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Loud And Lonely On The Streets – The Life of A Lagos Hawker

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On a rainy Tuesday morning in Lekki, Lagos in Nigeria, 12-year old Ezinne Ibrahim runs frantically after a moving bus balancing a heavy load of bottled groundnuts on a tray on her head with one hand and a bottle in the other hand.

As she gets closer to the bus’s open window, a passenger hurriedly reaches out to snatch the bottle from her and tosses N500 ($1) on the ground before the bus speeds off. Ibrahim bends to pick up the drenched note, narrowly avoiding being hit by a truck from the opposite side of the road. She quickly scans the oncoming traffic for potential customers before crossing the road to get cover from the heavy downpour.

“I am here from six in the morning until 10PM with my mother,” says Ibrahim. Her mother, 45-year-old Sade, expertly weaves between traffic lanes, sells two bottles of groundnuts before joining us under the shed.

“I have been selling on the streets for the past eight years now and that is how I earn a living to feed my family. We used to sell in Victoria Island last year but we changed locations because this area has a lot more traffic and that means more money. I know it is dangerous for Ezinne and I never wanted her to do this but I cannot afford to put her into school,” says Sade.

On a good day, they make roughly N20,000 ($55). If life is already hard, it has gotten a lot harder for the pair over the past couple of years.

READ MORE: Successes Amid The Squatters

Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI), Lagos state’s environment law enforcement unit established in 2003 by the government to enforce environmental law in the state, is a constant threat to street hawkers.

“We get harassed several times a week by the task force. They arrest us and detain us for hours before releasing us if we pay them something,” says Bayo Adesina, a gum and sweets seller.

“We have a look at who calls whenever KAI is coming and we all stop selling and run. They cannot stop us from trading because this is the only way we know to survive,” says Sade.

In July 2016, in an attempt to escape the tight leash of the law, a street hawker was run over by a bus, leading to widespread violence and destruction by a mob. The incident led to even tighter regulations being enforced by Lagos State governor Akinwumi Ambode who declared a fine of N90, 000 ($250) or a six-month jail term.

“Things have really gotten a lot tougher for us because you never know when the task force will detain you. We move about a lot so they do not find us and take away what little money we have,” says Adesina.

However, Lagos State says the clampdown on street hawkers is necessary as it causes traffic jams and puts their own lives at risk.

Yakubu Mohammed, 25, sells watches on a busy intersection in Ladipo.

“Competition is tough here because there are so many of us. I make about N35,000 ($100) a month which I use to feed my wife and child,” he says.

According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), over 55% of Africa’s GDP comes from the informal sector, accounting for about 80% of the labour force. Many of those are street vendors like Mohammed who have traded in everything from windscreen wipers to mobile phone chargers in the past year alone.

“You sell what you can get your hands on. Sometimes there is a lot of supply of certain types of products and they are easy to get your hands on so you get them and start selling,” says Mohammed.

That supply is driven by an insatiable demand by customers who prefer the convenience of picking up items on their way to their various destinations.

A street vendor hawks tubers of yam in a wheel-barrow in Ketu district of Lagos. Photograph supplied.

The constant ruckus between government enforcement agencies and street hawkers has led to a debate about tighter regulation of the informal sector in Nigeria.

READ MORE: Nigeria: To Invest Or Not To Invest? That Is The Question

According to a Reuters report, unemployment in Africa’s most populous economy is at 14% and climbing. Furthermore, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) claims: “By 2035, sub-Saharan Africa will have more working-age people than the rest of the world’s regions combined. This growing workforce will have to be met with jobs.”

“Unless the government gets a firm grip on these critical macro economic issues, the potential of the informal sector can never be realized. A lot of the stress of unemployment has been taken up by the informal sector who pay no taxes but contribute significantly to the country’s wealth,” says Bismarck Rewane, CEO of Financial Derivatives Company in Lagos.

According to the IMF report, most entrepreneurs in the informal sector reported doing what they were doing out of necessity and given the chance would rather work in the formal sector.

Bashiru Amusha dreamed of becoming a doctor but his parents could not afford to send him to school. He now owns a kiosk selling airtime vouchers in Victoria Island.

“I try to make do with what I have. I used to be a security man for a company sometime ago but things didn’t work out and I had to leave. I am hoping someone can help me get a car so I can turn it into a taxi and pay him back with interest,” he says.

In view of the economy, the informal sector presents both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it is a great representation of entrepreneurship development and growth in the number of start-ups on the streets.

However, this growth is negligible when you weigh up the low productivity and the poorly-skilled workers prevalent in the informal sector.

“This is actually detrimental to the Nigerian economy because the informal sector accounts for about 50 to 65 percent of GDP and that represents reduced growth for the economy. So it is actually important to provide skilled training to improve productivity and regulate the informal sector through taxation,” says Rewane.

As Africa’s largest economy struggles to come to grips with growing unemployment rates and barriers to entry, the informal sector is the only way out for thousands of unemployed Nigerians whose only need is to somehow make ends meet.

Economy

Ford and IBM among quartet in Congo cobalt blockchain project

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 Carmaker Ford (F.N), technology giant IBM (IBM.N), South Korean cathode maker LG Chem (051910.KS) and China’s Huayou Cobalt (603799.SS) have joined forces in the first blockchain project to monitor cobalt supplies from Democratic Republic of Congo.

The pilot, overseen by responsible-sourcing group RCS Global, aims to help manufacturers ensure that cobalt used in lithium-ion batteries has not been mined by children or used to fuel conflict.

Companies are under pressure from consumers and investors to prove that minerals are sourced without human rights abuses, but tracking raw materials throughout their journey is challenging.

The project announced on Wednesday has been quietly under way since December. Starting with industrially mined cobalt in Congo, it is monitoring supplies all the way to lithium-ion batteries for Ford vehicles.

Supplies of cobalt, expected to be needed in huge quantities for electric vehicles and electronic devices, are concentrated in Congo, a sprawling, volatile nation that has been racked by civil war and political tension.

The outcome of elections in December, which had been intended to be Congo’s first democratic transfer of power in six decades, is contested.

RCS says the IBM blockchain platform could be used to include other minerals and to allow artisanal miners, which analysts say are the biggest issue with regard to ethical sourcing, to join a blockchain-based network of validated participants.

Blockchain, famed as the technology behind cryptocurrency bitcoin, works by providing a shared record of data held by a network of individual computers rather than a single party.

For the pilot project, which should be completed around the middle of the year, cobalt from Huayou’s industrial mine will be placed in secure bags, entered into a blockchain and traced from the mine and smelter to LG Chem’s cathode and battery plant in South Korea and then on to a Ford plant in the United States.

Because minerals are often combined with metals from various sources when they are smelted, they are particularly difficult to track.

The RCS project seeks to enforce best practice by using guidelines drawn up by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

IBM said it was exploring the potential of chemical analysis using artificial intelligence to pinpoint the origin of cobalt and ensure so-called clean cobalt was not smelted with minerals sourced less responsibly.

“There is no fool-proof method, but you have to keep the ball moving forward, to keep raising the level of accuracy,” Manish Chawla, general manager of IBM’s mining and industrial sector business, told Reuters.

VW and Ford team up

“Blockchain has been proven to be a very effective technology in raising the bar.”

IBM has already worked with retailers including Walmart (WMT.N) and Carrefour (CARR.PA) to trace food through supply chains.

In the mining sector, meanwhile, Anglo American’s (AAL.L) De Beers has begun using blockchain to track diamonds. -Reuters

Barbara Lewis

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Economy

150 percent price rise fails to fill Zimbabwe’s fuel pumps

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A drastic 150 percent overnight rise in Zimbabwe’s fuel prices failed on Sunday to ease a nationwide petrol and diesel shortage caused by a lack of hard currency.

Most service stations still had no fuel to sell to motorists who have been sleeping in their vehicles to queue. Some said they were awaiting an official notice from the regulatory authority (ZERA).

Deputy Information Minister Energy Mutodi tweeted that commodity price volatility “will be temporary before goods prices normalize”.

The acute shortage of U.S. dollars has made it hard for President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to import not only fuel but also drugs and other goods.

Mnangagwa himself was on Sunday setting off on a five-nation tour that starts in Russia and ends at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Zimbabwe abandoned its own currency in 2009 after it was wrecked by hyperinflation, and adopted the greenback and other hard currencies such as sterling and the South African rand.

But now there is not enough hard currency to back up more than $10 billion in electronic funds trapped in local bank accounts, prompting demands from businesses and civil servants for cash that can be deposited and used to make payments.

Mnangagwa has said his government will not let businesses raise prices but they have been doing so anyway, arguing that they have no choice but to buy dollars at a premium on the black market.

Inflation is already at a 10-year high of 31 percent and, in the past two weeks, public transport firms have tripled fares citing a shortage of fuel, which some have been buying on the black market.

An assistant at a service station owned by Zuva Petroleum said: “We have not received any supplies since Thursday evening but we are hoping we will get a delivery before end of the day.”

A ZERA spokesman said all fuel companies had been notified of the new prices.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) said it planned a national strike from Monday in protest at the “insensitive and provocative” fuel price increase, although such calls have in the past not been widely followed.

Teachers, who are not represented by ZCTU, are planning a nationwide strike from Jan. 22, and civil servants have threatened to join them. -Reuters

  • MacDonald Dzirutwe

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Economy

World Bank Sees Global Growth Slowing In 2019

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The growth of the global economy is expected to slow to 2.9 percent in 2019 compared with 3 percent in 2018, the World Bank said on Tuesday, citing elevated trade tensions and international trade moderation.

“At the beginning of 2018 the global economy was firing on all cylinders, but it lost speed during the year and the ride could get even bumpier in the year ahead,” World Bank Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva said in the semi-annual Global Economic Prospects report here.

The World Bank outlook comes as the United States and China have been engaged in a bitter trade dispute, which has jolted financial markets across the world for months. The two economies have imposed tit-for-tat duties on each other’s goods, although there were signs of progress on Tuesday as the two countries prepared to enter a third day of talks in Beijing.

Growth in the United States is likely to slow to 2.5 percent this year from 2.9 percent in 2018, while China is expected to grow at 6.2 percent in the year compared with 6.5 percent in 2018, according to the World Bank.

Emerging market economies are expected to grow at 4.2 percent this year, with advanced economies expected to grow at 2 percent, the World Bank said in the report. -Reuters

  • Kanishka Singh

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