A busy and overpopulated sidewalk in western Kabul

Occupied sidewalks; Kabul Municipality struggling to reduce traffic problem

Abdul Rahim, who looks in his late 40s, has been selling cut-rate necklace and bracelet at Kote Sangi neighborhood of the capital Kabul, says that he is uninformed if he needs work permit for his business. When asked about the Kabul Municipality’s plan to relocate street vendors, Rahim cut short the question, and said that there was no plan and program in the country. Talking about his life, he said forty years have passed in the absence of rule of law and policies.  

With an estimated five million population, Kabul is one of the most overpopulated capitals in South Asia. As the brutal war drags on and unemployment is on the rise, Afghan families from rural areas migrate to the capital, hoping to make a living. Years of war, slow urbanization, lack of infrastructure, and widespread corruption have made population management a tough job for the Kabul Municipality. Though the municipality is trying to reduce city’s traffic problem, little has been achieved and the city is under the influx of new families.     

Most sidewalks in Kabul are occupied by street vendors who offer the passers-by to buy things they are selling. From detergents to mirror and comb, and from shaving machine to cell phone and SIM card, almost everything even antiseptic and painkiller medicines are available on Kabul streets.                    

An Afghan vendor in western Kabul

Most notable of all, sidewalks on two sides of Pole Sokhta are occupied by street vendors who shout loud to attract passers-by attention toward stuffs they bring to sell.   

Mohammad Rostami, a Kabul resident, says that literally there is no sidewalk in the city, and all sidewalks are taken by street vendors. Pointing to a crowded sidewalk, Mr. Rostami said nowadays people even do not interrupt to ask themselves whether they have the right to sell things on the sidewalks or no.

Majority of street vendors in Kabul have no choice but to sell things on the street. With a broken economy, Afghanistan is mainly dependent on foreign aid. Though the country is rich in natural resource, the complex ongoing war coupled with corruption are regarded as a major stumbling block against national development programs. Many rural Afghan families that migrate to Kabul either are forced by dire poverty and drought or escape conflict in their home provinces.      

Ahmad Ali, who looks in his early 20s, has been selling headphones, cellphones and credit cards for the last seven years. He places his goods in the middle of sidewalk to attract the attention of customers. Ali says sometimes municipality people come and force them to move away but soon after they disappear Ali comes back and restarts his business.   

Habibullah, who looks in his early 50s, is new in the business. He says no one from the municipality have interrupted him to leave sidewalks in the last two months.  

As early as two years ago, the Kabul Municipality banned street vendors. On November 14, 2017, Abdullah Habibzai, the ex-mayor of Kabul, said anyone who occupies Kabul streets for purpose of selling goods will be fined 3,000 afghanis.

Nargis Momand, a spokesperson for the Kabul Municipality, told Kabul Now that occupying street for purpose of selling goods is against law and anyone who is caught in the act will be fined 3000 afghanis.

The Kabul Municipality claims that municipality personnel frequently visit different parts of the city to check if things are right on the streets. The officials say that the municipality has given a “specific area” to street vendors, where they can run their business.

But street vendors say that the area, which is assigned by the municipality, is very far, and customers do not come there.      

In November 2017, Mr. Habibzai announced that every vendor should get work permit in which his names and the area where he can run his business will be mentioned. But Nargis Momand says that most street vendors are not interested to get work permit.