTIWUL built a strong, democratically-elected organization. Today, it represents over 5,000 traders in 13 of 15 Liberia’s counties.

Precious is one of those members, and she has been an important part of FEPTIWUL’s leadership for the last year. She joined in 2017 because, as she said, “Police were still bossing our places, giving us a hard time.” When Isemaila Zoker (known locally simply as “Zoker”), a fellow vendor, approached her with the benefits of joining the association, she knew she could trust him. As she says, “Honestly, as a human being, I trust myself first. So, the trust I have built in myself, I put it in him and said I would trust him to move it forward.”

Zoker proved true to his word—when problems with police occurred, Zoker talked with them on behalf of vendors and tried to retrieve confiscated market goods. Also, “he encouraged me,” Precious says. “He said we were all suffering on the streets, and FEPTIWUL would be our backup.”

Precious went on to attend the StreetNet capacity-building workshops, taking the skills she learned into her newly elected role as FEPTIWUL’s Deputy Coordinator of the Duala Market Branch. Today, she helps Zoker, now the elected Branch Coordinator, negotiate with police and encourage vendors to stay in demarcated areas to help deter police raids.

As Precious’ FEPTIWUL colleague Satta Konneh says, “Vendors know if they have problems with police, FEPTIWUL will go there, and we will talk for them. The police know us, know we are from the market, and know we are working with them.”

As a result of FEPTIWUL efforts, vendors in Duala Market say instances of harassment and bribes have declined and that there have been no unannounced raids in the areas FEPTIWUL manages over the last year. As Precious says, “The difference is very big, very wide. Now, we can sit comfortable in our structures, and if we leave, the police are not spoiling them. I feel very, very good about that.”

She says she’s also seen many other benefits of working in a collective with other traders. “I see how they help our friends move up, how they help us interact with people. I see the benefit of not using violence.”

She can also see how the FEPTIWUL leadership is evolving. “We are moving together,” she says. “And when our coordinator is doing something we don’t agree with, we tell him. We do things by committee.”

This approach—using learned leadership and negotiations skills to work collectively—is also bearing fruit for FEPTIWUL as a whole. In 2018, it successfully negotiated a three-year MOU with the Monrovia City Corporation, which will allow traders to operate securely in Central Monrovia. FEPTIWUL is taking this success into New Kru town, where the Duala Market is located, negotiating to sign a similar agreement here.

Precious has hope that the Federation will also continue to grow in numbers and in capacity and that more livelihoods and lives will change from here. “We want to improve our sisters who are still struggling,” she says. “To improve their lives in the Federation. To be there to hear their stories.”

Read the full Human Impact story.

StreetNet achievements 2018 and strengthening affiliates (Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Sierra Leone)

by Pat Horn, StreetNet International Coordinator

During 2018 WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising) assisted StreetNet by raising core funding which will include the financial support needed for the Sixth International Congress, scheduled to be held from 9 – 12 April 2019 in Kyrgyzstan.

We have a well-coordinated team of young organisers who have been trained to run the operational activities of StreetNet going forward, one of whom has been trained to take over the Coordinator’s responsibilities after the Sixth International Congress, during the course of 2019.  We are focussing our attention on how to strengthen StreetNet affiliates’ representative capacity of all street vendors and informal traders in the countries where StreetNet has affiliates.  (more…)

Breaking New Ground in Liberia (Liberia)

by Pat Horn, StreetNet International Coordinator

In May 2018 a Strategising Meeting was held with 30 leaders of StreetNet’s Affiliate FEPTIWUL (Federation of Petty Traders & Informal Workers’ Unions of Liberia) in Monrovia and Paynesville with the objective of analysing the effectiveness of a previous MoU signed between NAPETUL (as FEPTIWUL was known in 2014) & MCC (Monrovia Municipal Corporation) between 2014 and 2016, and to take forward the process for entering into new MoUs with MCC and PCC (Paynesville City Corporation). 

One of the problems identified was capacity shortages on the part of government officials which make implementation difficult.  The Strategising Meeting therefore decided to organize joint training for FEPTIWUL leaders as well as the officials from the MCC, PCC and the other identified partners, in order to tackle this issue. (more…)

The Federation of Petty Traders and Informal Workers Union of Liberia – FEPTIWUL celebrates its new achievement (Liberia)

By Sibailly Douhour, StreetNet Organizer

On September 27th, 2018 FEPTIWUL, StreetNet’s affiliate in Liberia, represented by Comfort Dorion, Chairlady, signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Monrovia City Corporation, MCC.

This agreement is the second after the first one which was signed in 2014.

This time FEPTIWUL leaders and members were prepared as they went through several trainings about Collective negotiations Skills organised by StreetNet International.

The new MoU of FEPTIWULL enables different parties together to mainly deal with issues concerning the spaces offered to street vendors, their registration and identification, taxes payment, hygiene and their security. (more…)

Negotiations and Strategy course for the organizers and leaders of street vendors and informal markets workers (Liberia)

24 August, 2016

By Sibailly Douhoure, StreetNet Organizer

A group photo of all the participants attending the seminar

Forty three delegates seventeen of whom were women came mainly from Monrovia and Paynesville to attend the seminar funded by Cities Alliance in collaboration with WIEGO /StreetNet. This activity was organized from 8 to 12 August, 2016 in Monrovia by NAPETUL (National Petty Traders Union of Liberia).

The seminar was facilitated by Dale Forbes, South Africa and Sibailly M. Douhouré, StreetNet Organizer.

This course endowed the delegates with the following negotiation skills:

  • How to negotiate successfully?
  • How to keep members involved in the negotiations process?
  • How to follow up negotiations?
  • How to draft a simple agreement?
  • How to enforce negotiated agreements?

For each topic, working groups were formed and allowed to deepen the discussions that were presented during the plenary sessions. Simulations were carried out to negotiate between local municipalities and NAPETUL.

Pictured are: (from right) Dale Forbes, South Africa and Sibailly M. Douhouré, StreetNet Organizer

As a practical exercise, a negotiating team consisting of five leaders of NAPETUL with Dale Forbes met with Madam  Mvogo,  Mayor of Monrovia City Corporation (MCC) in order to initiate discussions on the current Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), existing between MCC and NAPETUL. Unfortunately this formal discussion was interrupted due to the MCC. The practical exercise on negotiations with the Paynesville City Corporation (PCC) did not occur. The PCC was not available at the time of the seminar.

The minutes of these negotiations sparked heated discussions and helped to draw lessons for future real negotiations.

Participants of the seminar while working on their task

The seminar enjoyed the participation of the local representation of Slum Dwells International (YMCA Alliance) which took the opportunity to make known the concerns of their community.

In a written statement the participants expressed their concerns about the status of MoU with the Monrovia City Corporation and the Paynesville City Corporation.

Cities Alliance Liberia Programme Inception Workhop, 22-24 February 2016 (Liberia)

StreetNet International and its affiliate in Liberia (NAPETUL) and WIEGO (Women in Informal Economy: Globalizing and Organizing) will participate in the programme inception workshop for the Cities Alliance Liberia programme from 22-24 February at Monrovia City Hall.

According to the concept note for the meetings, the workshop will provide Cities Alliance members and partners active in Liberia with a common understanding of development challenges facing human settlements in the country, with a focus on greater Monrovia, by engaging with leading experts and local officials in interactive dialogues.

Second, the workshop will explore the synergies between the Programme’s initial implementing partners to collaboratively prepare a common way forward for their activities, specifically during the inception year – 2016.

Country Programme in Liberia (Liberia)

The Cities Alliance, a global partnership for urban poverty reduction and the promotion of the role of cities in sustainable development will fund a project for National Petty Traders’ Union of Liberia, StreetNet’s affiliate, by January 2016.

The main objective is to improve inclusive economic growth and strengthen the capacity of NAPETUL to negotiate with the relevant structures of Greater Monrovia as a key element in the development and implementation of inclusive urban policies during processes of infrastructure development and community upgrading.

The partners are:

  • Cities Alliance, a global partnership for urban poverty reduction and the promotion of the role of cities in sustainable development
  • National Petty Traders’Union of Liberia – NAPETUL
  • StreetNet International
  • Monrovia City Corporation(MCC) and its other development partners

This programme will occur within the context of the Monrovia Slum Upgrading Initiative, involving another international partner of Cities Alliance, SDI (Slum Dwellers International) with their local counterpart organisation, and a group of social enterprises involving waste pickers, CBE. StreetNet and NAPETUL are the international and local counterparts of Cities Alliance partner WIEGO( Women in the Informal Economy Globalization and Organizing) in the sector of street vendors and informal traders, and would strive at all times to work in solidarity and partnership with the sector of waste pickers, SDI and their local counterparts.

Duration: The activities will start in January 2016 and take end at December 2020.

Scope: The Project will impact Greater Monrovia (including 2 cities, 9 Townships, 1 borough)

Strategy: The strategy is based on the following three pillars:

  • Equity – i.e. equitable economic growth, which means inclusive of the informal economy in cities;
  • Gender equality – involving women directly in programmatic work in cities, and gearing programmes to women’s needs;
  • Partnerships – as the principal way of getting the work done.

Activities

Negotiations skills training – StreetNet organiser will provide training to NAPETUL leadership in negotiations skills, using participatory methods developed by WIEGO and StreetNet, and already tested in many of StreetNet’s affiliates. This training will include planning for upcoming negotiations with different structures of Greater Monrovia at all levels.

Negotiations mentoring – StreetNet organiser will mentor and guide NAPETUL leadership in different stages of negotiation about the abovementioned purpose and context, including:

  • Starting with exercising Clause 9 of the already existing Memorandum of Understanding between the MMC, MOCI and NAPETUL to negotiate for modifications which have been identified as being necessary in discussions between StreetNet and NAPETUL leadership;
  • Considering the possibility and feasibility of a similar Memorandum of Understanding between NAPETUL and Paynesville City (and other relevant partners to such MoU) and initiating processes to achieve this;
  • Consulting with NAPETUL members to gather mandates and proposals with regard to proposed infrastructure development and community upgrading initiatives as well as inclusive economic growth initiatives;
  • Consulting with the LMA (Liberia Market Association) in preparation for negotiations where their members are also potentially affected;
  • Assessment of negotiations progress and providing guidance on planning strategies for moving forward;
  • Convening joint consultations with other partners involved in the overall context whenever deemed necessary for better coordination of outcomes.

Preparation and distribution of progress reports – WIEGO and StreetNet will assist in compiling user-friendly progress reports of developments for distribution to street vendors and informal traders to facilitate knowledge-sharing at all levels through the process.

Information

Please note that representatives of Cities Alliance met with leadership of NAPETUL in February 2015 to better understand their current and planned response.