Defiant Malawian vendors back in city streets

Malawian vendors are back in the streets of the capital Lilongwe barely 24 hours after they violently engaged riot police in heavy skirmishes that left several injured and 40 of them arrested.

Business came to a standstill particularly in Old Town and the surrounding areas Thursday following the fracas that ensued after Lilongwe City Council workers escorted by riot police tried to remove the vendors while impounding their merchandises demanding them to relocate to the designated flea markets.

But the strong willed street retailers defied all odds to fight with the armed law enforcers who were eventually overpowered before authorities deployed the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) to quell the situation in the streets.

Vendors: Back in the streets to sell their products

The incident has vindicated the Inspector General of Police Peter Mukhito who few days ago made a call to the donor community to assist the service with riot control equipment which they do not have as a result they apply shooting (both with live and rubber bullets) and tear gassing as a last resort.

During the fracas, several shops particularly those belonging to Indians and Chinese nationals were swept clean as looters could be seen fleeing with generators and television screens on their heads as others packed in bags shoes, blankets, mobile phones, just to mention a few.

However, Nyasa Times reportrers visit on Friday to Old Town which was the epicenter of the battle revealed that the vendors had returned and it was business as usual for them as they liberally operated their businesses in the same streets.

Meanwhile, 40 people who were arrested during the riots were expected to appear before the Lilongwe Magistrate Court to answer charges of theft (two suspects), illegal vending (20) while 18 for conduct likely to cause breach of peace.

Lilongwe Police Public Relations Officer Kingsley Dandaula said according to their investigations majority of the vendors in Old Town and especially the congested Malangalanga Road are criminals who hide behind street vending.

No consulattions

Chairman of the vendors Steven Malunga faulted the city council authorities and police for lack of consultations, a development which he said resulted in the riots.

“If they had consulted us we would have spoken to our friends and find a possible solution to the issue and things would not have been this worse,” said Malunga.

Public Relations Officer of the Lilongwe City Council, Tamara Chafunya,  says according to the bye-laws all the vendors in the city are supposed to stay from the streets and those from Old Town and surrounding areas are supposed to be operating from the Tsoka Flea market.

But the vendors argued that the said flea market is too small to according the entire population of Lilongwe Old Town vendors, an assertion Nyasa Times can corroborate.

The January 5 incident was a reminiscent of the 2006 deadly removal of vendors from the Lilongwe streets which left some people lose their lives while several others were permanently deformed.

Surprisingly, the same exercise has also been happening in the other cities of Blantyre and Mzuzu where everything has ended peacefully though with some very minor injuries.

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