Street Sellers Vow not to Leave Red Light

Martin Jackson: a street peddler who sells baby cosmetics, said “Here in Red Light selling in the open; rain and sun come, we are here selling in the street without a roof so going to Omega and sitting in the same condition is totally unfair to us.”

Red-light, the point of convergence for thousands of buyers and sellers both from the rural areas and Monrovia, is expected to be free of street selling activities by now. It is the entry point to the capital, but because of the active commercial activities that began there during war years, this entry point where vehicles should easily park for passengers to disembark to go to their various destinations has become a no-go zone for street hawkers. They spread their goods on the main road, sidewalks, and just any space they see without consideration for even the right of the buyers to move.

Amid this social condition gradually dragging into problem, the government of Liberia, having dedicated earlier the omega market complex off the road behind the Cocoa factory community, has begun demolishing market buildings at Red Light and ordering every marketer to move to the new complex.

However, this step by the government may not find a smooth ground to land as some petty traders, who are so used to their spots at Red Light, are resisting to leave.  They argue that they have no space at Omega and the government has not done much to have them accommodated at  the new site.

Martin Jackson, a street peddler who sells baby cosmetics, said “Here in Red Light selling in the open; rain and sun come, we are here selling in the street without a roof so going to Omega and sitting in the same condition is totally unfair to us.” 

He said if the government truly wants to clear Red Light, it should be able to treat everyone fairly. He claims that the market buildings are given to Gobachop market and others, but street sellers are left to fill in the swamp at the new site to sell, stressing that there are not enough warehouses to keep their goods. 

“If the government wants to stop street selling in Red Light for good, they should be able to find a conductive spot that will host everybody and not to give some a roof and leave others vulnerable,” Jackson added.

Another street seller who sells cleaning utensils in Red Light, Lonmennie Gentry Kpoo, said, “The government should have given us at least 6 months to go to Omega and fill up the swampy areas.  By that, we were going to be prepared to move.” 

According to him, it was last week that rumors broke about the relocation, which they considered as a joke since such rumors have been popping up from time to time. 

“Several times they have come up with a statement of moving the Red Light market and it could not come to pass,” he said.

Kpoo added that the Omega market does not have enough warehouses to keep goods, and looking at the distance from Red Light to the site, it will be difficult to bring goods to and from the market.

Roadworks are still ongoing from the Coca Cola Factory to the ELWA Junction, but the presence of sellers in this area is creating an impediment to the work, which is why the government, through the Ministry of Public Works, decided to vacate and demolish the Red Light Market.  Market sellers spread their goods all along the sidewalk and dump dirt in the newly constructed drainages, clogging them before they could even be put to use. 

The sellers being at Red Light also created a huge stockpile of garbage that posed a serious environmental challenge to the Paynesville City Corporation (PCC) and the Liberia Marketing Association (LMA), who market sellers claim receive daily fees to clear the waste.

It was President George Weah’s unannounced visit that made it possible for the entire Red Light to be free of garbage in recent days. 

Red Light has become a hunting ground for street thugs, popularly known as ‘Zogoes’. Travelers reaching Red Light will only notice the presence of Zogoes when their phones or other personal effects have been stolen in broad daylight.

While some are resisting the government's order to leave Red Light, other street sellers have begun moving to the new area, brushing and filling up their spots with dirt to accommodate them.

The relocation is also welcome by residents of the Omega community, though others are worried about the new market potentially attracting garbage and criminal activities, which they fear may endanger their communities.  Some claim that the market will help to boost the environment and expose the community.

Eric Williams, a resident, is applauding President George Weah for moving the Red Light market because he believes it will beautify the major entry point to the capital.    

“When you go to Gobachop market and you see the condition of the area, you feel somehow embarrassed. When I go Red-Light  I don't even use that road. I just stay around the main road and purchase what I want to purchase and go back home, because the market is too dirty.  I deem it necessary for the sellers to come here especially when roadwork is ongoing,” he said.

According to him, the market will help to provide jobs for the residents, thereby impacting their lives. “Omega has been lacking in terms of employment and improving the community for the residents.”

When asked whether there is any fear of an increase in  Criminal activities, Williams said “We have been living with Zogoes and we will continue to live with them, but that should not be any problem that will stop marketers from moving.”

The removal of sellers from Red Light is a dream come true.  Since the market complex was erected during the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Administration and dedicated in this administration, people have doubted whether relocating the marketers will be possible as politics play out and the marketers remain adamant.  

If this decision stands and Red Light becomes finally free, the inconvenience commuters encounter with sellers will now be history.